DRM: Defectis Repleta Machina

Alexandre Oliva
Fernanda G. Weiden

This article is a draft of a revised version of the one published in the ComCiência magazine on December 10, 2006 [ORG], translated by FSFLA's translation team.

As you start your brand new car to go to the beach, you realize it won't let you do it. Murphy's law can often make it seem like mechanical failures are nature's way of opposing your wishes. But what if the car manufacturer had reasoned that, by selling you a car that will take you to work but not to have fun at the beach, it would be able to sell you another car specifically for beach visits?

"The Right to Read" [R2R], published in the magazine Communications of the ACM (CACM), one of the best-regarded publications in computing, prophesied in 1996 the pervasive use of software and remote monitoring as tools to control access to knowledge and culture. In the article, textbooks and articles are only available electronically, and students are forbidden from sharing them with their colleagues; monitoring software on every computer, and severe penalties upon those that merely appear to be attempting to circumvent it, pretty much ensure compliance. After a mere 10 years, we may get the impression that the author got it both right and wrong. Access restrictions are indeed already present in some electronic textbooks and articles, but they have showed up far more often in the entertainment field, limiting access to music, movies, etc. Are we facing a problem even bigger and worse than the CACM article forecast?

DRM, for Digital Restrictions Management, means any technique that seeks to artificially limit, by software, hardware or a combination thereof, the features of a digital device with regards to access or copying of digital content, so as to privilege whoever ultimately imposes the technique (e.g., not the DVD player manufacturer, but the movie industry), in detriment of whoever uses the device. Considering that nowadays microprocessors inhabit not only computers, but also cellular telephones, electronic games, sound, image and video devices, remote controls, credit cards, automobiles and even the keys that open them, it should be at least worrying that all this equipment may be programmed to turn against.

What's the distance from an electronic failure that gets a Thai official stuck in his automobile [BMW,BM2] to an anti-theft device that deliberately imprisons inside the car anyone not explicitly authorized, restraining her right to freedom of movement under the pretext of stopping a potential crime?

In spite of all resources used to keep potential invaders outside homes and cars, as far as we can tell there aren't any anti-theft devices that keep them in, should they succeed in breaking in. This is due in part to respect for invaders' rights, and in part for vendors' fear of imprisoning the device owner himself, his relatives or friends, or of causing them other kinds of physical or moral harm.

DRM systems are portrayed by their proponents as anti-theft devices, similar to those available for homes and automobiles. Oddly, even people who'd never accept an anti-theft device that could emprision themselves are often willing to pay for the restraint on their freedoms imposed by DRM systems.

The same publishers that are powerful enough to pressure customers to pay for the development and adoption of DRM systems also use that power to make authors sign contracts that let the publisher decide what restrictions to impose, all under the pretext of hindering unauthorized access and copying, that cause them alleged losses.

The moral value of sharing, formerly taught at schools as something good for society, through incentives to sharing toys taken to classrooms, is slanderously labeled with a term that also refers to people who attack ships, stealing their cargoes and killing or enslaving their crews [MIC]. The confusion and bias of the term intellectual "property" [NIP], further elaborated in the Orwellian fallacy of copyright "protection" [WTA], turns people's attention away from the fact that copyright was created with the express purpose of growing the body of works available to the whole society, using, as incentive to creation, temporary and limited monopolies granted by society to their authors [EPI].

As a result of these misconceptions, the Brazilian population silently accepted the change to its copyright law, that up to 1998 permitted the creation of complete copies, for personal use, of works covered by copyright, so as to permit only copies of small portions [PNL]. Americans, in their turn, accepted a new delay in Mickey's entry in the public domain, with an extension of the copyright duration for another 20 years [CLG]. These are the first steps to the scenario described in the CACM article [R2R].

Unlike the practice for anti-theft devices, that are designed to respect the users, enabling them to activate or deactivate the system, and to respect even the rights of transgression suspects, DRM takes a far more aggressive posture, treating even the owner of the device as a criminal, without room for presumption or even proof of innocence. DRM takes control of the system away from the users' hands, since, just like the defective Thai car, it doesn't offer an option to turn the system off. Since, in the DRM case, the defect is deliberate [DlD], the control remains in third parties' hands, who use the devices you pay for to promote their interests to your own detriment. In fact, for DRM, you are the invader. But since you pay their bills, they want to keep you not outside, but rather inside, entertained and controlled [EeC].

