Social Enterprise

Digg decides the power of people outweighs legal risk... for now


Digg debateEarlier this week, Digg CEO Jay Adelson revealed that the company was pulling down stories about a cracked HD DVD encryption key that could bypass digital rights management (DRM) restrictions. Evidently, Digg received a cease-and-desist letter on behalf of the Advanced Access Content System (AACS), the consortium with ownership rights to the HD DVD encryption key. Pulling the stories was the surest way to avoid legal hassles. However, the Digg community refused to keep quiet, and soon the site was bombarded with information about the cracked key. Check out this article "Digg in tough spot with DMCA debacle" and this image gallery "Legal fights over digital rights" from CNET Networks' News.com.

Here's the lowdown:

What's new:
There's been a rebellion at the social news site Digg, where members rallied against what they saw as unnecessary censorship of stories containing a cracked HD DVD encryption key.

Bottom line:
Following the call of its contributors, Digg has chosen not to delete stories containing the numerical code. Now, the question is whether the site could face a legal tussle.

For more information about this story, here is some coverage from other news sources:

According to Kraig Baker, chair of technology practice at the Seattle law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, Digg "made their choice already about what's important to them, and that is the community. They serve a relatively volatile community in that it's one that has very strong viewpoints and very strong opinions about what's right and what's wrong. And when you have a community that has very strong views about how something is going to happen, you are hamstrung a little bit about the kinds of policies you can put in place."

The challenge for Digg going forward will be how to please its audience and avoid legal problems. Do you think this is possible, or are those two things mutually exclusive?

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About

Sonja Thompson has worked for TechRepublic since October of 1999. She is currently a Senior Editor and the host of the Smartphones and Tablets blogs.

23 comments
apotheon
apotheon

As I pointed out in my own [url=http://sob.apotheon.org/?p=253][b]summary of the HD-DVD key fiasco[/b][/url] elsewhere, this is not Digg's first time censoring things. In particular, Digg is known for censoring things that say something critical about Digg. I tend to wonder whether this cease and desist letter even happened -- it might just be an excuse. Regardless, I'm pretty sure Digg didn't give in to the community's pressure because it wants to serve its community. It probably did so because the community's response ground operations at Digg to a halt, effectively making it impossible for Digg to do business at all. It became a simple question of whether to let Digg die [b]right now[/b] because it refused to let HD-DVD key posts appear on the site or to give up censoring these posts. It was that simple, and there was nothing noble about Digg's decision: it was a simple act of survival. I applaud the Digg community for its conviction and willingness to make its desires known in this manner, and wish more people in other venues would take the same stand when appropriate.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

That exactly how I read the situation. Die now or maybe die latter. The second option has the benefit of creating poularity as a "champion" of free speach which could lead to a new start up and or rebirth of a Digg crippled in lawsuits. As the original founders, they could gain notoriaty and avoid personal damages by keeping the leagal issues in the relm of buisness.

dctechrepublic
dctechrepublic

that where users contributed the content were protected by the law? I mean a website owner is not responsible for what content goes on their site by users or anon posts. If this is the same thing, then digg isn't going to have much to worry about.

Larry the Security Guy
Larry the Security Guy

I've read that, according to the DMCA, data hosts would not be liable for copyright vilations on sites they host or operate as long as they remove or otherwise restrict access to the data as soon as they can after being notified by the copyright holder. Since they've chosen not to remove the data, it may be up to a court to determine if the data is protected and whether Digg has an obligation to remove it. If it ends up in court, they face court and attorney costs, and may still have to remove the data. Glad I'm not in their shoes.

