Friday, September 16, 2005

Critical Evaluation - Darknet

Technology, in many ways has always been an important determinant in shaping the mechanics of the society – how it functions. From the invention of the light bulb by Thomas Edison to the current i-pod[1] by Macintosh, they have revolutionised the lifestyles of many. All in all, these inventions sought to ease and improve various aspects of a person’s life, such as enhancing one’s work productivity, leisure time, and allowing them to expand on their potentials and interests. Technologies are opening a gateway for them to create, share and produce materials[2] that are beforehand restricted only to big major companies and conglomerates. The public are no longer passive consumers, but strive to reinvent existing and contributing to future materials.

This emerging participatory culture[3] is blurring[4] the lines of work between the public and the private domain. Some had even questioned the relevance of some companies’ existence.[5] In retaliation to these unknown threats, big companies safeguard their interests by pushing for copyright laws that will control and impede public’s work. Consequently this also generated a number of people, associations[6] and websites that opposes such actions. Darknet[7] is one such website. It is the aim of this exercise to evaluate Darknet blog in term of its position, contribution and relation to participatory culture and digital communication.

Darknet is a term meaning “a collection of networks and technologies used to share digital content”.[8] They are the mediums or tools for sending and receiving files from one to another and the function to make copies of the files. This includes peer to peer sharing (p2p) and burning[9] of CD and DVD respectively; hence allowing quick and easy dissemination of digital files. Examples includes Napster[10], Kazaa[11], Grokster[12] and the newly Bittorent[13]. These services have been subjected to many copyright lawsuits, on the grounds that they are encouraging illegal copyrighted file sharing. This has dire implications on the big companies because as mentioned above, “companies take such a hard line over p2p distribution is because a more level, or democratic, playing field calls into question the legitimacy of their own stated reasons for existence.”[14]Consequently this causes closure of Napster in 2001[15], and multiple court cases for Kazaa[16] and Grokster.[17]

During the period when Napster was shutting down, there was the appearance of a number of counterparts with similar features to Napster on the web.[18]This defiance and the sense of neglect to the copyright laws is part of the constant battle for sharing and participation rights against the major companies. Hence the Darknet blog serves as a source for readers to find out more about the on-going struggle between Darknet and the opposing companies. The continuous updates on any matters in relation to Darknet, from new softwares, debates, interviews and court ruling outcome serves as supports; and maintaining the hype around Darknet. Thus the position of the blog was evident and clear. It wholly promotes Darknet, and is apparent by reading the blog posts. More often then not, interviews and court ruling that favours the big companies are generally criticised.[19]

The position of the Darknet blog can be traced by examining the author. This blog is written and maintained by J.D Lasica. He is “one of the world's leading authorities on grassroots media and the personal media revolution.”[20] He is the current head of ourmedia.org[21], and has given numerous lectures and speeches on digital technologies. Ultimately his intention was to voice his concern over the threats on digital culture.[22] These threats involve strict copyright rules that will ‘lock-down’ public’s freedom to share and create, and consequently obstructing their creativity. He discusses the steps taken by these big companies that will eventually result in a total control of public’s work. Simply speaking, rules have been tweaked to favour the big over small.[23] Therefore it is the Darknet blog and his aim to create awareness on such matters. The objective is twofold. Firstly it is to inspire public to fight against these laws and secondly to change the mentality of these companies. The war between them will only disadvantage both parties, as Lasica argued that “recent excesses in law and private industry have created a new imbalance in the public’s digital freedoms that threatens to shackle creative culture.”[24] and also “they (big companies) attempt to lock down content with digital armor in a way that eviscerates traditional fair use rights, they are alienating customers —and pursuing business practices contrary to their long-term interests.”[25]

The Darknet blog has also contribute in forming an online community, with multiple links to other websites and weblogs with similar ideas and arguments. Linking to weblogs of the likes of people like Dan Gillmor[26] and Lawrence Lessig[27] has strengthened their bond, generating greater hype and a stronger voice to copyright matters. Moreover these linked sites have also links to Darknet and to others, further reinforcing their bond and the sense of community. Indeed “links to related sites create new expansions of communities and connections to other informational and organizational resources, which might itself constitute a new branch in online activism theory.”[28] Additionally this has allows relevant information to be gathered in a single body of links, resulting in quick updates and notifications and ease of archiving for the visitors and authors themselves. The commonly used of quotes on excerpts and comments[29] taken from other weblogs also allows opportunities for further discussions and examination, thus re-energising the topics and hype.

