Thursday, May 03, 2007

A moral quandry

Normally I alot about 15 minutes for my blog post, most of the time that's sufficient, though obviously sometimes I go over that. Oftentimes when I select a topic I can tell it's going to take longer than 15. This is one of those times, but the trouble is I really do only have 15 minutes, so we'll have to see how far we get...

Earlier in the week someone submitted (or dugg) a story that contained the decryption code for Blu-ray and HD DVD disks. Well was sent a cease and desist letter, and so they removed the link to the story. Well a revolt ensued and Digg users flooded the site with hundreds of stories and thousands of comments all containing the code. Someone even wrote a song with the code in it and posted it on YouTube. For a more complete look at what happened here's the NYT article on it, and here's an Information week story with a larger discussion of the DMCA.

Digg eventually gave into the pressure and stopped removing links to stories with the offending code. Here's what the founder said:

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 the quandry arises what was the right thing to do in this situation? Now IMHO the DMCA is a bad law, particularly in the area of cryptography. Also it's clear that "The Code" got much, much more exposure in this ill-considered attempt to stifle it then it would have ever gotten otherwise. In other words even if they had the legal standing to send a Cease and Desist, it was a dumb thing to do. On the other hand respect for the rule of law is quite possibly the single greatest factor seperating a successful country from an unsuccessful country, and there is an element in this story that reminds me of a child throwing a tantrum.

Of course respect for the rule of law is greatly facilitated when the rules are just and wise, which as I mention is probably not the case with the DMCA (though I hardly think it's the end of all creativity in the universe that it's more vocal detractors make it out to be.) Perhaps the more intersting statement is what this incident reflects about the architecture of Web 2.0. This ABC News article said it best:

But the biggest problem with Digg is not the business itself, which is an impressive creation, but its community. One of the things we’re learning about the Web 2.0 world is that all communities aren’t alike; when you let millions of anonymous users design your product, you also let them determine your fate. And Digg has put itself in the hands of an army of postadolescents with too much education and too much free time, the age cohort that gets its news from “The Colbert Report” and holds the anarchistic view that all information should be, in fact, “wants to be,” free.

Nothing wrong with that. Indeed, been there, done that. But now, in my gray-haired middle-age I’ve come to realize that if you are going to create a venue for children to play, someone has to be the grown-up. And that is where Digg blew it.

Don't look at me I'm not the grown-up


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that in the very spirit of Web 2.0 as a more interactive and publicly held forum, Digg did exactly what it should have done. More and more we see companies and websites moving to this idea of amending themselves to the preferences and choices of the public. While Digg may, though unlikely, go down for this, they have made a name for themselves in an ever-evolving system of communication, and that is worth a lot at this point. (IMHO)

~Other Rob

1:45 PM  
Blogger aozora said...

Trash a vision, and highly successful product, to the whims of a mecurial audience that won't do the hard stuff themselves but demand someone else does their bidding?

Bad plan in my opinion.

8:54 PM  

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