AndrewB
AndrewB

But in today's lawsuit happy world, everyone gets sued... They will sue the site owner just because he created a vehicle for the action to occur. It's utterly obsurd. In addition, there is no "free speach." At least not on a privately held website. They make the rules, and thanks to thin skinned morons who go lawsuit happy, the rules have to be there. Finally, free speach does not protect one from breaking the law. It falls under the category of saying you want the President dead or running into a crowded theater and yelling fire (those statements are simply examples, not opinions). I think Digg is digging themselves a huge hole... and the posters had best be careful, because if they are not, the movie companies will come down on them HARD. Not unlike the kids illegally downloading music. Personally, if you can't afford $20.00 to buy the movie, there is an issue somewhere. And for someone to think that the property of others is in the public domain, that's just stupid. Sure, many works are public domain, but ownership of intellectual property is different. And protected. And film is a form of intellectual property. I will put it this way... I am glad I am not a member of Digg... I think that entire community, in their attempt to take a stand, took the wrong one. This is not civil rights, this is not free speach, this is well established law... and has been such for hundreds of years (yes, back to books, thank you).

donaldcoe
donaldcoe

I also agree that this not about Civil Rights or Free Speech but the right to protects one's ownership to his or her intellectual property. It is all about the haves and have nots. When many years ago there was the VHS tape era is was a given that a copy would float the hand to hand family to friend to be copied to death, then when advent of DVD's and the outgoing of the VHS those once platimum pick tape are now at give away prices $5 and under, but nobody wants them. Now with the DVD the average price of $20 no matter what the title or the demand. It is still cheaper to buy an original, I strongly believe that the movie industry has learned and a continuingly learning how to play nice to it's consumers keeping prices affordable and equal, thus the customers happy to buy an original with it's fancy packaging, CD labelling, and scene travelers. The alternative to chaos and mayhem.

Antagonist
Antagonist

First, the word is spelled speech. Second, the movie companies have already lost. They just refuse to admit it. When you have a million people refusing to obey a law, the law has become moot and unenforceable. The only way they could have worked this out to be fair and reasonable would have been to listen to the consumers. Now the consumers are basically saying 'up yours' to the riaa and the mpaa and downloading movies and music at will. The movie companies have already tried to come down hard on individuals and for every person they sued, 1000 more took their place. It's like the war on drugs. It can't be won. The only thing they can do is compete with the pirates. They do that by counting on the integrity of the honest paying customer. They remove the copy protection (it doesn't work and just costs money) and lower the prices to a reasonable level. I believe that is the ONLY thing that will start to turn the tide of copyright infringement right now.

Kurse
Kurse

Not sure where you live, but CD prices are definitely not the same as they have always been. Maybe you haven't bought one in a while. Do you know you pay a royalty on every device capable of recording to CD and DVD? This was allowed by the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992, which was designed by the RIAA on the premise that the devices would allow the public to record perfect digital music. The trade off was that it is legal to record for personal use. The catch was that now radio stations could only play two songs in a row by the same artist in a two hour time slot. There went hearing a whole side to an album. The RIAA is glad to accept this money even though radio is all but dead. When that passed, the RIAA promised that the price of CDs would drop as cassettes became obsolete, but we never really saw that happen now did we? Technology to produce and manufacture CDs made it cheaper and faster, yet the current price of CDs do not reflect the changes in technology. I was not talking about VHS/DVD movies either, I was talking about Theater pricing. I have no idea what your drug reference is supposed to mean, sorry. Not sure where I said I wasn't sensitive to piracy either, but whatever floats your boat =)

eachatelain
eachatelain

Well when it comes down to the nitty gritty, its not the price I have a problem with. Its what I'm going to get for that price. If I like the majority of the songs, yes, I'm going to support that artist or band. Because they deserve it. As for them being encrypted, I've never had problems with that. But movies are a whole new story. I personally think you should buy the original movie off the shelves, and make PERSONAL copies from that if you wish, but not copies for another person.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

that even if you try, info slips under the radar, I'll have to look into that one. And I do agree that the advertising would have to be full of lies. But I would prefer those lies to BS DRM that degrade the quality of my purchase and limit my leagal rights to a product =\

apotheon
apotheon

I don't think you're clear on the definition of "theft".

AndrewB
AndrewB

CD prices have stayed the same since inception. It was intention to beat out inflation. Movies have come down. Remember VHS? $100.00 for a movie, now, on DVD, it's only $20.00. Dude... you need to stop smoking them drugs that the others want for free. We, of all people, should be the most sensitive to piracy.

AndrewB
AndrewB

"The USA PATRIOT Act was nothing compared to the Military Commissions Act of 2006." Try the Anti-Sedition Act of 1917. We have a history of abridging the First Admendment when we see fit. However, when it comes to piracy, that's a crime. For some reason, people have made the theft of movies (and software) not morally questionable.

