Geeks Digg Free Speech

I’m sitting in a café, talking to my friend Dan about the recent debacle surrounding Digg and the publicizing of the HD-DVD copy protection key. Dan already blogged about this elsewhere; the long and the short of it is that netizens were promoting a story through Digg that revealed the aforementioned key, the people behind Digg complied with lawyers and took the story down, and then Digg put it back up when the people of the interweb revolted.

I wasn’t planning on blogging about this, as I wasn’t sure how it fit necessarily into “geek studies” per se. My friends had other plans, however. Russ sends along a link titled “Geeks en Masse” chronicling these events, linking to other stories with links reading “Nerd anarchy? An e-rebellion? Or just mob justice…” and “Geeks weigh in on geeks.” Keith, meanwhile, sends me a link in which Star Trek actor-cum-<a href="blogger Wil Wheaton suggests adding the HD-DVD key as his favorite number to his Wikipedia entry (which someone apparently did do, and hasn’t been removed as of this writing).

So how is this a geek story? In the 21st century, you don’t have to be a geek to use a computer or to participate in shared experiences on the internet. The implication I’m reading here, however, is that 21st-century geeks can be pretty motivated when it comes to defending the free flow of information, prioritizing this over profit or legal security. And I’m not even talking about people wanting to spread the key so that they can crack HD-DVD—that’s not the story here. That crack was inevitable, as DRM is a misguided venture at best. The real story here is not about piracy, but about mediated collective action and the ethical (if not always legal) exchange of information.

We see this kind of action carried out through an array of geeky practices: unauthorized fan merchandise, the Free Culture movement, fan-made fiction and movies, and so on. I’m still working through how this ethos simultaneously fits or conflicts with the image of geeky fans as value-obsessed hoarders of content (e.g., comic book collectors who seal away issues in plastic without ever reading them), but this seems to me (and apparently to some others) like a key concept in the culture of self-identified geeks. On the other hand, it’s possible these represent two relatively separate subsections of geek culture. Please feel free to weigh in.

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