An Interesting Development: Freedom Wins—Quickly!

Hat Tip: Freedom to Tinker

The Advance Access Content System “Licensing Authority” (AACS LA) has tried to stop the publication of the decryption key for the next generation DVD drives. (For those of you who may not know this already, this decryption key is an important piece of information that you need to know in order to access next generation DVD formats, such as Blu-Ray.) This was an entirely stupid move, utterly doomed to failure. I had expected that this would play out in much the same way that the disribution of the de CSS program did. De CSS, used to access first generation DVD drives, is now available after a protracted legal battle, but only outside the USA. Of course, with the advent of the internet, that just means that you have to access a non-US site, and download the de CSS libraries from there.* But in any case, the AACS LA sent out cease and desist letters (one is shown below in a screen shot of my desktop). These cease and desist letters had the very predictable effect of causing everyone who cares about the First Amendment to post as many copies of this key everywhere they possibly could, including comments on websites, tee-shirts, bumper stickers, etc. etc. Couldn’t the AACS LA have seen this coming or were they really that stupid?

One of the sites that received a C&D takedown notice was the popular web site digg. Initially, digg took down posts with the key. In any case, digg users revolted, and posted and reposted the decryption key. They also indicated they would leave digg if their stories kept being deleted. Then something interesting happened.

Digg depends on its community, and it interacts with them in way that is much more complex and iterative than the traditional “customer” buys from “manufacturer” paradigm. The customers were therefore in a very unique position to influence diggs decision-making process, and influence it they did. Kevin Rose, digg founder, writes in the official digg blog:

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,


So, something like digg didn’t exist when DVD-Jon released the code for de CSS, and the libraries are, of course, still available. But the difference digg has made is that those who believe in freedom of speech had the leverage (the moral connectivity, as Col John Boyd would have said) to get an important, networked ally. Because of that, they have won, much more quickly than those who were distributing the de CSS did. It may take AACS LA a while to recognize this, but the truth is: it’s over.

What is even more interesting though, is that those who would try something like this in future will remember this failure. They will try a different strategy, i.e., changing the nature of the network (the internet), so it is easier to control, but I doubt that will succeed, for the simple reason that there are too many incumbents, who live off the internet the way it is now, and they are getting stronger every day. The control and limit folks will have to try something fast, probably using something really scary to clamp down. I find it difficult to believe they will succeed.

And here is their takedown notice, courtesy of Chilling Effects. Notice the rather informative list of websites that the Advance Access Content System Licensing Administrator thoughtfully provides in his letter, which I am posting here because this has become a matter of public discussion and is therefore news:


* My personal favorite method of getting a fully-working copy of the de CSS program is to download the Linux distribution ASP Linux, from Russia, which comes with everything correctly configured and plays DVD’s right out of the box, everything just works, just like an Apple used to.

An Interesting Development: Freedom Wins—Quickly!

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