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    Digg Users Show Strength in Numbers in DVD Dust-Up

    by Mark Glaser
    May 3, 2007

    i-2bf73aa63c03e1672124757c6f066efd-Digg logo.JPG
    The community-generated news site, Digg, has been an experimental hothouse for online communities. Last summer, there was the move by Netscape to offer to pay top Diggers to do their news-article bookmarking at Netscape, with Digg CEO Jay Adelson saying he’d never pay Digg community members. Now comes the user revolt after Digg decided to remove posts that mentioned the string of code used to crack HD-DVD technology. After users inundated the site with the code and related stories, Digg co-founder Kevin Rose said management was giving in to the community and would allow the code on the site.

    Initially, Digg was responding to a takedown notice (similar to this one) from the Advanced Access Content System Licensing Administrator (AACS LA), which claimed the code could not be published online by rule of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The string of code helps defeat digital rights management (DRM) features of the high-definition DVDs, allowing you to copy the content onto a computer or other device — though it’s not an easy task.

    Digg decided that it would circumvent the law and its own Terms of Service with users to allow them to link to and publish the code on the site. That’s a powerful statement to make, and many people believe it’s foolhardy. The San Francisco Chronicle headlined its story as, User revolt at Digg.com shows risks of Web 2.0.

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    But in the long swath of history, Digg management — and its hardcore users — will end up in the right. For each piece of encryption software invented by the entertainment industry, a hacker will come along to circumvent it and publish the results to the world online. Some of those law-breakers will be punished, and yet, the cracked code itself will be let loose with little chance of litigating everyone into submission.

    People have long shared recorded art, with no copy-protection or encryption schemes for LP records, cassette tapes, audio CDs or VHS tapes. Only in the digital age, with the ease of copying files and sharing them online, has the entertainment industry become obsessed with protecting their products — at the cost of alienating and suing their customers.

    Wired’s Epicenter Blog has truly been the epicenter of reporting and aggregating information on this whole incident, and Wired News has showcased images and artwork users have created with the code. No word on what will happen to Wired and its owner Conde Nast for all these repeated showings of the code itself.

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    So what does the revolt prove? That mob rule will overthrow the rule of law on community news sites? Not in this case. The DMCA is a slippery slope toward a day when you can’t even post commentary about cracking DRM codes. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an excellent legal primer on the situation:

    Is the key copyrightable? It doesn’t matter. The AACS-LA takedown letter is not claiming that the key is copyrightable, but rather that it is (or is a component of) a circumvention technology. The DMCA does not require that a circumvention technology be, itself, copyrightable to enjoy protection.

    Digg should not allow its users to run rampant on the site and destroy it with spammed Diggs, cheats or hate speech. But there is a fine line when it comes to moderating a community. If you take a strong stand — even one that might be endorsed by your lawyers — you might also end up with no one left in your community. It’s important to strike a balance, and it will be interesting to see what legal ramifications, if any, come from Digg’s siding with its users.

    But just as I argued earlier about Viacom’s $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube/Google, you can’t bottle up a piece of information, a piece of technology or an idea once it has spread so far and wide. After people made T-shirts, put up signs, and even sang a song with the code, it’s going to be impossible to put this technological genie back in the bottle.

    What do you think? Should Digg side with its users in this case or comply with the cease-and-desist letter? Do you think all DRM is flawed or does it serve a worthy purpose? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Tagged: copyright law digg law social networking
    • If I were a Digg owner, I would have immediately taken down the offending articles, posted the takedown notice and focused the user outrage on the AACS. Harness all that energy on the real enemy here: those stupidly trying to contain information that can’t be contained. Better, more decisive communication could have help prevent the blowup I think.

      I also think this episode shows the inherent weakness of the pure Digg model. It doesn’t take much for the wisdom of the crowds to become mob rule.

    • The Digg online riot is a turning point that a lot of old media adherents don’t seem to recognize. One traditional news source, the New York Times, distinguished itself by writing a concise explanation of the conflict that actually made sense of it for non-geeks, and especially by providing reader comment capacity that attracted some of the most intelligent discussion while the story was breaking.