Darknet as a blog have also differentiated itself from other media forms such as static websites, television and radio. In many ways it is perhaps the most suitable medium to discuss free sharing and copyright issues. Firstly, copyright laws on the internet are still rather vague, and thus blogging serves as a wonderful means of experimenting with this issue. Secondly is the ability for visitors to comment on the blog post. This has an attribute of the participatory culture, whereby readers can carry on the discussion; notify the author of errors or new updates and so on. Blog therefore are good ‘feedback system’.[30]Thirdly blogs have the reputation to surpass traditional news media in the speed of response to latest news and issues.[31] They are also flexible in changing their contents to improve accuracy. Such speed and fluidity of bloggings have enlisted them as one of the more popular source for the latest information. Lastly the links to other weblogs widen the accountability of the posted information, as readers can examine other weblogs to see if there is relativity in similar posts.

In conclusion, the Darknet blog sought to support the public’s battle against major companies from imposing strict copyright laws that will impede creativity and innovation. The intention of the blog is to create an awareness of such matters, rallying and creating interests in the public to oppose such changes. It is also the intention of the author to try and change the mentality of these companies. The Darknet blog itself has participated and contribute to being part of an online community with similar cause and ideals. The links to similar weblogs strengthen their bond, amplifying their existence. The medium of Darknet as a blog have several advantages over traditional forms of media such as television and radio.

Notes
[1] I-pod is a portable hardware that allows the user to store computer files and to play mp3
[2] Materials is defined as intangible digital goods such as videos, games, fan-fictions, music
[3] An era whereby consumers are also producers
[4] Sam Howard-Spink, "Grey Tuesday, Online Cultural Activism and the Mash-up of Music and Politics." First Monday 9.10 (2004), http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue9_10/howard/
[5] Emerging popularity of online journalism has questioned the viability of big news company. For further information visit http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/wemedia/book/ch00.pdf
[6] Associations such as Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN) http://www.hsan.org/ , Music for America (MfA) http://www.musicforamerica.org/
[7] Visit http://www.darknet.com/
[8] Peter Biddle, Paul England, Marcus Peinado, Bryan Williams, “Darknet and the future of content distribution” ACM Workshop on Digital Rights Management (2002), http://www.bearcave.com/misl/misl_tech/msdrm/darknet.htm
[9] Burning is a computer term meaning writing or storing information onto the disc.
[10] Visit http://www.napster.com
[11] Visit http://www.kazaa.com/us/index.htm
[12] Visit http://www.grokster.com/
[13] Visit http://www.bittorrent.com/
[14] Sam Howard-Spink, "Grey Tuesday, Online Cultural Activism and the Mash-up of Music and Politics." (2004)
[15] Napster is a p2p music sharing service. Wikipedia, “Napster”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napster
[16] Wayne Arnold, “Australian Court rules Kazaa has violated copyrights”, New York Times (2005), http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/06/technology/06kazaa.html
?pagewanted=1&ei=5090&en=e0875d7f2c01553e&ex=
1283659200&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss

[17] Wikipedia, “MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MGM_vs._Grokster
[18] Jeremy Shermak, “Global Napster usage plummets, but new file-sharing alternatives gaining ground, reports Jupiter Media Metrix”, ComScore Networks, (2001) http://www.comscore.com/press/release.asp?id=249
[19] JD Lasica, “Lessig on the ‘rotten’ Grokster ruling”, Darknet (2005), http://www.darknet.com/2005/09/lessig_on_the_r.html, JD Lasica, “Courts on DMCA: You can’t improve products”, Darknet (2005), http://www.darknet.com/2005/09/courts_on_dmca_.html
[20] “About JD Lasica”, http://www.jdlasica.com/aboutjd.html
[21] Ourmedia.org is the global home for grassroots media. Visit http://www.ourmedia.org/
[22] JD Lasica, “Darknet mini-book: introduction”, Darknet (2005), http://www.darknet.com/2005/05/darknet_miniboo.html
[23] Dan Gilmor, 'From Tom Paine to Blogs and Beyond' from We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People. Sebastopol: O'Reilly Media, 2004, pp. 4 http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/wemedia/book/ch01.pdf
[24] JD Lasica, “Darknet mini-book: introduction”, (2005)
[25] JD Lasica, “Darknet mini-book: introduction”, (2005)
[26] Visit http://bayosphere.com/blog/dangillmor
[27] Lessig is another well known author that has written articles and books on free culture and creative commons. Visit http://www.lessig.org/blog/
[28] Sam Howard-Spink, "Grey Tuesday, Online Cultural Activism and the Mash-up of Music and Politics." (2004)
[29] Examples of excerpts taken from Lessig and posted on Darknet blog. JD Lasica, “Lessig on the imperilled public domain”, Darknet, (2005), http://www.darknet.com/2005/09/lessig_on_the_i.html
[30] Dan Gilmor, 'From Tom Paine to Blogs and Beyond', (2004), pp. 1-22
[31] Tama Leaver, “The Mediascape and the London bombing”, Ponderance (2005), http://ponderance.blogspot.com/2005/07/mediascape-
london-bombings.html

