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Digg's DRM Revolt
Andy Greenberg, 05.02.07, 8:35 AM ET





Digg.com has become one of the Web's top news portals by putting the power to choose the news in the hands of its users. Just how much power they wield, however, only became clear Tuesday night, when Digg turned into what one user called a "digital Boston Tea Party."

When the site's administrators attempted to prevent users from posting links to pages revealing the copyright encryption key for HD-DVD discs, Digg's users rebelled. Hundreds of references to the code flooded the site's submissions, filling its main pages and overwhelming the administrators' attempts to control the site's content.

Video: Digg This! Users Flex Muscle

Tuesday afternoon, Digg CEO Jay Adelson had posted a message on his blog explaining that the site was removing links to articles that featured the newly cracked HD-DVD encryption key, which can be used to decrypt the high-definition discs and copy their content. "In order for Digg to survive, it must abide by the law," he wrote. "Our goal is always to maintain a purely democratic system for the submission and sharing of information. ... In order for that to happen, we all need to work together to protect Digg from exposure to lawsuits that could very quickly shut us down. Thanks for your understanding."

But Digg's users were not understanding. Instead, they covered the site's main pages with links to blogs that revealed the HD-DVD code and criticized the site's decision to censor content. Because Digg gives users the ability to rate news stories, pushing their favorites to the site's most visible positions, thousands voted to bring links to the top of the site with titles like "Revolt at Digg?" and "Digg Punched me in the Face for Posting This." By midnight, the site's entire homepage was covered with links to the HD-DVD code or anti-Digg references.

And at that point, Digg's executives conceded. In a note published on the site, Digg founder Kevin Rose said the site would no longer try to prevent users from publishing the code. "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," he wrote. "But now, 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."

Digg.com, whose executives couldn't be reached for comment, isn't the first site to face legal problems from user-generated content. Viacom's (nyse: VIA - news - people ) $1 billion lawsuit against Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people ) similarly faults the company for allowing copyrighted material uploaded by users to remain on YouTube, which Google acquired last October.


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