Digital Restrictions Inside: Will the US Federal Trade Commission agree to label DRM-encumbered products?

Have you ever purchased a digital product, only to discover that you couldn't use it as you wish? Maybe you bought your favorite musician's new album and realized that you couldn't make a copy to share with your friend, or you downloaded an ebook that you couldn't read on both your tablet and your desktop computer. Those are both forms of Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) -- technological handcuffs that control how you can use digital media.

The Defective by Design (DbD) campaign has been fighting to eliminate DRM entirely, and today we signed on to a proposal to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that would help users avoid buying DRM-encumbered products. Our colleagues at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have submitted a plan to the FTC for a DRM labeling requirement for all digital media, and the Free Software Foundation (FSF), who runs the DbD campaign, offered its support along with 17 other nonprofits and publishers. There are many places to buy digital books, music, and movies online, but in the US, these items are not described in a consistent way, making it difficult for a person to know whether the ebook they want to read is locked up with DRM. If you want to use digital media without having it use you, a clear, easy-to-find DRM label will help you avoid products with DRM -- and those who sell digital media may recognize that you prefer to avoid DRM and start removing it from their products.

We hope the FTC will adopt this proposal. But don't wait for them; take action to help inform others now, by writing critical reviews of DRM-locked products on sites like Amazon.

There's precedent for a DRM labeling requirement: the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental economic organization with thirty-five member countries (including the US), recommends easy access to DRM information, as does the European Union's Consumer Rights Directive. If anything, the FTC is behind the times when it comes to DRM labeling. Labeling is an effective tool for users: the FSF has several labeling campaigns that inform people about DRM and help them choose software freedom. In 2006, DbD launched an effort to tag items containing DRM on Amazon eliminated the tagging feature, but you can still write reviews that alert others to the presence of DRM.

Defective by Design also provides a way for businesses and individuals to voluntarily label their products DRM-free. And the Free Software Foundation's own Respects Your Freedom (RYF) certification program offers hardware sellers a label that signifies our endorsement of their hardware as respectful of your freedom and privacy. An RYF label indicates that not only does the hardware not use DRM, but all software on the device is fully under the user's control.

RYF certification, endorsement, and labeling has helped boost sales of freedom-respecting hardware, because it raises awareness of software freedom issues and allows people to act on their values in their purchases. The DRM-Free product label does the same. We expect that a DRM labeling requirement will similarly boost the sales of DRM-free digital media.

It's hard to build a movement against DRM when retailers actively conceal whether products are infected with it. People who don't want DRM mucking up their media have to do extra research to know what to buy and what to avoid. This proposal to the FTC would go a long way toward helping us concentrate and mobilize opposition. But this is also a reminder that we don't have to wait for governments anywhere to make providing accurate product information mandatory -- we can take action now to highlight products that are Defective by Design!

Read the proposal, write a review of a DRM-locked product on Amazon, and donate to Defective by Design. Let's end DRM forever.