8 Comments:

Blogger Hilary said...

hey andrew
glad to see you got your evaluation done on time :)

Sat. Sep. 17, 08:18:00 pm 2005  
Blogger Andrew said...

not really. it was late ;(

Tue. Sep. 20, 10:50:00 am 2005  
Blogger Hilary said...

ssshhh nobody has to know :P
sick note!

Tue. Sep. 20, 11:10:00 am 2005  
Blogger Andrew said...

haha are we starting a new discussion here? ;)

Due to the bulk of our posts, it is hard to see what discussions are going on. Are they any hot debate going on? hehe

Tue. Sep. 20, 05:57:00 pm 2005  
Blogger Hilary said...

no, alas there is no hot debate going on!! everyone is ignoring the blog because we ALL know that we have to do those horrible critical evaluations of each others works, which is always abit gutting because you like to keep that 'safe bubble' where you hope you did really well!!! lol :P
other than that, check out my little 'grammar man' icon! he doesnt come out properly on here because of the dimensions :(
Oh, but! I think on Gwen's post there is a discussion about the Serenity film and how we are all going to see it. You must come! I have a horrible feeling i'm not going to like the film :( but you know, TEAM SPIRIT!
you got any ideas for your podcast yet? I'm scared about podcasts, in fact whenever it comes up to the major project of communications I am scared!!! :P
how is your dissertation going? I saw you in Chantal's office the other day, sounded like your coming up to crunch time!
This is all academic related discussion of course ;)

Tue. Sep. 20, 10:04:00 pm 2005  
Blogger Andrew said...

Serenity? Never heard of it. But I do remember hearing you people talking about it. Heh, all that I could think of when I thought of that word is Seinfield's "serenity now! serenity now!" ;P

hmm, that sure wasn't very academic ;P

Wed. Sep. 21, 09:27:00 am 2005  
Blogger Hilary said...

haha I remember that!!
"serenity now serenity now"
and then they exploded!!! lol classic seinfeld
I love seinfeld
well maybe it is academic in that it builds on erm, cultural erm.....you can finish that sentence andrew! :p

Fri. Sep. 23, 07:09:00 pm 2005  
Blogger Gwyneth said...

Hi Andrew. Well, here is my critical evaluation of your critical evaluation.

First, I like the way you began your critical evaluation with a holistic introduction, referring not only to the development of digital communication but the evolution of human society as well. As there were few dates included in your account of the political context of Darknet's creation, it could be a little confusing for some readers as to when these specific issues began to arise, although we know it is all relatively recent. I like the way you have addressed Lasica's twofold objective, both inspirational and educational, which shows that the Darknet blog has goals on both a large and smaller scale within the political arena of digital communication. Given Lasica's prominent role within both online and real world discussions, I'd imagine his blog is a lively site of debate and analysis. The links between Darknet and similarly active blogs does suggest a shared sense of community. You made a good point that these connections might lead to an expansion into online activism, as bonding such influential individuals together could mean a strengthening on both the professional and personal fronts. It might have been good to have a few examples direct from the blog, to show some of these aspects in action. Your analysis clearly illustrated how blogging contrasts with previous forms of media in areas such as speed, flexibility and feedback potential. In terms of forming shared relationships and appealing to like minded individuals the blog format has some definite advantages. As you said, the blog is probably the best format to use when discussing issues of copywrite and sharing given the controlled nature of other media forms by large companies, in fact, it may be the only site where honest discussion of such ideas can exist at present. I particularly liked your comment that readers can search other weblogs for similar discussions, as this adds an element of verification for the reader while furthering their knowledge of the topic. Have Darknet and its associated blogs ever actually been involved in generating real world activism? I can just imagine them all getting together to storm the castle of a money munching conglomerate!

Overall Andrew, I think you have given good evidence of the who, what, why and how of the Darknet blog. You have clearly positioned it in terms of its relation to participatory culture and digital communication while explaining its contribution to the goal of online freedom. The only issue which I thought could potentially cause a problem is the when of your critique, where you are at times unclear as to the timeline of events in relation to the present day.

Good stuff. Cheerio :)

Thu. Sep. 29, 09:12:00 pm 2005  

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