Digg DRM Revolt

By Richard Menta 5/2/07

The major media have always had a tough time with the changes brought about by the Internet. That's a problem for them, because those who cannot adapt to inevitable change will ultimately perish from it and Hollywood has too frequently taken the stance of supression over innovation. Still, after the missteps by the record industry dealing with Napster, you would think they would have more respect with regards to what the masses - the wiseguy on your left - can do when enough of them are motivated.

Digg front page overtaken by HD-DVD Key story

It's safe to say that when the Advanced Access Content System Licensing Administrator, the body that oversees the AACS encryption found on HD-DVD and Blu-ray, tried to suppress the publishing of a string of letters and numbers that break that encryption they stirred up the biggest hornet's nest seen in a while.

The body sent legal threats across the Internet threatening suits if the AACS key wasn't removed from web sites. They also sent similar notices to search engines and content aggregators like Digg.com demanding that they remove the links to all sites that display the key. The key was uncovered earlier this year and have been circumventing the Web since then.

Much of Digg's audience didn't like the fact that Digg capitulated to the threat from the anti-piracy folk. Nor did the audiences of Google or Cory Doctorow's site Boing Boing. The cry of censorship rose throughout the online world as Netizens feared such moves will blossom into more demands to take down unfavorable messages. The concern built and built until yesterday when the online masses decided give a display of the type of power they can wield when they took over Digg. We haven't seen such an uproar since the Sony Rootkit fiasco forced that powerful record label to pull millions of CDs at the height of the Christmas 2005 season.

Users commandeered the Digg headlines, a popular site that has always had a problem of keeping its user base from driving suspect, marginal stories to the front page via collusion and other methods. This time, users focused their efforts to spread their displeasure over the AACS matter and seized the entire site. Everytime Digg took an AACS story down, users put it back up at a pace faster than Digg moderators could handle.

Soon every story was about the "key", with diggers keeping those articles up there with their votes and submisions. Having received the cease and desist order Digg had to choose between potential litigation and the wishes of its audience. Initially, Digg thought it safer to avoid legal conflict, but when push came to shove Digg's audience proved they were a more volitile force to contend with. Finally, Digg chose the people who support the site most.

Said Digg founder Kevin Rose "after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you've made it clear. You'd rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won't delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be. If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying."

Meanwhile, the attempt to suppress the AACS key had the same effect as the effort to suppress Napster several years back - it made it far more visible. The story already dominates all the major Internet technology sites and by tomorrow it will be on the front page of all the traditional press. I guess the lesson taught by Napster was never learned. Frankly, it is probably a mistake that will be repeated over and over again by the same entities.

The AACS key is out. The point is moot. It's just another demonstration of cyber vox populi as well as a demonstration of the ultimate futility of selling digital rights management as a concept to consumers.

Other MP3 stories:
Hollywood Contradicts Itself on Effects of File Sharing
HD Radio Effort Undermined by Weak Tuners in Expensive Radios


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