NICK DOUGLAS — Yes, another damn article on Digg's promotion of the HD-DVD cracking code. Because everyone else gets the story wrong. Here's a simple explanation of why this story matters, what's happened, and what could happen next — and why some guy from Wired News showed up at Digg's door this morning.
The story so far
Users of the social news site promoted to the front page a story about a number used to illegally decrypt DVDs for play on unlicensed devices. This key could be used to play a DVD on a computer running Linux — a seemingly innocent act, but breaking locks on HD-DVDs is a crime under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Digg employees deleted article containing this key, since illegal information violates Digg's terms of service.
The Diggers were not pleased. So they sent another article with the same key up the flagpole. Over 15,000 users saluted. And then this record-breaking article was also deleted. Gone. Not buried but dead. A blog post by co-founder Jay Adelson said that Digg had to delete these stories to protect itself against lawsuits.
So the Diggers posted about the censorship. Then they went to other social news sites and complained. News sources (like Gizmodo and Consumerist) treated it as a user revolt. Digg users filled the front page with stories pretending the number was the title of a Jules Verne novel, an error code, anything.
Digg joins the fight
So Kevin Rose gave in. Well, that's how others are reporting it. But Rose is a subversive guy. A few years back he recorded a show called The Broken, a how-to for mostly-illegal hacking. In one episode, he showed how to copy DVDs from Blockbuster. He called the process "Blockfister." Look, he even made a cute fisting gesture:
So Kevin decided to let the Diggers go nuts. He explained, "You'd rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company...If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying."
There are two possibilities Kevin Rose and Jay Adelson are risking the business that could make them a hundred billion dollars:
1. They're batshit insane.
2. They think they can win this fight.
I'm willing to bet Rose and Adelson have a plan. Many groups have opposed the DMCA ever since it was proposed. It's arguably an unconstitutional law, as it restricts the right to free speech and the right to property by making it illegal not only to circumvent a technical restriction on a piece of media for otherwise legal purposes, but also to instruct someone how to do so. When it becomes illegal to merely post a number on a web site, something's gone terribly wrong with the law.
So whom could they enlist? Well, there's the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a rights group that's no fan of the DMCA. The EFF has the resources to fight a federal battle and a record of winning several important fights.
And by the way
To the Wired News blogger who walked right into Digg's office and asked for an interview: ten points for nerve, minus a million for reporting your little adventure (oh my god, did you just walk from Wired's office to theirs? I mean you're one neighborhood away) with the title "Digg Battening Down the Hatches." Dude, they gave you a press number (Rose is out of town) and sent you away; they have shit to do.