I predict a riot

1934 Minneapolis riot 

Very interesting to read Antony’s two articles about the happenings at Digg: Ey up, there’s trouble at t’Digg… and Thoughts on the Great Digg Revolt of 2007. Digg, obviously, is a folksonomy or bookmarking-popularity site, and a large number of its users were pointing the way to a crack for encryption of high-def DVDs. Digg received a take down demand for this content from the owner of the intellectual property and did so. They did explain what they’d done, somewhat apologetically, saying that it was within  their terms and conditions to do so and that otherwise they’d be exposed to a costly law suit.

This caused anger amongst the users who posted the key, and links to it, back onto the site thousands of times. (grab below from Ant). Digg backed down saying it would rather go down in flames then halt its users right to… folksonomy and break the law. The code in any case is everywhere, from YouTube videos, and other tagging sites to t-shirts and bulletin boards, as reported in the New York Times.

Digg and the HD DVD code

There’s a number of things going on here and I think it’s possible to get blinded by the ingenuity of users to keep the number public and our mass-contempt for DRM:

  • To publish the code is an infringement of copyright law, just like using Napster used to be when it was full of other people’s record collections. No one liked it when the Napster crack down started but I’ve never heard anyone come up with a proper argument against it. Same with allofmp3.com. We just knew the game was up and our quiet lawlessness had been halted.
  • It is relevant that people weren’t taking responsibility for their actions. If lots of people had put it on their own blogs or sites then fine, but they didn’t. They put it on Wikipedia, YouTube, Digg and bulletin boards. That does make a difference. I don’t think Antony’s defence that putting it on your own blog would be like staging a sit in in your own house is a reasonable analogy.
  • Obviously people are clever and will work around a system, and they now have lots of tools to do that. That’s fascinating and fun to watch but not a defense. In the analogy from the first point, Bit Torrent and Limewire don’t justify copyright theft.
  • No one likes DRM, it feels wrong and it can’t last. But it is the current law. In a democratic society, we can protest but we can’t break laws to change them.
  • Whoever decided to start sending the letters and take-down notices is a clutz and poured fuel on the fire. In practical terms they’ve pretty much guaranteed they’ll never put the geenie back in the bottle.

Anyway, an interesting debate. I think Digg’s management team were put in a difficult position but I think caving in to mass action was poorly considered. 

If we want to solve the “moral” problem here, think what it would have been like if Chris Locke had decided he was within his rights to keep allowing the Sierra hate-content, or other users thought they should repost it to protect ‘freedom of speech’. When you substitue in a law we care about, it doesn’t seem to hard to work out what to do.

Or, show it for what it really was. Not so much a revolution as a riot. Are riots a powerful force: yes. Are they moral or legal: no. They may highlight an issue but they do not justify their means.

See also: RMM London’s excellent post on public and private spaces.

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