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]What if instead of DRM, they spent all that money on education people to how digital piracy effects artists?[/i]" That "education" would either have to be full of lies or would not reduce the frequency of "piracy". There's evidence of a strong correlation between music file sharing and positive changes in CD sales. "[i]Why not--we gave up most of our constitutional rights to the patriot act.[/i]" The USA PATRIOT Act was nothing compared to the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

actualy like to see the numbers for sales figures corolated with an artists downloaded content. Personally, I bought more cds post Napster then I did befor. I would download a few songs, and if i like dthem, buy a cd. MP3 music quality, even at 192 bit, is still very much lacking. I do not think musicians should not get paid for their work, but in most cases, they get so little off the sales of CDs its a joke. This is why its the RIAA mostly going after pirates and not individual artists (Exceptions: Madonna, Metallica. Oh wait, where are they today? What was Metallicas last album called...heck, I cant remember.) I am perfectly okay with buying music from iTunes, MP3.com etc. But, what I am not okay with, is limiting what I can do with my purchase. If I want to put that song on a non-iPod, but its encrypted, I cant. Its the same as buyoing a CD you can only play in a single cd player in your rack, and not in the car or at work. I support Steve Jobs is removing DRM from MP3 downloads. I know it will not drop the price, but at this point, its not the price I have an issue with.

eachatelain
eachatelain

But personally I believe downloading music and movies is perfectly acceptable, anyway. Its all fine and dandy for the big wigs, because they're all rich already. But us little people have better things to spend our money on. Why should I have to buy 20 CDs with, what do they have now? All of thirteen tracks each? 260 songs and I probably only like maybe 26 of them. 10% of what I bought. Not a money wisely spent...but hey I want those 26 songs. So what do I do? Get them for free. If I'm going to like the whole CD, of course I'll splurge. But if not, its a waste of money.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

is very much like Internet crime in that 80% of the "busts" are for what should be misdemeanors. A kid downloading music or movies is not the same as child porn. Antagonist was right about copy protection. And the war on drugs? If we really wanted to stop drug abuse, we would increase the level and quality of education available to ALL kids in this country to limit the base vector of addiction instead of just arresting current addicts (containing the spread of infection). Did measles fade away by treating the symptoms of through inoculation? There is a correlation between substance abuse and education just as there is a correlation between immunization and the decline in a disease. We DO have some moral imperative to stop drug abuse and on-line piracy, but that doesn?t mean we have to be ineffective. One definition of insanity is to keep performing the same action and expecting a different result. So far, DRM has not worked, so, suddenly magic DRM will be found? What if instead of DRM, they spent all that money on education people to how digital piracy effects artists? What if they bought TV and magazine ads? I would bet the level of effect would be equal to or higher then DRM. Record companies and Hollywood need to stop wasting time, money, and causing major inconvenience to the actual paying customer (as opposed to the pirate who is not inconvenienced in any way) and stop blaming the Internet for bad sales while ignoring social dynamics. "Should we throw up our hands and give in to the war on drugs as well? How about other crimes...could you as well say we will never stop child pornography on the Internet, so we'll just let it happen?" Why not--we gave up most of our constitutional rights to the patriot act. And every new chip against the consumer adds to the breadth of legal precedent, further eroding our rights and ability to regain them. BUT! Being selective in choosing your battles, and prioritizing your goals is the means to achieve victory. Kiddy porn or music downloading, pot or heroin. They are not the same. We have to choose. So, yes we have a moral right to uphold decency and human values. No, we do not have a duty to give up our rights to fair use, free speech, and due process. DRM is an issue I get rather worked up over. I apologize if I irritated anyone; this is in no way meant to be a personal attack. Edit (number 5): spelling, clarity, and content

