Digg users revolt over AACS key

Last night, Digg.com underwent a user rebellion. Digg removed many posts — and terminated the accounts of some of its users — for posting a 16-digit hexadecimal number that is used to lock up HD-DVD movies. The number — a "processing key" — was discovered by Doom9 message-board poster muslix64, who was frustrated by his inability to play his lawfully purchased HD-DVD movies because of failure in the anti-copying system.

The AACS Licensing Authority, which controls the anti-copying technology underlying HD-DVD, sent out hundreds of legal threats to sites that had posted the key, including Digg. It appears that Digg took a pro-active stance and began to seek out new examples of the key and delete them immediately, instead of waiting for notice from the AACS-LA. It's likely that their lawyers advised them to take this course of action, since the penalties for posting "circumvention devices" can be stiff.

Digg's users revolted at this stricture, and saw to it that every single item on the front page of Digg contained the forbidden number. Users accused Digg of taking money from the HD-DVD manufacturers (Digg ran an ad campaign from the company in the late summer of 2006), and complained about the site's deletion of user accounts.

At 9PM last night, Kevin Rose, Digg's founder, posted about this on the Digg blog, and said that he would no longer take material down, even though it could very well cost him the site. It's a brave stance, and it seems to have quieted the Digg users' protests.

I think another way of doing this would be to take down each user post on receipt of a takedown notice, then post PDFs of each takedown notice that he received in their place, which PDFs will contain the magic number. That way, the information stays alive and Digg doesn't get sued. I'm not a lawyer, but this has been the strategy I've pursued with my class blog, which received a takedown for the same number.

In the meantime, AACS-LA's attempts to suppress the number have been an abject failure. Google lists 36,000 pages that contain the number, most of them posted in the past few days in response to the story of AACS LA's letters. So much for keeping it a secret.

So today was a difficult day for us. 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. 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.


(Thanks, Andrew!)