Defective by Design

Letter to Viviane Reding, European Union commissioner for information society and media

Dear Commissioner Reding,

In a recent report entitled: Commission sees need for a stronger more consumer-friendly Single Market for Online Music, Films and Games in Europe, you wrote:

Interoperability and transparency of Digital [Restrictions] Management systems (DRMs) – Technologies that support the management of [restrictions] and the fair remuneration of creators in an online environment can be a key enabler for development of innovative business models. Lengthy discussions amongst stakeholders have yet to lead to the deployment of interoperable and user-friendly DRM solutions. The Commission therefore seeks to establish a framework for DRM transparency concerning, amongst others, the interoperability of different DRMs, and ensuring that consumers are properly informed of any usage restrictions placed on downloaded content, as well as of the interoperability of related online services.

The undersigned believe that any use of Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) technology will be inherently limited in its ability to be interoperable, and absolutely deny the possibility that it can ever be considered a user-friendly technology. All DRM schemes work by denying the user her freedom by handing control of her device over to a third party that gets to decide how, when, and where she can interact with or use the device and the media on it. Every user looking to purchase DRM media would have to accept unnecessary restrictions on what devices and software they use as well as restrictions on how they can interact with the media they buy.

Any support of DRM technology by the EU would be grossly disrespectful of its citizens' freedom. It would be a stance that opposes a system of fair competition and unilateral cooperation amongst technologist and software developers.

Whether standardized or not, any implementation of DRM immediately denies users the freedom to change, improve, and redistribute changes to their software. Any software that carries these freedoms to the user will be unable to implement any form of DRM technology, as the basis for any DRM scheme is to deny the user the ability to examine how it works or change its behavior. This is an assault on freedom and on the free and fair exchange of information. DRM schemes weaken society by obstructing technological advancement in the area of software development because they deny every user the right to improve and redistribute changes to the technology. That a company does this for their individual products can be sad, but that an international political community like the EU would endorse this activity is a travesty.

Lastly, your proposal goes against the grain of reality. All of the world's largest music labels -- Sony BMG, Warner Music Group, EMI, Vivendi's Universal Music Group -- have now announced the sale of DRM-free music downloads in the United States. That you would take this moment to propose that the European Union seek to impose DRM on European citizens is both senseless and irresponsible.

The undersigned demand that you immediately retract your statement and issue a new report stating that the EU will neither endorse nor sponsor the creation of any DRM technology scheme.

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