Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Saturday, February 24, 2007

DRM: Digital Rights Restrictions - Richard Stallman Viewpoint: Video

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Digital Rights Management, or DRM, is an all-too-pervasive means by which the manufacturers of hardware and software - including music and video - place restrictions upon the people that buy it from them. If you have ever downloaded a music track from iTunes, or a movie from Amazon Unbox, bought an audio book from Audible or tried to get your music collection back off an iPod, you have already come into contact with DRM.

Photo credit: Ovidiu Predescu

Effectively, DRM is a means of controlling and restricting how you listen to, watch or interact with your digital media. For one, it is designed to prevent you from sharing it with your friends, and for another it is kept in place to ensure that you do not tamper with, remix or in any way alter the digital content that you have purchased. In some cases you are restricted to accessing this media using a single device. Lose the device, lose the media.

Increasingly, consumers are standing up and refusing to be treated like criminals by the people whose salaries they pay. While there are a growing number of ways to remove DRM from software they remain largely illegal, and perhaps the most effective stand that consumers can take against it is to boycott products that implement DRM altogether.

In the second part of Robin Good's exclusive interview with Free Software pioneer and founding member of Defective By Design Richard Stallman, they discuss the current status of DRM and the alternatives available to you as a consumer and producer of digital media.

What is DRM, where can you find it in action, and what are the alternatives?

Richard Stallman on DRM - with full transcript

RG: Can we spend a few words on the status of DRM and your concern on activities around it?

In line with Richard Stallman's wishes, this video is also available to download in the Free Software Ogg Theora format

Richard Stallman: DRM refers to Digital Restrictions Management. That's the practice of developing software specifically to restrict the users, where the program says "I don't wanna show you this file... I don't wanna let you copy part of this file... I don't wanna print this file for You, 'cause you're no good."

Literally the developers design the software to stop you from doing things. Microsoft does it, Apple does it, Adobe does it, Sony did it in a very nasty way and received a lot of criticism for it a year ago. It's therefore a temptation that many proprietary software developers face - to put in malicious features.

You can't tell in many cases whether a proprietary program has malicious features. Some kinds of malicious features are visible - DRM is visible - if the program refuses to let you do certain things, you can see that. If it spies on you, you may not be able to see that - it's a different malicious feature.

These malicious features are possible because of the fact that the developer has power over the users. If the users were in control, they would take out the malicious features. And with Free Software, that's what happens, except we never put them in because it would be like trying to rob a bank by pointing your finger at somebody and saying "I'll shoot my finger at you". You know, its's going to be obvious that you can't and nobody's going to do anything but laugh. And so nobody even gets tempted to try to put malicious features into Free Software because they know that someone else will take them out.

But with proprietary software, once the developers have power over the users they can put in anything they want, and the users can't change it. They're constantly faced with the idea of choosing the features to hurt the users and help themselves at the users expense.

RG: What are the actions that we as individuals can take to stop some of this?

In line with Richard Stallman's wishes, this video is also available to download in the Free Software Ogg Theora format

Richard Stallman: The main thing you can do to stop DRM is don't accept products with DRM. Don't use Apple iTunes, don't buy HD-DVD or Blu-Ray, don't buy ordinary DVDs unless you get a copy of the illegal Free Software that can play a DVD. I prefer simply not to get any DVDs that are encrypted, because that's a better solution from my point of view.

So if you reject these things, and don't install Real Player or Windows Media Player on your machine - these also implement DRM. If you care about freedom, then when someone asks you to give up your freedom for practical benefits, you'll say no. And ultimately that's what we depend on.

But there's more you can do, if you want to spend some time opposing DRM go to, which is the website of our protest campaign against DRM. We have had many public protests this year, on the DRM issue, and we are continuing to do so. The more people join the campaign, the more we will be heard.

Photo credit: Defective By Design

Defective By Design

Defective By Design is both a well featured online resource and an organization determined to raise public consciousness as to DRM and assist them in living without it once and for all. In addition to bringing about international protests and direct action against DRM, Defective By Design also offer a growing list of DRM-Free products and services that consumers can use as alternatives to their DRM-restricted counterparts.

In the following short video, we see one example of Defective By Design members taking their message to the street, and learn more about the ideas behind the organization and its issues with companies like Apple, who make heavy use of DRM in their iTunes and iPod products.

This is one of many Anti-DRM protests carried out by Defective By Design. It took place at the San Francisco Apple Store in June of last year. The featured speakers are Henri Poole of / CivicActions and Mike Linksvayer of Creative Commons.

The Defective By Design website challenges the notion that DRM is necessary, and underlines the fact that it is used to maximize profits, while minimizing the control users have over the content they have paid for:

''Big Media describe DRM as Digital Rights Management. However, since its purpose is to restrict you the user, it is more accurate to describe DRM as Digital Restrictions Management. DRM Technology can restrict users' access to movies, music, literature and software, indeed all forms of digital data. Unfree software implementing DRM technology is simply a prison in which users can be put to deprive them of the rights that the law would otherwise allow them.

From Richard Stallman, President of the FSF:
"The motive for DRM schemes is to increase profits for those who impose them, but their profit is a side issue when millions of people's freedom is at stake; desire for profit, though not wrong in itself, cannot justify denying the public control over its technology. Defending freedom means thwarting DRM."
(Defective By Design, 2006)

As a consumer you have the right not to buy software, music, video or electronic devices that treat you as a potential criminal regardless of your intentions. Exercise that right.

''So what is the alternative to DRM?''

''No DRM.''

Further Resources:

If you would like to read more about DRM, and the alternatives to this restrictive business model, the following web sites may be of interest:

Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media as:
DRM: Digital Rights Restrictions - Richard Stallman Viewpoint: Video Interview

Robin Good & Michael Pick -
Readers' Comments    
2007-02-24 12:13:05

Joseph K.

Dear RG,
I'd like to share with u just a little tip that will be really useful to your readers.
In order to watch RMS's videos (in Ogg format) in this very page (without the need to download) you can use a free browser add-on that lets you preview links without clicking or leaving your current page.
This software is CoolIris and support IE, FF and Safari.

posted by Robin Good on Saturday, February 24 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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