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5/2/2007
09:44 AM
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Digg Yields To The Wrath Of The Crowd

Digg users would rather see the site go down fighting than give in to censorship, so Digg officials say they will no longer delete posts that contain a code that cracks encryption on high-definition disks.

The Digg community rose up Tuesday, defying the site's Terms of Service and efforts to ban noncompliant users, to post a 32-digit number that a video industry group wanted to remove from the Internet.

The Advanced Access Content System Licensing Administrator (AACSLA), which licenses the copy control technology that's supposed to secure HD DVD and Blu-ray discs, recently embarked on what appears to be a quixotic quest: trying to unpublish the number that nullifies its digital lock.

The number in question, a 128-bit integer, is the "processing key" that decrypts HD DVD and Blu-ray video so it can be viewed. Code breakers published this key back in February, cracking the copy protection on the upcoming generation of video discs before there's even much of a market for them.

Evidently having forgotten failed efforts to suppress DeCSS -- code that decrypted DVDs -- the AACSLA has been sending Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices to blog service providers like Google in an effort to erase its number from the Web. The AACSLA's attorney demanded that Google remove four blogspot.com Web pages that contain the number.

Google and/or the site publishers complied; either the post or the number has been removed from the pages that the AACSLA complained about.

Digg tried to pursue the same path by removing posts that referenced the number and by banning those who failed to cooperate.

"Whether you agree or disagree with the policies of the intellectual property holders and consortiums, in order for Digg to survive, it must abide by the law," Digg CEO Jay Adelson explained in a blog post Tuesday. "Digg's Terms of Use, and the terms of use of most popular sites, are required by law to include policies against the infringement of intellectual property. This helps protect Digg from claims of infringement and being shut down due to the posting of infringing material by others."

The DiggNation video show, produced by Revision3, a company run by Digg founders Adelson and Kevin Rose, last year was reportedly sponsored by the HD DVD Promotion Group. A company spokesperson didn't immediately confirm this in an e-mail requesting confirmation.

But the community-driven news site made it clear who had the wheel.

Digg's effort to appease the AACSLA prompted mass civil disobedience. Internet users began linking to posts calling for the spread of the number. They began posting it as a comment in Digg stories and elsewhere.

As of Tuesday afternoon, searching for the forbidden number on Google returned 9,410 search results. On Wednesday morning, the number could be found on more than 22,000 Web pages.

On other Web sites, Internet users joined in. A Tuesday post on Slashdot.org mentioned the takedown notice campaign. Slashdot readers added numerous comments containing the number. By Wednesday morning, the rebellion had become the talk of the blogosphere.

At 9 p.m. PST on Tuesday, Digg founder Rose raised the white flag. "Today was a difficult day for us," Rose said in a blog post. "We had to decide whether to remove stories containing a single code based on a cease and desist declaration. We had to make a call, and in our desire to avoid a scenario where Digg would be interrupted or shut down, we decided to comply and remove the stories with the code."

"But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you've made it clear," Rose continued. "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."

It appears unlikely there will be any consequences. The mob won.

Princeton computer science professor Ed Felten sees the takedown campaign as futile. "The key will inevitably remain available, and AACSLA [is] just making [itself] look silly by trying to suppress it," he said in a blog post. "We've seen this script before. The key will show up on T-shirts and in song lyrics. It will be chalked on the sidewalk outside the AACSLA office. And so on."

Proskauer Rose, the law firm representing the AACSLA, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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