Refusing Digital Monitoring Policies

Bruce Schneier has brought a new form of Digital Restrictions Management to our attention:

Microsoft is doing some of the most creative thinking along these lines, with something it's calling "Digital Manners Policies." According to its patent application, DMP-enabled devices would accept broadcast "orders" limiting capabilities. Cellphones could be remotely set to vibrate mode in restaurants and concert halls, and be turned off on airplanes and in hospitals. Cameras could be prohibited from taking pictures in locker rooms and museums, and recording equipment could be disabled in theaters. Professors finally could prevent students from texting one another during class.

It sounds innocent enough, until Schneier pulls back the curtain to show the real motivation behind these policies:

Don't be fooled by the scare stories of wireless devices on airplanes and in hospitals, or visions of a world where no one is yammering loudly on their cellphones in posh restaurants. This is really about media companies wanting to exert their control further over your electronics. They not only want to prevent you from surreptitiously recording movies and concerts, they want your new television to enforce good "manners" on your computer, and not allow it to record any programs. They want your iPod to politely refuse to copy music a computer other than your own. They want to enforce their legislated definition of manners: to control what you do and when you do it, and to charge you repeatedly for the privilege whenever possible.

Consumers are objecting en masse to the idea of their own computers and devices continuously and indiscriminately policing their activities via Digital Restrictions Management. So it's no surprise that Microsoft is hatching plans to soft-pedal these same restrictions under the term "manners." This is just old wine in new bottles -- Microsoft wants another way to control your activities.

Since they would be the patent holder, they can profit from selling this ability to monitor and control you to others. There's no doubt that their main customers would be the same media distribution companies who are struggling to cripple the technology that makes them irrelevant -- technology that enables many more artists and creators to share their works directly with the public.

Microsoft's patent abstract says:

Similar to some of the social manners honored among people, such as with "no smoking" or "employees only" zones, "no swimming" or "no flash photography" areas, and scenarios for "please wash your hands" or "no talking out loud", devices may recognize and comply with analogous "device manners" policy.

It's common for companies pedaling digital restrictions to try to find parallels in the analog world, to make the restrictions seem familiar and correct. But these are flawed comparisons -- no machine covers your mouth with duct tape when you enter a "no smoking" zone just to make sure that you don't smoke. Nobody breaks your fingers to make sure that you don't use the flash on your camera in a museum.

Digital restrictions require you to hand over your privacy and freedom in advance. They are inherently unsafe because people other than the intended parties can access these mechanisms for monitoring and restricting you. They are inherently untrustworthy because you aren't legally allowed to know what's going on behind the scenes on the device in your pocket, including the contents of its continuous conversation with whichever corporation it's reporting to. The purpose of the restrictions might sound benign but their mechanism is unacceptable -- and what these companies are actually after is acceptance of the mechanism, so that they can then put it to other uses.

Digital Restrictions Management and "Digital Manners Policies" both use the fear that some people might not do the right thing to justify treating everyone like a criminal and taking away our freedom. We shouldn't accept this justification to cripple what are otherwise incredibly useful and powerful tools for innovation and creativity. "Digital Manners Policies" are really "Digital Monitoring Policies," and we should refuse them.

Fight the Canadian DMCA!

On Wednesday, Industry Minister Jim Prentice introduced a bill that BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow described as making it "flatly illegal to break any kind of digital lock, or to violate terms in one of those absurd end-user license agreements that make you promise to agree to let the record industry kick your teeth in and drink all your beer, just for the dubious privilege of paying for a song at iTunes or watching a video on Viacom's website.".

Doctorow also points out that "[t]his amounts to private law: under Prentice's plan, Parliament would get out of the business of making copyright law, simply enforcing whatever copyright law the entertainment industry itself dreamed up". Michael Geist, law professor at the University of Ottawa states, the education provisions "[t]urn librarians into locksmiths" by requiring that they expire their digital materials after no more than five days.

This is an extremely troubling case, as all signs point to this being far worse than the US's Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Let's not forget that Adobe under the DMCA had a Russian programmer, Dmitry Sklyarov, arrested and imprisoned. His "crime"? Distributing a product designed to remove locks from ebooks so that they could be fully used like regular books.

