Defective by Design

When technology journalists get that sour taste

Submitted by PeterB on Tue, 2006-05-30 14:23

Neil McAllister Senior Editor at InfoWorld is disappointed by our activism, and if his language is anything to judge by, we may have set him on course for some serious heart burn. In a piece entitled Free Software Foundation: Free as in do what I say, McAllister suggests FSF members and activists who turned out to protest DRM at last weeks WinHEC2006 are "cut from the PETA mold", and that the campaign is telling you that "God is on its side"(?). He suggests our description of DRM as Digital Restrictions Management warrants the renaming of the FSF to the "Fundamentalist Software Foundation", and gives us imagery of "a bridge from North Korea to the Sudan"! Who says there is no passion in technology writing - pass the antacids.

But lets look more carefully at the points he makes. First, McAllister correctly points out that the FSF stance is that software should be free, as in the concept of liberty, but then mistakenly says that we also believe it should be free of charge. Then he is outraged by our moralistic opposition to DRM, and says that in launching the campaign FSF is, "far removed from its own stated first principles". McAllister does not comprehend that DRM is a direct attack on the free software community and society in general, and that what we are doing is defending ourselves by raising opposition to DRM.

DRM is an attack on the free software movement because it aims to put our computers under the control of strangers. I am yet to hear anyone explain why handing over control of my computer to a stranger is good for me. One of the basic freedoms we stand for, the freedom to tinker -- that is to modify the code and run it for our own purposes -- is lost with the imposition of DRM upon our community. The fact that as a technology journalist McAllister hasn't offered a critical evaluation of the threats of DRM - just made lazy appeals to our community to suck it up, is part of the problem.

McAllister goes on to say that the popularity of Apple's iTunes, which sells DRM-encoded music and video, is proof that we lie about the threats of DRM. It is a weak argument that equates popularity to being right. That's the kind of lazy thinking that says a monopoly is OK, because everyone buys from it. It is said that 80% of all music downloaded in the US is downloaded from Apple iTunes. If they can just make it to 100% then we really will be proved wrong about DRM won't we!

Finally McAllister resorts to his saddest defense of DRM, "despite DRM's widely discussed inadequacies and regular aggravations, more than a few consumers are willing to put up with it when the price is right. That's just basic free-market economics." We consider our community to be made up of individuals not consumers. In an environment that relegates individuals to economic currency and elevates free-market economics into the role of master, DRM probably does make sense. Why not turn every interaction with a copyrighted work into a transaction? Why not monitor all our activities? Why not place our computers under the control of Big Media?

FSF has never prioritized popularity, but we have always prioritized freedom. We would like everyone to value freedom for computer users. We have helped create an environment where many millions of people now use free software almost exclusively. DRM is an attack on this community, and so this community is fighting back.

Luckily, whether McAllister realizes it or not, he explains why our campaign will have an effect. "For DRM to fail in the entertainment industry, all that needs to happen is for customers to choose not to buy it, which in turn should convince artists not to use it." It is in part due to the failings of technology journalists like McAllister, that the threats of DRM have not been explained to the public, or they have only been described in this shallow and mistaken way. It is the Big Media bosses who demand DRM not the artists, and we reject their attempts to take control of our computers to enforce their business model.

Defective By Design will raise the profile of DRM to enable us to expose the truth. We are saying that our computers and devices belong to us, and not to you.

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