Revolt over removed articles causes policy switch

One of the Web’s biggest news sites is defying Hollywood on the controversial issue of content protection.

Digg.com, which allows users to vote on news stories they like and pushes the most popular to the front of its site, has been a huge subject of discussion among tech bloggers in the past couple of days after it started taking down information that could be used to hack HD DVDs, then reversed that policy.

Digg users started submitting a series of articles in the past few days containing a 16-digit code that can potentially be used to break the content protection on an HD DVD. The code first appeared on the Web in February.

After receiving a request from AACS, the consortium of studios and tech companies that controls HD DVD’s content protection, Digg began removing all such articles in order to protect itself from legal liability. In a Tuesday post, CEO Jay Adelson wrote, “Whether you agree or disagree with the policies of the intellectual property holders and consortiums, in order for Digg to survive, it must abide by the law.”

But Digg’s most loyal users didn’t agree with this reasoning. In the next few hours, they bombarded the site with more and more posts featuring the numbers and kept voting them to the top. Users, many of whom oppose Hollywood’s approach to digital rights management technology, called it an issue of free speech.

By Tuesday night, Digg changed its mind. In a 9 p.m. post, founder Kevin Rose wrote that the site would allow articles with the offending code. “After seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear,” he wrote. “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 will be. If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.”

AACS reps did not return calls asking whether the group will take Digg to court for allowing the code to be posted. In 2000, eight studios won a similar lawsuit against hacker magazine 2600 for printing a code that can be used to hack a DVD.

Since Rose announced the change in policy, however, stories containing the code have mostly disappeared from Digg’s front page, replaced by more typical fare.

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