Especially given that consumers are rejecting DRMed media and moving toward services like eMusic, Amazon MP3, Magnatune and Jamendo, this would be a terrible law to pass. Geist notes that "the DMCA provisions are worse than the U.S. and the consumer exceptions riddled with limitations" -- the provisions include a potential $20,000 per infringement damage award that could see Canadian citizens threatened with legal troubles for uploading a snippet of a song to any video-sharing site.

Canada's excuse is that it needs the DMCA in order to comply with the 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty. But this is no reason at all -- We need to make it clear that an unjust treaty cannot justify a further unjust law!

What can be done? Take action!

We simply cannot let this pass.

  • No matter where you live in the world, if you are a copyright holder on any kind of work -- song, film, article, computer program -- please email the officials below to let them know that you do not want this law and that the people who have been demanding it do not speak for you.
  • If you are Canadian, please write to your MP to protest the fast-tracking of this bill.

The Canadian government needs to hear that this law is Defective by Design!

UPDATE: Canadian Colalition for Electronic Rights have a simple form for Canadian citizens to easily email Prentice and others

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Photo credit: Heidi Wholeness at Flickr

Welcoming Boston's new Apple Store

Last night the DRM Elimination Crew attended the grand opening of Apple's new store in Boston -- now its largest US store.

The clear glass front of the store stands in stark contrast to Apple's unethical business practices, including using opaque Digital Restrictions Management software to take rights away from its customers.

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Over the past eighteen months, the music industry has almost universally turned its back on Digital Restrictions Management. Major distributors like Amazon.com are marketing their music as "DRM-free MP3 music downloads." and companies like emusic.com are continuing to

CBC to offer popular TV program as a DRM-free download

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has some excellent news for DRM-free living.

The CBC will be the first major North American broadcaster to release one of its programs without Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). On top of that, they will be using BitTorrent to distribute the program, which is "Canada's Next Great Prime Minister".

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Apple says you can't read data on your own computer

It's yet another example of what we just talked about -- DRM doesn't just restrict copying of music files, it infects your entire system and turns it against you. Apple is explicitly preventing DTrace from examining or recording data for processes which don't "permit" tracing -- processes like, say iTunes.

Another nasty DRM surprise from Netflix

Netflix DRM won't stream to HDD

When you buy into DRM technology, you put control over your computer in someone else's hands. This guarantees that unpredictable and unpleasant things will happen. Those with the DRM keys can decide that you no longer have the right to access the media you bought unless you agree to some new terms or buy some new tech, like Major League Baseball and Google Video have both done recently.

Taking the battle to the RIAA

The Free Software Foundation's DefectiveByDesign campaign has set-up a fund to pay for expert witnesses in key RIAA lawsuits brought against US citizens.

BBC iPlayer protest report

Read the Press Reports and Response from the BBC

We have had beautiful weather in London since I arrived in the UK on August 4. But today with the protest about to kick off it's tipping down. I'm in my hired car and "luckily" I get a puncture right outside BBC television center on Wood Lane. With no parking in the area, this gives me 90 minutes for the road side rescue to come and change my tire without getting towed. With hazmat suits, large signs and flyers to drop off, this makes life much easier.

Awesome Anti-DRM T-shirts

TorrentFreak has announced the winners of their anti-DRM t-shirt contest. You can order shirts printed with the designs, or you can download the source files and print your own. The winners are strikingly effective designs and are a great way to get people thinking about DRM—I just ordered #3 for myself. Kudos to all 50 of the entering artists for taking the time to apply their skills to help communicate this important message, and congratulations to the winners!

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Behind-The-Scenes Look at How DRM Becomes Law from Cory Doctorow

This afternoon Information Week published a great article by Cory Doctorow about how big corporations and shadowy associations and working groups collude to develop DRM schemes and the laws that mandate them.

The piece is very long, and very good. Everyone who is interested in this sort of thing should give it a read and then tell your friends and family about it.

Here is a choice excerpt from the beginning:

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