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May 3, 2007

21st Century Diggers Revolt

You noble Diggers all, stand up now, stand up now,
You noble Diggers all, stand up now,
The wast land to maintain, seeing Cavaliers by name
Your digging does maintain, and persons all defame
Stand up now, stand up now.

The lawyers they conjoyne, stand up now, stand up now,
The lawyers they conjoyne, stand up now,
To arrest you they advise, such fury they devise,
The devill in them lies, and hath blinded both their eyes.
Stand up now, stand up now.

(from: The Diggers’ Song by Gerard Winstanley, c. 1648)

History has an uncanny way of repeating itself.

The Diggers are revolting, again. This time, it is a much larger and more focused group of dissenters than seen in previous centuries but in one of history’s ironic hat-tips, a 21st century body known as the Diggers have effectively taken over the social networking site Digg.

The shot that started the revolt came in the form of a deletion prompted by a Cease and Desist order that caused Digg founders to remove a post revealing HD-DVD decryption numbers. Issued by Advanced Access Content System, an industry sponsored digital rights management organization; the order suggests the post might violate US copy protection laws.

When Digg’s founders decided to comply with the C&D and removed postings and stories displaying the HD DVD encryption key crack, the 21st century version of the Diggers Uprising was set in motion.

In a post yesterday afternoon, Digg co-founder Jay Adelson tried to explain why he and partner Kevin Rose made the decision to remove the crack-code.

“I just wanted to explain what some of you have been noticing around some stories that have been submitted to Digg on the HD DVD encryption key being cracked.

This has all come up in the past 24 hours, mostly connected to the HD-DVD hack that has been circulating online, having been posted to Digg as well as numerous other popular news and information websites. 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.

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. Digg’s Terms of Use, and the terms of use of most popular sites, are required by law to include policies against the infringement of intellectual property. This helps protect Digg from claims of infringement and being shut down due to the posting of infringing material by others.

Our goal is always to maintain a purely democratic system for the submission and sharing of information – and we want Digg to continue to be a great resource for finding the best content. However, in order for that to happen, we all need to work together to protect Digg from exposure to lawsuits that could very quickly shut us down.

Thanks for your understanding,

While the users did not seem to understand or agree with Jay’s reasoning, they do understand the true user-centric nature of Digg. Within minutes, the revolt was well underway. Literally thousands of them began posting the code, (09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0) in their blogs and mass-voting for other blog posts or articles containing the code.

The Digg founders were put in a difficult and dangerous position. As one of the largest and most influential social information networks, Digg has a responsibility to stick within digital copyright law, as archaic as it might be. At the same time, the Digg is nothing more than technology supporting the actions of its network of users. The users themselves are the social network. If Digg does not listen to its own community, it risks losing the loyalty of that community.

In a society where the people literally have the power, the people can be expected to exercise it with vigor when excited. Human reaction to perceived repression continues to push towards the collective rights of individuals. Users’ reactions came in post after post after post after post and there was no longer any meaningful way to effectively police the postings without dissing the entire Digg community.

Eight hours after his partner wrote about compliance with the AACS demands, Digg’s other co-founder Kevin Rose conceded control to the user-base in a post titled, “Digg this: 09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 D8 41 56 C5 56 88 C0

“Today was an insane day. And as the founder of Digg, I just wanted to post my thoughts…

In building and shaping the site I’ve always tried to stay as hands on as possible. We’ve always given site moderation (digging/burying) power to the community. Occasionally we step in to remove stories that violate our terms of use (eg. linking to pornography, illegal downloads, racial hate sites, etc.). So today was a difficult day for us. We had to decide whether to remove stories containing a single code based on a cease and desist declaration. 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.

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.

Digg on,

Whatever happens next is going to be interesting and instructive. The user revolt at Digg is part of an uprising that is larger than it seems. Web users from file sharing music fans to the legendary bit-torrent pirate collectives in Sweden have staged an open revolt against copyright laws and digital rights management schemes for as long as the commercial Internet has existed. It has simply evolved because of the very real sense of people power that comes with the community focused nature of social networks.

Did anyone take the time to follow that Wikipedia link to the 17th century Diggers movement at the top of this post? Just in case, here it is again.

Beware that ancient warning about history repeating itself. Rince once, repeat as necessary.

Author:  Jim Hedger is the Executive Editor of He is also an analyst and writer with Metamend Search Engine Marketing in Victoria BC.