That didn’t sit well with Digg’s users, who quickly flooded the site with messages containing the 32-character string.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Web operators are supposed to remove copyrighted material once notified by the intellectual property owners. Furthermore, the same law prohibits anyone from detailing how digital rights management technology might be cracked.

So the people behind Digg removed the item once they had been notified by lawyers representing entertainment companies.

“In order for Digg to survive, it must abide by the law,” wrote Digg chief executive Jay Adelson in a posting to the site the following Tuesday. “We all need to work together to protect Digg from exposure to lawsuits that could very quickly shut us down.”

That’s when it got nasty.

Digg’s 1.2 million users sprang into action and posted items containing the code faster than the site’s operators could remove them.

And if you think text filters could block those items, think again. Digg’s users posted links to pictures, videos, even a song, all containing the encryption-breaking code, causing Digg to throw in the towel later that same day.

“You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you,” co-founder Kevin Rose wrote late Tuesday. “If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.”

One of the more ironic factors in the Digg episode is that the site’s efforts to comply with the DMCA actually caused the unauthorized proliferation of the intellectual property in question. What’s more, any legal action brought about by the entertainment companies might inspire even more widespread distribution of the code.

Meanwhile things appear to be back to normal at At least for now. But the power of the people is a lesson Digg’s operators are not likely to soon forget.

“They’re stuck because their community, which is their biggest asset, is the one putting them in this position,” Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff told the Los Angeles Times. “When you hand the keys over to the mob, they’ll drive wherever they want to go.”