Digg, Napster’s Ghost & The Real Revolution

Nothin’ like a little drama in the ol’blogo-2.0-social-sphere to go with the morning coffee. Digg experienced a mass revolt in the last 24 hours. In short, someone pointed to an article that laid out the hacking scheme to decrypt HD-DVD (something that was inevitably going to happen). Caving in to pressure from the “owners of intellectual property,” Digg promptly took it down…and then took other like posts down…and then started banning users.
A mass revolt ensued. Before you knew it, Digg’s front page was flooded with the pointers to the decryption information. Digg HQ had essentially lost control of Digg. There is no editorial staff at Digg. The mob is the editorial staff. Of course there are Terms of Use, but that’s just window dressing. The Digg community will determine the terms of use (without the capital letters).
Now that the mob was at the door, Kevin Rose has decided to give in. In his words:

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.

Ouch. So let me understand this: the community/mob has decided (through mass action) that this story should stay up or Digg goes down. Fine. Digg Inc. has agreed to their demands. Fine. Now…who’s responsible for the consequences? I can almost hear Rose’s above quote ending in a whisper: “…will deal with whatever the consequences..”
This is a tough spot for Digg to be in. If the other mob – the copyright holders – go after Digg, they can try to argue that: “hey, we’re just a public forum. We can’t control what users put up here. Look what happened when we tried!”
Sound familiar? Napster made the exact same argument nearly ten years ago…and they lost. Ultimately, we’re going to have to reconcile editorial control with responsibility. Digg can’t argue that they’re not responsible because they aren’t in control. Ultimately, it’s not about being in control, its about being an accomplice; an amplifier.
Napster’s primary argument was that they were de-centralized. “We have no servers” they argued. But it turns out they did…sorta. Without getting into the technical nuances, the reason Napster was brought down was because it facilitated and enhanced illegal behavior.
Mobs don’t care because you can’t really sue a mob. Or can you? Maybe go after the infringing individuals? Or better yet, when that gloomy day comes and Digg Inc. is served with a lawsuit, they should ask the revolutionaries to help out. They’ll have the user list after all. If the Digg community is serious about this issue, then they should be co-defendents with Digg Inc.
Now that would be a revolution.

3 Comments Digg, Napster’s Ghost & The Real Revolution

  1. rax262

    That’s an interesting point of view but could we take it one step further and claim that because I can search for the HD-DVD code via Google that the search engine is guilty of facilitating illegal behavior?

  2. Richard Ziade

    I think that would be a stretch. Digg is unique in that it falls between an arbitrary indexer like Google and traditional publishing.
    The nature of DIgg is such that it promotes stories through certain mechanisms. Google has no such agenda. They just want you to find what you’re looking for. Digg on the other hands implies “hey, we picked out the most interesting stories and here they are…” (“we” being the user votes & Digg’s own algorithms).

  3. Terry Heaton

    Nice piece, Richard. I think we need to be mindful of the energy behind this kind of stuff, because that’s not going away, regardless of which lawsuit settles what. The truth is the horse was let out of the barn when “users” first got the notion that they could create their own media.
    I don’t think we can force the horse back into the barn anymore, and what we really need is to intellectually and honestly face issues like authorship and copyright. Until that happens, though, I will continue to say that these are the most interesting of times.


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