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Darknet: Hollywood’s War against the Digital Generation

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Last week Technicolor issued a memo to theatres stating that, due to the minority of managers in the business participating with or allowing for movie piracy, film prints will be delivered only one day prior to their opening date. This shouldn’t cause a lot of problems visible to the public; but aside from frustrating projectionists everywhere, there is a lesser chance that all five copies of Batman Begins shipped to your local multiplex on Tuesday will get a test run before its Wednesday release. Without that “tech screening,” audiences may be treated to the rare occasion of seeing errors. (With more theatres using managers in their projection booths instead of union professionals, this could include such sloppiness as reels spliced out of order or backwards, dirt and scratches and frame jumping.)

The ease in which corporations now excuse their actions as being combative against bootlegging is almost as out of hand as three years ago, blaming every invasion of privacy on terrorism protection. Some people in Hollywood even consider movie pirates to be just another level of terrorists similarly intent on damaging the American economy, but without the fatal operations. Entertainment companies also share with Washington an unwillingness to acknowledge, let alone reform, their own causes of problems like consumer alienation and overbearing foreign policy. Comparatively, there is a lot more literature focusing on the latter, but the public might want to arm themselves with knowledge about freedoms being compromised by organizations with seemingly more power these days than anyone in our government. Giant media conglomerates may affect the future of your rights on a level that may equal, or even surpass, anything accomplished through legislation like The Patriot Act.

Journalist J.D. Lasica opens up the ground on “Hollywood’s War against the Digital Generation” in a new book inconveniently titled Darknet (it sounds like a Goth club to me), which argues that the entertainment industry hurts itself with measures that come off as more disciplinary than helpful; and this leads to more estrangements with the community on which it forgettingly depends. Broadly outlining the history and structure of internet piracy, file swapping and downloading, Lasica entertains with specific accounts of individuals and organizations concerned with movies, music, software, games, and even contraband documents compared to the Federalist Papers. More importantly, though, Lasica warns of Hollywood’s plans for monopolistic control of “their” media, “our: products, and public usage of both. Hollywood is also urged to take notice that the people could very well win the fight for digital progression that entertainment companies are decidedly ignoring.

The past year has brought a wonderful trilogy of seemingly unrelated books that expose the downward spiral of Hollywood. Open Wide: How Hollywood Box Office Became a National Obsession by Dade Hayes and Jonathan Bing explores the unfortunate importance of marketing in the movie business by examining multiplex history and its cultural effect, test screenings and their conciliatory effect, and the deceptiveness of press junkets and the ability to pass off publicity as news. Edward Jay Epstein’s The Big Picture more completely examines the economics of Hollywood and how, as part of trans-global media clusters, studios are less concerned with quality and more intent on cross-merchandizing. Epstein also gives a competent history of the business, particularly its competitive issues with television and video, and discusses the present attention to cable and DVD exploitation as opposed to the less profitable theatrical run. The first book is extremely fluffy, while the second can make laymen’s heads spin during its exposition of financial juggling.

Darknet completes the arc, despite a larger interest than movies alone. By reading the other books prior to Lasica, though, a deeper disdain for Hollywood contributes to the more cynical cautionary side to the digital argument. Epstein bares the apprehensions studios had toward VHS, and the parallels become apparent to their mishandling of Internet possibilities presented in Darknet. The most conclusive quote that Lasica includes comes from former Warner Home Entertainment president Warren Lieberfarb; he states that pornography always leads new media trends. However, the downsides of illegal activity (whether kiddie porn or more innocent music sampling) in underground networks are also similar to other media, yet even easier, more abundant and more anonymous. The debate of whether unavoidable vices are a small price to pay for free speech and fair use protection becomes something to think about in the end.

Lasica doesn’t delve into non-Internet issues like Technicolor’s recent decision or the current controversy with visibly marking film prints to identify bootleg sources, but he points out that even Hollywood is aware that the majority of piracy comes from inside their own industry long before hitting theatres. For some reason, they continue to ignore the facts. While it must be pointed out that Hollywood is continuing to antagonize those individuals and businesses and organizations with which it has for a century built strong relationships, Darknet exposes more malignant plans that Hollywood has for our entertainment, in order to supposedly protect us all, but more materially to protect themselves; and it might only take you 270 pages of awareness to fight back before all those schemes are implemented.

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About Film Cynic

  • Well, you picked a good screen name, FC – but you don’t seem to need the input from Lasica to enhance your cynicism!

    Open Wide was fascinating. If Darknet is half as revealing, it’s worth reading.