      In those comments, you can hear the frustration of honest people who paid for digital content only to discover that it could only be used on one device, requiring them to buy another copy of the same artistic work in order to move between platforms. You can learn that nothing protected by DRM will play back on open source powered devices. You can learn — as you won’t from any traditional news organization-linked, edited account — that social network users are very willing to pay artists…just not greedy middlemen. These are not spoiled post-adolescents with too much time and “too much education” (whatever that is), as a certain columnist who should know better tried to claim. The Digg online riot was not “mob rule” by geeks, it was the refusal by an emerging community of very smart people to be regarded any longer as merely passive consumers.

      Whether and how traditional press outlets covered this story speaks volumes about what these news organizations know or care about the audience they are so desperately tailing.

      I am not surprised to find a smarter than average reaction at PBS.org, but I am increasingly grateful: for this column, for Lowell Bergmann’s News War, for Bill Moyers’ Journal. Keep explaining the past, present and future of news this well, please.

      For a slightly giddy round-up of events as they were happening, see http://angelamotorman.blogspot.com/2007/05/registered-hex-offender-im-in-ur-drm.html
      -OR-
      http://snipurl.com/1jebr
      I hope those who initially dismissed this uprising as a tempest in a teapot will, in time, rethink those snap judgments.

    • The Digg online riot is a turning point that a lot of old media adherents don’t seem to recognize. One traditional news source, the New York Times, distinguished itself by writing a concise explanation of the conflict that actually made sense of it for non-geeks, and especially by providing reader comment capacity that attracted some of the most intelligent discussion while the story was breaking.

      In those comments, you can hear the frustration of honest people who paid for digital content only to discover that it could only be used on one device, requiring them to buy another copy of the same artistic work in order to move between platforms. You can learn that nothing protected by DRM will play back on open source powered devices. You can learn — as you won’t from any traditional news organization-linked, edited account — that social network users are very willing to pay artists…just not greedy middlemen. These are not spoiled post-adolescents with too much time and “too much education” (whatever that is), as a certain columnist who should know better tried to claim. The Digg online riot was not “mob rule” by geeks, it was the refusal by an emerging community of very smart people to be regarded any longer as merely passive consumers.

      Whether and how traditional press outlets covered this story speaks volumes about what these news organizations know or care about the audience they are so desperately tailing.

      I am not surprised to find a smarter than average reaction at PBS.org, but I am increasingly grateful: for this column, for Lowell Bergmann’s News War, for Bill Moyers’ Journal. Keep explaining the past, present and future of news this well, please.

      For a slightly giddy round-up of events as they were happening, see http://angelamotorman.blogspot.com/2007/05/registered-hex-offender-im-in-ur-drm.html
      -OR-
      http://snipurl.com/1jebr
      I hope those who initially dismissed this uprising as a tempest in a teapot will, in time, rethink those snap judgments.

    • Joseph A.

      The internet, as an essentially democratic medium, would appear to have extended the laws and rules of free-market capitalism. I wouldn’t call the challenge at Digg an issue of “mob-rule” anyway. As an online community, especially one so big, it has become an extension of the internet itself. “Well of course” you’ll say, but then look at it in terms of the internet as a whole. This simple string of code which can just as easily be sung or memorized, has spread itself all over the internet just as the latest gossip would spread like wildfire across the backyard fences of the suburbs of the 50’s and 60’s. There would and will be no quashing of the spread of that code. If Digg had made the stand to find the insurmountable battle to stop the code from being posted to Digg it would have first, been silly and next to impossible, but would also have caused such an backlash of anger from those in the know, namely their top Diggers, that they ultimately had no choice. Either alienate those who make your community run (practically speaking) or give in to the, one would argue, more rational course of action and move on.

      On a larger scale, this reaction seems to further push the idea that DRM is broken and that, more importantly, consumers don’t want it. They didn’t have to deal with it before and they don’t see any reason to deal with it now. This act is essentially a revolt against an industry who is now obsessed with locking everything down to the deck as if a hurricane might blow all of the culture and content of society away in the middle of the night. I would hope that the industry is looking at this very closely and can see that while the biggest actors in this drama are a group of very outspoken individuals, that this mantra and dissent towards DRM is widespread and not isolated. Not to make this purely an argument over DRM, because that’s been done and done. But I think this is far from the last we’ll see of such displays. Communities like Digg, or Slashdot, or even the public comment fields of news websites, can’t risk silencing the speech of their community so long as it isn’t obscene or otherwise inappropriate.

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