Week in review: The revolution will be posted

Digg's struggle over the posting of a DRM encryption key highlights the power of the Net to transform a censorship issue into a cause celebre.

If nothing else, social news site Digg.com learned that its users don't dig being censored.

Tuesday was a whirlwind day for Digg, complete with a cease-and-desist letter, a mutinous user base and speculation that it might get sucked into a legal battle. In a blog post Tuesday afternoon, Digg CEO Jay Adelson wrote that the company was pulling down a number of news stories pertaining to a cracked HD DVD encryption key that could circumvent the digital rights management restrictions on the media discs.

The reason for the move, he said, was a cease-and-desist letter on behalf of the Advanced Access Content System, the consortium with ownership rights to the key that had been cracked. By including stories that linked to the key, the letter argued, Digg was breaking the law.

However, Digg's user base, notoriously opinionated and accustomed to a community-run atmosphere restricted by relatively few editorial controls, revolted. Rebelling against what they saw as unnecessary censorship, Digg users so thoroughly flooded the site with submissions and comments containing the cracked key that every one of Digg's top-ranked technology stories pertained to the issue.

Later that day, a message headlined with the code and credited to Digg co-founder Kevin Rose called Tuesday "a difficult day for us" and explained that the site had reversed its earlier stance and would reluctantly allow articles containing the code to be referenced from the site.

"You'd rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company," Rose wrote in his posting. "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."

Some CNET News.com readers responded by joining the protest on News.com's TalkBack forum, while others debated the legality of spreading the code and copyrighting the code's numbers. However, one reader characterized motives on both sides of the issue as selfish.

"Copyright violations on community-driven sites have become the norm," wrote one reader to the forum. "Users love to get censored or free information, and the site owners thrive on circulating such information. This is no surprise."

New vision on patents
To know the future of tech, you got to talk to the judge.

In what could be a broader victory for American software companies, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Microsoft cannot be forced to pay up for patent infringement that occurs when copies of Windows are made and installed on computers abroad.

Generally, U.S. patent protection does not transcend American borders. At issue in this case is a complex exception in patent law that bars American companies from shipping "components" to foreign manufacturers, which could then combine them to make a machine that infringes on U.S. patents. The law does not, however, restrict sending blueprints that could theoretically prompt a foreign company to build an identical product.

The justices ruled 7-1 that "abstract software code" shipped by Microsoft to foreign manufacturers in the form of "golden master discs" amounts to such a blueprint, not a "component" of the invention.

In another patent case, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling backed away from a decades-old legal test that high-tech firms argue has sparked an abundance of obvious patents. In a hotly anticipated decision that could make it easier to challenge patents of questionable quality, the justices called for loosening the current approach set by the nation's dedicated patent appeals court for deciding when a combination of existing elements deserves patent protection.

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