DRM does not hesitate in trampling over your rights; not only international human rights [HRD,DlD,ADR], but also those guaranteed by copyright laws throughout the world, even restrictive ones like Brazil's [RDA]. Some examples of rights trampled over by DRM are:

  • copying a work that has fallen in the public domain;

  • copying a work, in full or in part, for personal use, study, criticism, legal proof, parody or accessibility;

  • participating in cultural life of the community, enjoying the arts and sharing in scientific advancement and its benefits;

  • being presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial with all guarantees necessary for the defense;

  • holding opinions without interference and expressing them freely;

  • seeking, receiving and imparting information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers;

  • having one's privacy respected and protected by law against arbitrary interferences.

In fact, these systems often collect information and send it to a remote controller, interfering arbitrarily with the user's privacy. In at least one of these cases, that got widely known, a DRM system developer did not hesitate in infringing third parties' copyrights to create a spying program, that installed itself, silently and automatically, in a computer in which a music CD containing it was loaded, and enabled the computer to be remotely controlled, without any option to remove or deactivate it [SNY]. Is it legitimate to disregard others' rights to try and seek bigger profits?

DRM systems are implemented by combining software and hardware. There are several techniques; we cite but a few examples:

  • brutal quality degradation of video cassette recordings made out of DVD (Digital Versatile Disk) reproductions;

  • cryptography that prevents the reproduction of a DVD in any player, requiring multiple licenses to be able to play the same content anywhere in the world;

  • violation of the CD (Compact Disc) specification so as to make it difficult or impossible to play the songs in it on several CD players and general-purpose computers;

  • file formats that are secret or regulated by patents to limit the performance of the content to software or devices with artificially-restricted functionality;

  • authentication mechanisms between digital devices that prevent the propagation of high-quality digital signal to unauthorized devices [WVC], such as from the new high-definition DVD and digital TV standards to analog TVs and VCRs, or even more modern digital devices that refuse to restrain their users' freedoms.

As ways to work around these artificial restrictions become public, enabling people to exercise their rights guaranteed by law, new ever-more-restrictive efforts take their place, in an attempt to avoid alleged losses that disregards actual losses imposed on society, not only because of the increased direct and indirect costs of equipments due to the imposition of unfair restrictions [WVC], but even more importantly because of the unfair restrictions themselves.

Some of these efforts are in the legislative front: USA's Digital Millennium Copyright Act criminalizes the mere distribution of devices or publication of knowledge that enables people to bypass DRM. USA have tried to impose similar legislation on other countries with whom they sign "Free" Trade Agreements [TLC]. Laws that strengthen DRM turn its proponents into private legislators, with powers to unilaterally change contracts, by restricting access retroactively.

Other efforts are in the judicial front: associations that claim to represent the interests of musical authors, but that in fact represent the interests of record labels, have spread fear by suing regular people, accusing them, without proof, of copyright violations [RLS,MdM].

The technical front is not ignored: a security architecture based on a combination of software and hardware, formerly called Trusted Computing, has been co-opted to serve not the interests of computer owners, but rather those of DRM systems [TCM], the reason why we prefer to call it Treacherous Computing [TcC,CTr]. This technique can be used to stop installation or execution of software, against the user's will, or even the creation or correction of such software; to selectively prevent the creation, access or preservation of certain files [IRM]. That is, to prevent a general-purpose computer from obeying user's commands, turning it into a limited entertainment platform, that puts on third parties' hands the decision on what, when and how the user can use or consume. Somewhat like the car programmed to not go to the beach, or the electronic books stored in computers in the CACM article.

All these techniques do a lot to make law-abiding regular citizens' lives difficult, but they can't stop those who run their businesses based on commercialization of unauthorized copies. For the latter, the investment needed to work around the restrictions pays off, so all these restrictions end up missing their goal, while they limit and disrespect freedoms of most of the population.

This disrespect is not new and, in fact, it has made room to make DRM techniques effective. Free Software [FSD], that respects users' freedoms to inspect the program, modify it or hire third parties to do so, and run the original or the modified program, without restrictions, when used to implement DRM techniques, renders them ineffective, since the user would have the power to disable artificial restrictions or add features that had been left out. As a result, laws that prohibit tools to bypass DRM have the effect of prohibiting Free Software for accessing published works.

Software patents [SPE,NSP] are another threat to freedom that a few developed countries are trying to impose upon other countries. A legally-valid software patent, issued in a country that allows such patents, gives the patent holders the power to block, in that country, the development and distribution of software which implements the patented feature. If the companies in a DRM conspiracy have patents on some aspects of the decoding process, they can use these patents as another means to block software that can access the same works but without the restrictions.

