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I'm going to get this out of the way up front: everyone involved with the Digg vs HD DVD processing key shenanigans could have handled it better. Kevin Rose and the staff at Digg goofed bigtime by removing posts linking to the key without explaining why to the digg community. The digg community flipped out and, in true anarchist fashion, started what can only really be described as an internet riot. When you destroy your own home because you're pissed off about something, that's a riot.
But I get ahead of myself. So, people started posting the encryption code (09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0, for the record), they get a letter from the HD DVD folk's lawyers saying "stop doing that" and Digg makes what appears to be a wussy decision to pull the digits from the site. This is an unpopular, but prudent and wise thing to do. If you're a small or even medium-sized company, any situation that's going to end up in court is something to be avoided. When your company gets sued, even if it's an open-and-shut, slam dunk case, you're going to piss away a ton of money on lawyers. If you're in another jurisdiction, then the legal bills pile up at a really alarming rate. And that's if you're guaranteed a win, which is never, ever the case. Even if you win the legal battle, a small company can blow through its entire cash reserves in no time, dooming the company. For more on this topic, see pyrrhic victory.
But of course, there's a twist. Digg's extremely popular podcast receives financial sponsorship from the HD DVD mob. And, if you read the initial official post on the subject from Jay Adelson, you'll note that he never mentions what action the HD DVD crowd took, nor does he mention threats of legal action or even a boilerplate DMCA takedown notice. He says:
We’ve been notified by the owners of this intellectual property that they believe the posting of the encryption key infringes their intellectual property rights. In order to respect these rights and to comply with the law, we have removed postings of the key that have been brought to our attention.
Not a lot of specifics there. Whether there was an impropriety or not, the appearance of impropriety is there. That's always bad. And the simple fact is, there's absolutely nothing wrong with linking to stuff that's copyrighted. Hosting it yourself is a no-no, but linking to other people who host stuff isn't. And frankly, claiming that a sixteen group hex key is priviliged info is laughable. It's akin to saying "Hey guys, I've copyrighted the number 12. I like it, and it's mine. You can't use it anymore," and then trying to charge every building in the country with more than 11 floors licensing fees. If the AACS folks were concerned about the key, they should have done a better job protecting it.
Eventually, Kevin posted on the blog that Digg is going to fight the Man. That's great, but I wonder if that means there's going to be a prolonged legal battle, or if whoever sold the ads for the podcast will just make some apologetic calls to their customers, and offer to extend the ad run.
The unfortunate thing is that now, every time something unpopular with digg users happen, this kind of riot is bound to happen.
Addendum: There's a heaping helping of irony here too, since just last week MPAA Prez Dan Glickman said the MPAA was commited to fair use and interoperability, as well as a consumer-friendly DRM-ripping scheme.