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Digital Restriction Management

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Free Software is software that puts the user in control of their own computers and devices. In contrast, Digital Restrictions Management is technology to put the user under control of a third party providing materials, such as audio, video or text. These two goals seem fundamentally incompatible to FSFE.

What is Digital Restrictions Management?

Digital restrictions management (DRM), sometimes referred to as digital rights management, is a class of technologies intended to limit the use of digital media and devices after sale. In essence, DRM refers to technology which inhibits a particular use of digital media where that use is not desired or intended by the hardware manufacturer, publisher or copyright holder. Free Software is software that puts the user in control of their own computers and devices. In contrast, Digital Restrictions Management is technology to put the user under control of a third party: these two goals seem fundamentally incompatible to FSFE.

Who else objects to DRM?

It is not only FSFE that sees problems with DRM. The German society for computer sciences ("Gesellschaft für Informatik") states: "If DRM prevails in the market then users will lose control of their computers". Symantec shares this opinion: "As a result, customers around the world will lose their ability to choose what security solutions they would like to run on their operating systems, and be forced to use only those solutions offered or allowed by Microsoft".

This loss of control means that publishing houses, TV stations, the government (including its administrations), banks, producing companies and individuals will not only lose control over their graphics cards, computer screens and hard drives; but also over their mobile phones, digital cameras and any other digital device they theoretically own.

How will change be effected?

Although FSFE is convinced that there is no legitimate case in which a society built upon freedom and democracy would consider it legitimate to put the personal use of one's own computers and devices under control of a third party, we cannot but recognise that extensive global legal provisions have been put in place to allow and enforce just that.

We therefore consider it necessary to revisit international treaties and national laws such as TRIPS, DMCA, EUCD and others, and will seek to do so in the relevant forums, even though it is a difficult task and not likely to succeed quickly.

Knowing the timescales involved and assuming that DRM technologies will not simply disappear over night, has the following concrete short- to medium-term legislative goals:

DRM warning signs on devices and products
Customers should be given a fair chance to not accidentally buy products that will subjugate them to control by a third party. In order to be able to make an informed decision, they should be provided with the information at the time of sales.
Allow circumvention for lawful purposes
Lawful use of one's computer and devices should never become illegal. Yet this is what the "anti circumvention" provisions of some laws do: Operations allowed by law become illegal not for the operation itself, but for the circumvention that was necessary to exercise one's right.
No DRM in the political arena
Governments need to be in full and sovereign control of their own data, procedures and decisions. A user of DRM software, including governments, can never have full control over their own computer. For this reason, DRM systems have no place in the political area.
Public services for the public
Public services should be available to all citizens, including those who make use of Free Software. It should therefore be mandatory to always provide a way to access public services and information with Free Software.

DRM.info

To address these issues and bring them to the public attention, FSFE initiated DRM.info, a collaborative information platform with contributing organisations from various fields, including Digital Rights, Libraries, Creative Communities and Customer Protection.

Visit DRM.info today and point others to the site by linking to it. Help us spread the word.

Support DRM.info

The portal DRM.info is maintained by the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), which finances itself primarily through donations and contributions of the Fellowship of FSFE. You can also get involved as a volunteer.