Peer Review: The Web's first 'cyber-riot'

A few days ago, some users of Digg.com began posting a code that can help hackers break the copy protection built into HD DVDs. The code's discovery wasn't particularly newsworthy: Wired had posted the code back in February. But Digg started taking down the code posts, and explained that it was protecting itself from lawsuits. None of this was out of the ordinary because Digg — a site where users can post stories and then recommend them or "bury" them so the most popular stories hit the site's homepage — takes down stories that violate its rules all the time. But something about this code, or perhaps the way the news was broken to them, resonated with Digg's 1.2 million members, and they revolted.

They started posting the code like mad: Linking to photoshopped images of the code, posting the code in comments, and even making up a song with the code. It's all over the Web now, but while sites like Google are still madly trying to take it down, Digg gave in to its users' demands. Digg's founder, Kevin Rose, the one who gave details about the iPhone in a controversial podcast before the phone was announced, changed his mind. He noted that the website's users cared more about freedom from censorship than they did about the website possibly getting sued out of existence, and that in this case, he was siding with them.

Most of the 50,000+ Digg users who responded with rage to the censorship probably didn't even know how to take advantage of the coding. But when the site gave in to user demands it led some reporters to call the revolt "a Bolshevik revolution for the world of the Web". We've rounded up the best of the commentary after the jump.

"Witness the modern equivalent of the 95 thesis' Martin Luther nailed to the door of Wittenburg church. We, digital citizens — commonly referred to by the vulgar term of 'consumers' — have had enough of content lock-in… As Joe Rogan's character on Newsradio once quite accurately quipped, 'Dude, you can't take something off the Internet… that's like trying to take pee out of a swimming pool.' " , Download Squad

"It's what you might call 'Digg-ing their own grave.' This week saw what is being characterized in the tech community as the first real 'cyber-riot.' And like real riots in the real world, Tuesday's … had all of the usual elements of irrationality, illegality, false bravado and cowardice…. How appropriate that this scandal occurred on May Day, because only a utopian fantasist would argue that all information should be free. It was Abraham Lincoln who said that America's two greatest contributions to mankind were the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Patent (i.e., intellectual property) law." , ABC News

"The content in question is an integer — an ordinary number, in other words. The number is often written in geeky alphanumeric format, but it can be written equivalently in a more user-friendly form like 790,815,794,162,126,871,771,506,399,625. Giving a private party ownership of a number seems deeply wrong to people versed in mathematics and computer science." , Freedom to Tinker

"Is the key copyrightable? It doesn't matter. The AACS-LA takedown letter is not claiming that the key is copyrightable, but rather that it is (or is a component of) a circumvention technology. The DMCA does not require that a circumvention technology be, itself, copyrightable to enjoy protection." , Electronic Frontier Foundation

"But once the site gave in, even some of the executives who support the encryption code said they had little appetite for a suit. The law says they have to take it down when they're told about it," said one technology executive who declined to be identified. "But no one ever envisioned that the users would lock the system to stop it from getting taken down." , L. A. Times

"'It’s a perfect example of how a lawyer's involvement can turn a little story into a huge story,' said Fred von Lohmann, a staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group. "Now that they started sending threatening letters, the Internet has turned the number into the latest celebrity. It is now guaranteed eternal fame." , The New York Times

"[Digg founder] Rose declared to hell with not only all the lawyers, he also said to hell with our own Terms of Service as well! Is that any way to run a business? Even a Web 2.0 one?" , ZDNet

"Our policy remains consistent. We have the same terms of use and we reserve the right to remove content that violates our terms of use. This was a very unique case regarding specific subject matter. We decided to make a judgment call. Rumors of Digg's death are greatly exaggerated." , interviewed by Wired

"I'm willing to bet Rose and Adelson have a plan. Many groups have opposed the DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] ever since it was proposed. It's arguably an unconstitutional law, as it restricts the right to free speech and the right to property by making it illegal not only to circumvent a technical restriction on a piece of media for otherwise legal purposes, but also to instruct someone how to do so." , Valleywag