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]This would not be a problem if their choices didn't impact my life.[/i]" That's the key point -- isn't it? Criminalize which choices impact your life, and not those that only impact the life of the decision maker. Don't put people in jail for smoking marijuana -- put them in jail for smoking it while performing open heart surgery. It's the same as drinking -- if someone drinks responsibly, leave that person alone, but if (s)he gets behind the wheel of a car and starts driving around, endangering the lives of others, suddenly that person has an impact on the lives of others and should be stopped. Using drugs recreationally doesn't adversely affect others. Using drugs irresponsibly does. Ultimately, driving while impaired should be legally separate from drinking or doing drugs (to continue with the driving example). If you're impaired such that you present a danger to others, you should be stopped -- whether it's because you're half-blind and left your glasses at home, drunk, on heroin, or simply don't know how to drive. Criminalize acting maliciously or with depraved indifference, not the physical act of taking a drug. "[i]My tax money goes to support people who have allowed drugs to take their lives into a spiral where they are unable to provide for themselves and I (and my fellow citizens) provide their needs via welfare funding, and their medical and or rehab treatments.[/i]" The problem here isn't that someone decided to do enough drugs to ruin his or her life. The problem is that you have to pay tax money to rehabilitate such people. End the support via taxation for idiots who have willfully ruined their own lives, not the freedom to ruin your own life. "[i]Not all drugs users end up this way[/i]" Not all drivers use drugs when they drive, but many do. I guess maybe we should just outlaw cars, too. Of course, I don't actually believe that, and I'm sure you don't either -- but it's [b]the exact same argument[/b].

dareguy
dareguy

I agree that government should not have to be the nanny, but the reality is that some people (thank God not most) are incapapble of making wise choices. This would not be a problem if their choices didn't impact my life. Besides, there are few drugs that you can take, and remain 'responsible' as when you are sober. Check you headlines and you will regularly read cases of people under the influence of drugs making poor decisions that effect others (drinking pilots preparing to fly a plane loaded with innocents; drunk drivers wiping out families; etc). And then the police blotter will list the intentional violence that occurs when drugs cloud good decision making. I wish these happenings were not so common. I have been fortunate to have not had those impacts in my life, however the economic impact hits all of us. My tax money goes to support people who have allowed drugs to take their lives into a spiral where they are unable to provide for themselves and I (and my fellow citizens) provide their needs via welfare funding, and their medical and or rehab treatments. Not all drugs users end up this way, but you must face the fact that there are a lot out there who have hit bottom, and plenty more on the way. We don't live in a vacuum, and the drug users in our community are not the same cute and adorable people as we see on the TV sitcoms.

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]Should we throw up our hands and give in to the war on drugs as well?[/i]" Yes. Emphatically yes. Government is not my nanny. I don't even use recreational drugs (other than the occasional big of alcohol), and don't tend to like hanging around with people who are using drugs, but government has no right to tell a responsible adult what he's allowed to put into his own body.

Kurse
Kurse

The movie/music studios have been ripping the consumer off for years, the Internet has just provided a simple means for the consumers to fight back, which is exactly what they are doing. CD & movie prices have inflated to ridiculous amounts. If they were to charge consumers a fair price for these things, there wouldn't be such a huge problem.

dareguy
dareguy

Who determines the line in the sand in a case like this? Is it not the creators of a property (ie the movie makers) to determine what is reasonable and fair use of their property? I find it hard to swallow that the users of Digg (or any other group) should determine what right they have to others properties. Should we throw up our hands and give in to the war on drugs as well? How about other crimes...could you as well say we will never stop child pornography on the internet, so we'll just let it happen? I believe we have to have some kind of moral guidelines or beliefs. Whether we believe we will ever completely end violence, crime, or theft, we should nonetheless take a stand against it. Each small step toward allowing infringement on others rights (including their right to safety from drug users in their communities) and properties redraws the line, and at what point do you stop?

Sonja Thompson
Sonja Thompson

Or at least that was the resounding response by the Digg community when the CEO notified users that the site was removing stories and comments about a cracked HD DVD encryption key due to a cease-and-desist letter and the company's desire to avoid legal hassles. Digg-ers bombarded the site with information about the cracked key, letting the online world know that they resented the attempt at censorship. Digg heard its community loud and clear and allowed the information to stay. The challenge for Digg going forward will be how to please its audience and avoid legal problems. Do you think this is possible, or are those two things mutually exclusive?

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