• United States

Past the event horizon

Jul 14, 20034 mins
Enterprise Applications

Doctrine defines the event horizon, conceptually that location in time and space where a force interacts with the enemy’s will. . . . It is the task of doctrine to extend the event horizon as far away as possible from the commander. An extended event horizon gives the commander more time to plan and execute; it protects his decision-making cycle, while chipping away at the enemy’s.– “Defining The Event Horizon: The Marine Corps And The Dialectic Of Maneuver Warfare And Airland Battle

If you believe the press, the battle between the public and the media and entertainment industries over illegal content sharing is still underway. The reported conflict centers on the continuing saga of the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America and various demented senators trying to implement legislation and Gestapo-style tactics to bring the bad boys to justice.

But that is completely wrong. These brave defenders of content apparently think that the event horizon is yet to arrive, as if there were a battle to be joined that would determine the outcome.

What the axis of entertainment has missed is that the event horizon is so far in the past that the war was lost months if not years ago. To not admit that is to be in denial. Today’s battles with the “pirates” are merely shadowboxing while the winner, the great unwashed public, is walking away with the victor’s belt.

The reason for what is effectively a complete defeat is that sometime in the 1990s we became a society based on digital data. It was a tricky, subtle transformation because the dividing line between the Post-Industrial Era and the Digital Era wasn’t predicated on a single technology or product and the changes were cumulative and irreversible.

The result of being bit-based was the explosion of digital devices that make today’s copyright battlefield unmanageable for media owners. And it is no longer just a problem for the music industry.

For example, at screenings of many recent films, including Disney’s latest cartoon, “Finding Nemo,” guards have used metal detectors and night-vision goggles to find audience members filming the movies. But, no surprise, these tactics didn’t work. Both “Finding Nemo” and “The Matrix Reloaded” were on the ‘Net as downloadable videos before general release.

And how about the latest J.K. Rowling book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? Within hours of its release pirates had scanned and converted the book into text and turned it loose on the Kazaa file-sharing network.

The conclusions that you can draw from these events are: 1) anything that can be made digital will be; 2) sharing of digital content cannot be stopped; and 3) no source of content is exempt.

For the corporate world the implications are profound because senior management currently expects that privileged information and data can be kept secret. They are wrong.

Anything digital is one step from being turned loose. Usually all it takes is one keystroke to do the damage and then copies of “interesting” data take on a life of their own.

And it is getting harder to keep information private because the jump from paper to digital data is smaller than it has ever been. With a $50 scanner and the optical character-recognition software built into Windows XP, anyone can convert from paper to bits without breaking a sweat.

You prevent this by putting in place a closed, high-security, military-style network that isn’t connected to anything else and where you can frisk the staff as they enter and exit the secured area in which the network lives. Great in theory, lousy in practice unless you happen to be in the armed forces, the CIA or the National Security Agency.

The world has changed because we crossed the battle’s event horizon without knowing it. Life, particularly business life, will never be the same. Now we just have to wait for the media and corporate senior management to get it.

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Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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