Sprawling account of the battle between corporations and creative individuals over what constitutes the proper use of digital media.
Blog journalist Lasica (newmediamusings.com) could have pulled this up-to-the-minute story together with a flurry of phone calls and Web searches, but his reporting from the field gives it sweep and intimacy. The cast of characters is vibrant. Railing against DVD bootleggers, Hollywood lobbyist and ex-MPAA chairman Jack Valenti comes off as the ever-indignant guardian of media companies’ right to every last penny. He’s but one of the corporate flacks who sound shrilly evangelistic when describing the evils of digital camcorders, file-sharing networks and DVD burners. Lasica’s skill at capturing personalities also benefits his recounting of visits with various professors, filmmakers, hippies, hackers, hobbyists and entrepreneurs who have run afoul of American copyright law in one way or another. The author contends that the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act criminalizes harmless behavior, citing law-abiding citizens who have been sued, threatened or fined for copying material for their own personal use. With deep pockets and aggressive lobbyists in Washington, Lasica says, Hollywood is trying to halt the kind of progress that allowed the photocopier, the VCR and the MP3 player into the marketplace. In the chapter “Cool Toys Hollywood Wants to Ban,” he describes the next generation of digital goodies that content companies will fight until they’re absolutely certain they can profit from them. The cool quotient here suffers slightly from Lasica’s tendency to reiterate over and over the same point—the digital age has transformed consumers into producers—in the breathless tone of a TV newsmagazine. His strength is presenting vivid snapshots of our rapidly changing cultural/technological landscape, not scrounging up metaphors for same.
Frequently riveting, occasionally long-winded. Well worth your time, but read fast: it has the unwritten expiration date of a Wired article on tech trends.