Web tends toward radical openness, as Digg.com, Pandora show

youtube-hd.jpgIt has been two days since the controversy began at Digg.com, when users started submitting stories to the news site containing the HD DVD encryption key. If there’s one lesson learned, it’s that the Web tends toward radical openness, and that aggressive censorship is futile. A related story may unfold at music site Pandora, which we’ll get to shortly.

Here’s what happened: After Digg.com received a cease-and-desist letter from the group of companies that use the copy protection system (AACSLA), Digg momentarily tried to remove the stories.

But its users revolted, and covered the front page with links to the HD DVD encryption key, and Digg relented. Even as we write, the front page is still dominated by these stories. There are four on the front page. People are now debating whether Digg will survive or not, with supporters saying that the event showed that Digg’s users were in charge, but others saying Digg was tarred because it was defaced by the story (most regular readers would like to read a variety of stories).

The real story goes beyond Digg. People everywhere were writing about the key. One site up went up with the key in its URL, and another person sang a song with the key in the lyrics (click on image above to see the YouTube video). Search Google, and you’ll find some 300,000 pages containing the number with hyphens, and 10,000 without hyphens. It shows that the AACSLA shouldn’t have contacted Digg with the take-down letter, which only inflamed the situation, brought more attention, and therefore backfired. (We’re not sure of the original source of the key, but presumably the AACSLA could have dealt firmly but personally with the original source of the story.) Complete censorship is impossible. Digital rights management of music can be stripped. And most other censorship efforts can be bypassed if someone does enough works.

pandora.jpgThe latest example is unfolding at Pandora, the popular Web radio company that lets you discover new music based on your tastes and create custom playlists. After months of pressure, the music labels have finally forced Pandora to block access to foreign IP addresses, so that people outside the US can’t access the music streaming. It goes into effect today (Thursday).

However, the more it is talked about, the more people tend to mention how to end-run the censorship. After all, presumably all a foreign user has to do is change their IP address so that it is not recognized, using something from ProxyBlind, as is being pointed to by thousands of sites.