Activists investigate DRM contamination in Cambridge, MA Apple store

by John Sullivan
FSF Program Administrator

DefectiveByDesign representatives in Cambridge, MA, at the CambridgeSide Galleria — home of the local Apple store — were anticipated by a large party of mall security guards and city police officers. It seems that Apple went to great lengths to prepare for our June 10th arrival. Apparently they ran out of uniforms because they brought the plainclothes people as well. The number of security guards and police officers retained for the occasion easily outnumbered us — and we had a good turnout.

The police approached us beforehand as we were gathering in the park across from the mall, distributing suits and signs. While the police were there in force, complete with paddy wagon, they were not confrontational. I explained what our plans were (it turned out they had already been informed down to fine details — Apple really had been busy) and even discussed the downsides of DRM. They offered to arrest some of us if we wanted, but we politely declined their offer.

The police were not really our concern — the mall security waiting by every mall entrance and around the Apple store were. We were worried that we wouldn't be able to enter carrying picket signs and wearing HazMat suits, so we dispersed and entered with the suits and some smaller signs and handouts tucked away.

The HazMat crew got dressed inside the mall and on cue emerged in a line from the hallway across from the Apple store. Simultaneously, representatives stationed inside the store pulled out their signs. Everyone else converged on the store with signs and leaflets. We started circulating and talking to Apple customers about DRM. People were intrigued. It turns out that a lot of people shopping in Apple stores don't know what it is.

Apple seemed to have instructed their staff to smile and lay back. Similar to their corporate public relations strategy, they would like everyone to believe that they are not responsible for DRM; that they want to give their customers as much freedom as the RIAA will allow. But the "RIAA Made Us Do It" defense is a canard. You don't have to look very far to find vocal legal threats from Apple against people attempting to make Apple devices interoperable with other similar devices. In France Apple is working hard politically to get legislation favorable to their DRM. They are enthusiastic proponents of these restrictions, not unwilling pawns. More market share for them means less freedom for us.

After we had made these points in the store, we were ushered out of the mall. Judging by the amount of attention this small group of us got from Apple, we had achieved our goal of raising awareness about DRM and serving notice to Apple.

Photos by Justin Baugh