June 24, 2024

A 'Darknet' backgrounder

OK, time to dive in here from my hotel room. A little while ago I posted a guest entry on the Berkman blog that offers a few details about how Darknet and Ourmedia came to be. It’s hard to summarize a book’s major themes in a paragraph or two, but the basic thrust is:

– Increasingly we’re become creators and co-creators of our media experiences instead of merely passive receptacles for big media content. I call this the personal media revolution.

– The law is fast becoming out of sync with what people want to do with media – to reclaim it, borrow from it, remix it and recirculate it.

– As such, the law is turning millions of us into a nation of digital felons. I cite example after example of people (a Boston pastor, an Intel vice president) using media in reasonable ways and yet finding themselves on the wrong side of the law because they’re broken the encryption on a DVD or tried to apply the precepts of fair use to our increasingly visual culture.

– But most of “Darknet” is not about the law – it’s about the future of media (movies, television, music, computing, games) and what kind of media we want as a society: spoonfed, one-way, traditional media or a more vibrant, interactive form of media filled with grassroots, shared experiences?

I suspect you can tell where I come down.


  1. Nexus is a big site for everyone !

  2. Same profanity and lack of taste as everywhere. I am used to it. It`s Ok.

  3. How did this happen? Harris’s office told Database–a firm with strong Republican ties-to cast as wide a net as possible to get rid of these voters. Her minions instructed the company to include even people with “similar” names to those of the actual felons. They insisted Database check people with the same birth dates as known felons, or similar Social Security numbers; an 80 percent match of relevant information, the election office instructed, was sufficient for Database to add a voter to the ineligible list.

  4. “Digital Phoenix” sounds groundbreaking; hope the press will pay attention to the arguments you present.

    The prescriptions in Darknet are chiefly in the last chapter … and in the pearls of wisdom offered by readers on the Darknet.com blog.

  5. You describe a pattern that I believe will become increasingly common. In fact, I’ve written an entire book about it: Digital Phoenix: Why the Information Economy Collapsed and How it Will Rise Again (MIT Press, 2005). The pattern is simple. Technology creates new opportunities for consumers, or end users. They reap an immediate benefit. Clever businesses or providers devise new business models to avail themselves of the new technology. They benefit too. But amidst all those benefits, someone also loses—often large, powerful incumbents whose expectations the new technologies dashed. Incumbents fight back using the only weapons remaining, typically the law. They push for legal solutions that attempt to restore the transaction costs that information technology eroded. And there you have the battles over our transition from industrial age to information age in a nutshell.

    Anyone reading this blog should immediately recognize this pattern as the framework of the Microsoft vs. Open Source and the Entertainment Giants vs. P2P battles. It’s the pattern that you—and Dan Gillmor, in We the Media and Larry Lessig in Free Culture—describe as engulfing the media and content creation industries. But it shows up in many places, both large and small, that not everyone sees as part of the same trend. The reason that you can configure cars on line but not buy them directly from the manufacturer is that incumbent middlemen dealers (who often carry substantial local clout) avail themselves of laws prohibiting direct sales from auto makers to drivers.

    In a more controversial vein, white collar (and pink collar) job offshoring is part of the same pattern. Reduced information costs allow companies to offshore numerous tasks, benefiting both the clever companies themselves and their customers, who share the fruits of lower costs. But it disintermediates the incumbents who provide labor that is no longer cost-effective. The incumbents immediate reaction is to fight back by using the law to impede trade.

    I describe all of this in Digital Phoenix. I also provide some prescriptions. The first challenge is to see the unfolding pattern for what it is. The second is to recognize that, in the long run, technology will always trump law. The third is to face reality: it takes a while to get to the long run, and incumbents will fight to make the transition as long and as painful as possible. The fourth is to find ways to alleviate enough of the incumbents’ own pain to reduce their resistance. So if you ever find yourself wondering what Apple’s iTunes has in common with the adjustment assistance of trade law, there’s your answer—they’re both palliatives for incumbents designed to smooth our transition to the information age.

    I’m looking forward to reading Darknet to see what you prescribe.