It may well be a watershed event for Web 2.0, or at least a significant test. Things have been bubbling for a few days, but today (5/1), it finally boiled over.
In case you haven’t heard — a few days ago the hex code needed to crack HD-DVD encryption was posted to the internet. It probably would have died out after a short, bright flare of blog attention, once the requisite number of geeks capable of actually using the code obtained it (and after the requisite number of geek wannabes posted chuckles about it on digg).
But, “the owners of this intellectual property” (cough, MPAA, cough, cough, AACS, cough) decided to descend with cease and desist orders in an amazing show of hubris. Aside from confirming that the code is legit and will indeed crack HD-DVDs (in and of itself, increasing attention), these desist orders immediately inspired indignant posts of the code on blogs and comments around the net yesterday. (I first saw it in Wil Wheaton’s cleverly oblique post Monday, but Boing Boing, and all of the notable blogs have posted — and some have removed it — it seems.)
And then Web 2.0 truly kicked in — inevitably, those posts were dugg, and soon, many Digg posts repeated the code. Not surprisingly, once “the owners of this intellectual property” saw the growing numbers of posts, Digg itself was sent a cease and desist order.
Here’s where things got interesting. Digg decided that their best course of action was to comply, and they removed the posts and suspended the accounts of the posters, in accordance with their Terms of Service.
Fire, meet fuel. Soon, it became clear that Digg would need to suspend a significant portion of their entire user base and block nearly all new diggs, as angry, DRM-hating diggers championed the cause of their fallen comrades in what has become known around the net as The Great Digg Revolt.
So, Digg, with a melodramatic post to end all posts, proclaimed that it was (finally) making a stand in favor of Web 2.0 values in the face of overbearing corporate interests (DRM), and that if that caused them to be shut down, at least they will have gone down swinging.
Like a whack-a-mole game, “the owners of this intellectual property” order sites to take down the code as soon as they see it, and web denizens continue to repost it even more quickly. Google and other hosters/providers seem to be complying with requests to remove or issue take-down notices to users. So far, Digg seems to stand alone, testing the waters.
Will Digg die? No. It will be interesting to see if “the owners of this intellectual property” (I refuse to call them by their proper acronym) actually do sue, though. A court battle would inevitably outlast the urge to post and repost the code, but even if “the owners of this intellectual property” were to prevail, how code the code be removed from every nook and cranny that it now occupies? It can’t be stripped out of our memories and imaginations.
This is the first step. With any luck, The Great Digg Revolt and the wide posting of the code will draw enough attention to this subject that a national debate ensues.
DRM is, and always has been, a ridiculous construct. The idea of protecting authors’ rights is important. Doing it with a code that restricts audience members from using the works they have rightfully purchased from “the authors” is silly, though — it is often fraught with compatibility problems, makes implementation more difficult, makes customers mad because of unnecessary restrictions, and, in the end, can never remain secure for very long. As Steve Jobs pointed out in his “Thoughts on Music,” a great deal of time and resources must be devoted to protecting and changing that code.
What is the solution? I don’t pretend to know at this stage. There must be a way for authors and artists to receive fair compensation for their work and protection from exploitation without so severely restricting the rights of end users. For now, I plan to sit back and watch the fallout from the coming clash between average users and the omnipotent-seeming forces of “the owners of this intellectual property.” It’s sure to get more interesting from here.
(Thanks, Wil, Chris, Joel, and Sion; photo parts by Steve Woods)