Intellectual Property Dust-Up: Digg

You may have noticed that we have removed the “Digg It” feature that has appeared at the end of each NAM blog post since February. is a high-profile Internet “community site” centered around a user-based ranking system; the content leans heavily on technology-oriented issues. The “Digg It” feature allows readers to recommend individual posts, so with enough activity an item can become a hot topic on the web.

This week, controversy erupted when a Digg contributor posted the hexidecimal code to crack the digital rights management protection on HD-DVD. Lines of software programming are intellectual property — they don’t invent themselves, after all — and the posting allowed tech-savvy users to violate the copyright protections and copy high-density DVDs. Accordingly, the Advanced Access Content System consortium — an industry group that protects copyrights — sent a cease-and-desist letter to, and the site’s operators deleted the post and banned the poster.

Many in the Digg “community” were incensed, believing that Digg buckled under to corporate pressure. Many of these people don’t view posting a code as any great transgression. You buy a DVD move and you should enjoy the right to personal use — making an extra copy in case your kid scratches up the original, perhaps converting it to another format so you can watch it on the computer or a portable device.

Others dispute the basic premise: How can a series of numbers be property?

Unfortunately, any reasoned back and forth was overtaken by an all-too-typical wave of Internet abuse, as users bombarded Digg with thousands of submissions, once again posting the code.

So Digg gave in. One of the founders, Kevin Rose, posted the code with an explanation:

[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.

Digg made a mistake. Sure, the vast bulk of those posting the code have no interest in mass-producing pirated copies, and some of their arguments have intellectual merit. Perhaps Digital Rights Management does hold back introduction and advancement of new technologies.

But the reason companies use software to protect their DVDs, CDs and other electronic media is that people are stealing their property to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. Pirates are running entire industries in China, India, Russia, even Canada, based on movies and sound recordings stolen from U.S. owners — including the artists who wrote and performed the song or acted in the movie.

Intellectual property is property, plain and simple. Just as a homeowner has the right to protect the contents of his house, a company has the right to protect the products of its employees, be it rock song or line of software code.

We think the “Digg community” doesn’t adequately acknowledge the legitimate property rights issues involved in posting a code that allows people to make copies of one or 10,000 DVDs or CDs. And by reversing its original stand, Digg’s operators sanctioned that disrespect.

Until the Digg community shows as much fervor in attacking intellectual piracy as attacking the companies that are legitimately defending their property, well, we do not want to be promoting the site by using the “Digg It” feature.

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Must be a pirate says:

    “Rights belong to individuals” … as long as they are strong, powerful corporations, right?
    Interesting logic there, though.

    I remember when this amazing thing called videotape became the rage, and then came – gasp – the video cassette RECORDER. Movie studios shuddered that Theatres would be shuttered and we’d all be turned into pirates. Strangely, it didn’t happen.

    As an INDIVIDUAL, I *do* get to vote on some property rights — like the property rights I’ll subvert to.

    DRM? Stick that up the ying yang. I’m more then happy to pay for movies that I want to rent, or purchase … but not at the expense of being told how and where I can watch them. Once I’ve purchased the movie, I should then be able to watch that on any device that I’ve purchased … computer, DVD or even my microwave oven if I so choose.

    My car company doesn’t get to tell me what roads to drive on, my shoe company doesn’t get to tell me what sidewalks to walk on. Why you gentlemen think it’s fine for Movie companies to tell me which players the film I purchased can play — it just boggles my mind.

    What’s most interesting is that in and of itself, the key is worthless. You need both a movie which you want to copy, and a player (probably a computer program). Now, I always thought that stealing was the act of taking something that wasn’t yours, not just having the opportunity and ability. But, with powerful new laws like DMCA, we don’t need a bill of rights or “innoncent until proven guilty”, right?

  • Ken Spruill says:

    I think we see the problem. “Democracy!” as some people put it, without limits or accountability, is simply mob rule. Even more so when the “Democrats” involved have the luxury of remaining anonymous. (eh, pfft!, add, & uhhh?)

    There are some things you get to vote on; property rights isn’t one of them. By definition, Rights belong to individuals, not the ugly mob of pirates that claim “might makes right”.

    Whether you’re Digg permitting “the proverbial key to the kingdom” to be posted or accessed, or a pawn shop trafficing in stolen goods, it is a specious argument to say that neither has a role to play in combatting the root crime.

  • uhhh says:

    you all have it wrong actually. digg is a website that allows users to post links TO OTHER WEBSITES that are of interest. the community is self moderating. stories of interest get dugg, and ones that are innacurate, spam, or otherwise get buried.

    digg didnt create or promote anything, what they did was ban a user and delete a story that is the fundamental basis for the website itself. so, users of the website came out to show in force two things:

    a) drm clearly DOESNT WORK.
    b) censorship clearly DOESNT WORK.

    closing your eyes or deleting a post wont make any problems go away. it wouldnt have really been a big deal if digg had handled it properly.

  • add says:

    I saw what happened live on the nets. It was inspiring it was Democracy!

  • pfft! says:

    You obviously have no clue what you are talking about. No lines of code were displayed, nor was any crack, nor was any intellectual property. What was displayed on the site was the proverbial key to the kingdom. I simple 32 hexadecimal string of characters that allows you to unlock the content of any hd-dvd produced to date. This is not about copy-right infringement in any sense. The argument they (the AACSC) made in their take-down notice was that they are transmitting a circumvention device (or part there of). Please get your facts straight before posting such claims.

  • Bill Canis says:

    Congrats to NAM for standing up for the laws of the land. Especially in intellectual property, there is too much erosion a la Digg that threatens to drive innovation right out of the US. Piracy should not be thought of as an art form.