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Is Digg.com Facing Lawsuits? End of Site in Sight?

Digg.com is likely facing a series of lawsuits that may well end this popular user-driven news site forever. The website has gone through an incredible and unprecedented series of transformations in the last 24 hours. As of right now, even major websites like Slashdot and Wired are (at best) not yet telling the full story or even (at worst) giving inaccurate or incomplete information. For example, no one is reporting the fact that the illegal code in question has been up on Digg.com for months! Digg first adhered to its Terms of Service, then violated them as well as the law in a 180-degree turn-around.

At Digg, site administrators went from removing articles referencing a certain copyrighted code to banning users who submitted such articles, all before the founder of Digg (Kevin Rose) embraced the code and published it openly in a story headline. This last move both violated Digg’s own Terms of Service and broke applicable copyright laws, ignoring a Cease and Desist order telling the site not to list the code.

The entire fiasco started with a hexadecimal string that decrypts HD-DVDs. This string was released to the public months ago on the Doom9 forum by a user named Arnezami, and has been circulating around the internet ever since. Few people (including Digg administrators) realized that the string had already been linked to from Digg.com numerous times, and had been posted to Digg comments as far back as early February [NOTE: for legal reasons I am blurring the images below¬ so as¬ not to post the¬ code string. However, if you wish to retrace my steps and verify my statements simply search Digg for Arnezami].

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Yesterday, however, a user posted a story more explicitly displaying the code. After this link was removed, the user reposted the same basic story that ended up receiving over 15,000 ‘Diggs’ on the site making it front-page news. This story was removed as well, which caused an uproar in the Digg community. Within hours, the entire front page of Digg.com consisted of stories that reposted or linked to the illicit hexadecimal string [image below]. Digg users claimed that Digg was actively engaging in censorship of information, and showed their feelings about this quite openly.

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Initially, Digg administrators removed stories displaying or linking to the contentious code as fast as possible. After banning a number of users, the site had to first disable new story submissions before finally shutting down entirely for a short period of time. Realizing there was no end in sight to the open revolt, Digg founder Kevin Rose capitulated to popular demand and reposted the hexadecimal string in a new story headline (you can see the Digg blog for details).

Beyond the legal implications of Rose’s decision, there are a good deal of unanswered questions concerning the motivation of Digg administrators in both banning the code initially and then embracing the code openly. For one thing, the DiggNation show received sponsorship by the HD-TV Promotion Group. It is thus easily arguable that the initial decision to block the code from the site was economically motivated. Once users rebelled, it is also equally likely that Digg folded to user demands for reasons of self-preservation rather than out of a concern for freedom of information. Further, Digg removed a number of stories and comments in the midst of the debacle that criticized Digg or discussed the code but did not openly display it. PS: Web Urbanist FTW!