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DRM Hack Flap Sparks Digg 'Riot'

Effort to take down hack postings results in crippling rebellion at social networking site

You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. And, apparently, you can't un-publish a hack once it's out on the Net.

That's the lesson learned by one maker of digital rights management technology -- and, unintentionally, the operators of Digg -- over the last day and a half, following a "virtual riot" that brought the popular social networking and news site to its knees yesterday.

The problem all started back in February, when code breakers found the decryption key that allows next-generation HD-DVD and Blu-ray to be viewed without a license. Since then, users have been passing the 128-bit integer around the Web, posting it on sites such as Digg, Google, and Slashdot.

But earlier this week, the Advanced Access Content System Licensing Administrator LLC (AACSLA) -- the maker of the copy control technology -- began to insist that Websites take down those postings, citing its rights of ownership under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Many site operators, including Digg, complied, citing their policies to obey laws about the sharing of intellectual property.

Users rebelled. In an unprecedented demonstration of protest, users around the Web began posting the decryption key back on every Website they could find. But Digg, which allows users to post as frequently as they like, buckled under the strain of thousands of users resubmitting the code over and over again.

Despite efforts by Digg administrators to control the submissions, users papered the site with submissions about the decryption key, using the site's ability to "elevate" stories to the home page as a weapon. By midnight last night, the entire Digg home page was covered with postings about the code.

Digg finally gave in. Founder Kevin Rose posted a message saying that the site would no longer try to prevent users from publishing the code. "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," he wrote.

"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. If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying."

So far, the AACSLA has not published any statements about the controversy, or its intention to seek enforcement of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In past weeks, it has said that the publication of the decryption key "has no adverse effect" on its ability to protect copyrights, and that customers can get an update of the decryption key online.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

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