02 May 2007

Why Their Number is Up

There is an incredible - nay, pivotal - event unfolding on Digg. And it all revolves around a number. As the excellent Brownian Emotion explains:

This number is the key to unlocking the encryption for all high-definition DVDs, the possible successor to the popular DVD format. Using this key in a special program could allow one to copy an HD-DVD, and would thus violate the DMCA and the copyright of the content owners who produce those HD-DVDs.

Of course, the existence of this number is further demonstration of the fact that those in the content industry really don't understand technology: it was bound to be found, and once found, disseminated. But where the story gets really interesting is after those behind the broken HD-DVD technology started trying to block the publication of that number.

As we know (from about 15 years of Internet history), this can't be done. But it turns out that it's even better than that. People started posting links to the number on Digg; Digg was then hit with legal orders to take those posts down, which it did. Digg was then flooded - utterly flooded - with posts about that number and diggs for those posts, until finally, Digg's Kevin Rose decided to do the brave thing:

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,


Kudos, Kev.

As a result, the Digg front page is currently awash with stories that contain the number, most with huge levels of diggs (to which I am proud to have added my widow's mite).

This shows two things. First, when the diggnation get it into their head to make a point, there's little even Kev can do about it, short of shutting down the site. Secondly, that attempts to stop the publication of this kind of information is even more doomed than it was ten years ago.

The reason is not just that Web 2.0 has given even more power to the digital people, but because of the nature of what is being published. It's a number: - pure information. There is simply no way that a number can be kept secret, as all the witty Digg postings which just "happen" to mention that particular number, show.

Since everything in the digital world, ultimately, is a number, this also shows why it is impossible to stop the copying of any digital artefact: it's just a number, that has no meaning of itself, only through context and interpretation. So while a number might be the digital representation of a document or song or picture to you, to me it's just my favourite number. There is currently no law against sharing favourite numbers. And the Digg revolt shows what will happen if anyone is foolish enough to bring one in.

For all those trying to defend digital content against copying in this way, their number is truly up.

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