Feeds

Lessig, Stallman on 'Open Source' DRM

Best of all possible shaftings?

Boost IT visibility and business value

When Sun trumpeted its 'open source DRM' last month, no one at first noticed an unusual name amongst the canned quotes. Lending his support to the rights enforcement technology was Free Software Foundation, Electronic Frontier Foundation board member, and Software Freedom Law Center director, Professor Lawrence Lessig. A name usually associated with the unrestricted exchange of digital media.

Debian activist and copyright campaigner Benjamin Mako Hill noticed, and thought this was odd. "The fact that the software is 'open source' is hardly good enough," he wrote, "if the purpose of the software is to take away users' freedom - in precisely the way that DRM does."

Was DRM less bad because it was 'open source'? Professor Lessig tells us that he should have reviewed the Sun Microsystems press release before it went out. It doesn't fully reflect his position, he says, and he's emphatic that this blessing doesn't constitute an endorsement.

"Rockstars and newspapers endorse things," he told us by email. "I don't."

Richard M Stallman, who founded the Free Software movement and devised the original GNU public license, diplomatically didn't dwell on the support Lessig gave Sun's DRM.

"Anyone can mis-speak," he said. "But I hope people can learn from this."

He warns that, if DRM is open source, it might actually be worse than proprietary DRM, and he issued a rallying cry for free software campaigners that DRM is incompatible with freedom.

(How 'open source' Sun's DRM really is questionable, says Mako, since it allows proprietary implementations - that's something Lessig may not have been aware of at the time of the Sun press release.)

What follows, then, is excerpted from interviews with all three over the past week. Unprompted, both Stallman and Lessig spent considerable time with us discussing the wider context. Take away the need for DRM, they both point out, and the discussion becomes moot. Both have differing views on how this can be achieved, but it merits an article in itself, so we'll follow up with a Part Two in the very near future.

Stallman on freedom

As he so often does, Stallman began by drawing a sharp distinction between "open source" and the free software movement. This is more than mere semantics, as becomes apparent when he turns to DRM, because it's a distinction that reflects very different philosophical and moral approaches to writing software.

"The values of the Free Software Movement are the freedom to cooperate, and the freedom to have control over your own life. You should be free to control the software in your computer, and you should be free to share it," he sums up.

"The weakness of the 'Open Source' approach, is that it has been designed as another way to talk about the issues, one that cites only practical values. It agrees with the conventional attitude that what matters about software is what job it does, and how much money it costs. That's exactly the same attitude Microsoft wants you to take."

"Both 'open source' and proprietary developers are saying that convenience matters - but we're saying freedom and community matter more. We're not saying convenience doesn't matter, but there's more than just having a reliable and powerful program."

"I'm willing to undergo the tremendous inconvenience to create a free program that's a replacement for a proprietary program. That's why we have the GNU/Linux system, because a lot of people were prepared to make practical sacrifices so we can have that freedom."

Now here's where this underpins the DRM discussion.

Stallman says that the if you accept the proposition that 'open source' is good because it results in more powerful and reliable software, this makes 'open source DRM' worse than proprietary DRM. As he explains -

"If you think that the important thing is for the software to be powerful and reliable, you might think that applying the OS development model to DRM software is a way to make DRM powerful and reliable," he explains.

"But as far as I'm concerned, that makes it worse - because it's job is restricting you. And if it restricts you reliably, that means you've been thoroughly shafted.

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

Next page: TiVo-ization

More from The Register

next story
6 Obvious Reasons Why Facebook Will Ban This Article (Thank God)
Clampdown on clickbait ... and El Reg is OK with this
No, thank you. I will not code for the Caliphate
Some assignments, even the Bongster decline must
Fast And Furious 6 cammer thrown in slammer for nearly three years
Man jailed for dodgy cinema recording of Hollywood movie
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
Barnes & Noble: Swallow a Samsung Nook tablet, please ... pretty please
Novelslab finally on sale with ($199 - $20) price tag
Ballmer leaves Microsoft board to spend more time with his b-balls
From Clippy to Clippers: Hi, I see you're running an NBA team now ...
Video of US journalist 'beheading' pulled from social media
Yanked footage featured British-accented attacker and US journo James Foley
Assange™: Hey world, I'M STILL HERE, ignore that Snowden guy
Press conference: ME ME ME ME ME ME ME (cont'd pg 94)
Call of Duty daddy considers launching own movie studio
Activision Blizzard might like quality control of a CoD film
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?