It shouldn't be surprising that the Free Software Foundation [FSF] and its sister organizations all over the world denounce the risks of these limitations to individual freedoms [DbD,DRi,EeC], and at the same time update the most widely used Free Software license in the world [Gv3,GPL,Gv1], such that it better defends software users' and developers' freedoms against these new threats. The GNU GPL is the license used by most components of the GNU operating system, and by the Linux kernel, the most common kernel used with the GNU operating system. (Most users unknowingly refer to this combination Linux, but that is properly speaking the name of the kernel alone [YGL].)

Anyone who seeks knowledge or culture in digital formats has her rights threatened by DRM. In fact, the impossibility to preserve society's knowledge and culture in face of all these artificial limitations may cause our civilization to be seen in the future as a dark age, since, unless we can help it, all of our knowledge will have been stored in formats that, instead of ensuring its preservation, in the perfect conditions enabled by digital storage, seek to ensure its unavailability.

"If consumers even know there's a DRM, what it is, and how it works, we've already failed," -- Peter Lee, an executive at Disney [Eco]

When you see the acronym DRM in a product's ad, remember that it's not a feature, it's a warning label. Remember that DRM stands for Defectis Repleta Machina, or Defect-Ridden Machine. So, when you get to make a choice, while purchasing movies, songs, electronic books, games, etc, between a form limited by DRM and an unlimited one, prefer the unlimited form, unless you can work around the DRM techniques. When there isn't such a choice, reject monopolized and restricted content, as well as the legal mechanisms, the equipment and the techniques that support them. Use your freedom of choice today, avoiding short-sighted decisions that empower interests that, should they prevail, will restrain any possibility of choice in the future. Spread the word on the risks and support campaigns that do it [DbD,DRi,EeC,BDV]. Join us in the Latin-American anti-DRM campaign, Entertained and Controlled, in the FSFLA [FLA] mailing list [A-D].

We thank Richard M. Stallman, Eder L. Marques, Glauber de Oliveira Costa and Fernando Morato for their reviews and suggestions.

[R2R] http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/right-to-read.html

[BMW] http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/22.73.html#subj4

[BM2] http://www.zdnetasia.com/news/hardware/0,39042972,39130270,00.htm

[MIC] http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/misinterpreting-copyright.html

[NIP] http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/not-ipr.xhtml (see also the discussion on Intellectual Property on the [WTA] page)

[WTA] http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/words-to-avoid.html#Protection

[EPI] http://www.fsfla.org/?q=en/node/128#1

[PNL] http://www.petitiononline.com/netlivre

[CLG] http://www.cartacapital.com.br/index.php?funcao=exibirMateria&id_materia=3446 (in Portuguese)

[DlD] http://www.fsfla.org/?q=en/node/101

[EeC] http://www.entretidosecontrolados.org/

[HRD] http://www.unhchr.ch/udhr/lang/eng.htm

[ADR] http://www.fsfla.org/?q=en/node/107

[RDA] https://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/Leis/L9610.htm, articles 46 to 48 (in Portuguese)

[SNY] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2005_Sony_BMG_CD_copy_protection_scandal#Copyright_violation_allegations

[WVC] http://www.cs.auckland.ac.nz/~pgut001/pubs/vista_cost.txt is a good article overall, even if it falls prey of the "content protection" fallacy [WTA] and it mistakes Linux for an operating system name [YGL].

[TLC] http://www.fsfla.org/?q=en/node/117

[RLS] http://info.riaalawsuits.us/howriaa.htm

[MdM] http://overmundo.com.br/overblog/inaugurado-o-marketing-do-medo (in Portuguese)

[TCM] http://www.lafkon.net/tc/, with subtitles at http://www.lafkon.net/tc/TC_derivatives.html

[TcC] http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/can-you-trust.html

[CTr] http://www.dicas-l.com.br/zonadecombate/zonadecombate_20061106 (in Portuguese)

[IRM] http://www.informationweek.com/story/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=196601781

[FSD] http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html

[SPE] http://www.fsfeurope.org/projects/swpat

[NSP] http://www.nosoftwarepatents.com/en/m/dangers/index.html

[FSF] http://www.fsf.org/

[DbD] http://www.defectivebydesign.org/

[DRi] http://drm.info/

[Gv3] http://gplv3.fsf.org/

[GPL] http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html

[Gv1] http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/copying-1.0.html

[YGL] http://www.gnu.org/gnu/why-gnu-linux.html

[Eco] http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=4342418

[BDV] http://badvista.fsf.org/

[FLA] http://www.fsfla.org/

[A-D] http://www.fsfla.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/anti-drm

[ORG] http://www.comciencia.br/comciencia/?section=8&edicao=20&id=216 (in Portuguese)

Copyright 2006 Alexandre Oliva, Fernanda G. Weiden

Copyright 2007 FSFLA

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