May 02, 2007

Unpopular Opinion: Digg Revolt Is a Bad Precedent

Unless you've been away from the computer for the last 24 hours, you are likely familiar with yesterday's amazing mob-like takeover of the Digg site by its users, angry about the site's removal of a submitted story which offered up a code removing copy protection from HD-DVDs on Linux. While the crack itself was esoteric, and probably didn't mean a hill of beans to the vast majority of the site's users, the ensuing take-down was the effect of yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater, spawning hundreds and hundreds of follow-on submissions that swamped the front page, even leading to the eventual, short-term shutdown of the site late yesterday.

Amid the din, Digg tried to explain its stance, saying they had to comply with copyright owners. But that just fanned the flames, and eventually, Digg founder Kevin Rose capitulated, saying "Today was an insane day" and added "We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code..."

The inmates had taken over the asylum.

Response to the melee is a lot like rubbernecking on the freeway. Everybody, jaws agape, had something to say on the subject, from TechCrunch and Mashable!, to parislemon to Digg competitor Slashdot. Many are cheering on the user base. Others are wondering if the takedown notice was even valid in the first place. But to me, as fun as it is to watch the mob, I absolutely see where Digg was coming from, and the response, to give the users what they want, is in dangerous territory.

Yesterday's explosion was around a code most of us would never use. But what is to stop the next round of Digg mobbery from promoting software piracy as Microsoft Windows Vista registration codes are passed around, or the latest TV shows and films are posted to BitTorrent? As Digg had first said yesterday, "We’ve been notified by the owners of this intellectual property that they believe the posting of the encryption key infringes their intellectual property rights." But the sheer volume of users took over, and changed the rules. If enough of the mob decides tomorrow that leaking a DIVX copy of the new Simpsons movie online is the topic du jour of the day, they could again revolt against Digg and make sure that Digg's hands are tied. Now, there's precedent that Digg will walk away from a tough fight, when it threatens to cripple the popular site.

There is a population on the Web all too happy to find new ways to get something for free - whether they be film and TV downloads or MP3 files, software or pornography. Now that Digg has shown it can be used for nefarious methods, another barrier has been taken down between the Internet's dark side and those who have always followed the rules.


  1. You seem to be implying that the only people who want this code out in the open are people who want to pirate movies.

    I couldn't disagree more. I've used the DeCSS DVD ripping code dozens of times to rip DVD movies to the hard drive of my home theater PC and laptop. I have NEVER burned a copy of a movie for someone else or made my movies available via the Internet. I've legitimately paid for every single movie I've watched. I feel strongly that I and every other American has a fair use right to place or time shift content for my own personal use.

    I should be able to rip an audio CD, DVD or HD-DVD movie for use in my bedroom, on my iPod, on my Linux box or to my laptop for viewing while on vacation. Sure, the studios don't want me doing it, because they want to charge multiple times for the same content. Fair use doesn't disappear just because the studios say "No." You seem to equate passion over fair use rights to a desire to pirate content. I'm telling you that these are NOT the same thing.

    Digg is not going to let a DIVX copy of the Simpsons or a Vista activation key stay on the site because those are clear acts of piracy. Sure, some people will use the HD-DVD key for piracy. But there is also a substantial fair use reason to have the key out there. Fair use does not equal piracy, and that's why Digg backed down.

  2. Digg eventually decided by their actions that Digg belongs to the users. In today's enviro, the right decision if page views and usage are the dominant motivations. It will be interesting to see if sites that choose to exercise more editorial control will be able to compete in tomorrow's enviro.