Day Against DRM 2012

Jane Park, May 4th, 2012

Day Against DRM vertical banner

Today is Day Against DRM. If you don’t already, you should know that DRM stands for Digital Rights Management (or probably more accurately, Digital Restrictions Management), and that we have blogged about this day before for good reasons, including,

  • DRM causes problems regarding fair use, lack of competition, privacy and security breaches, forced obsolescence, and more… (Read the Wikipedia article on DRM.)
  • CC provides tools to make it easier for creators and owners to say what rights they reserve and permissions they grant — maximizing sharing and collaboration. This is in stark contrast with DRM that uses technology to make it harder to share and collaborate.
  • CC licenses do not allow users of CC-licensed works to use DRM to prevent other users from taking advantage of the freedoms already granted by the license.

In addition, Defectivebydesign.org notes that,

While DRM has largely been defeated in downloaded music, it is a growing problem in the area of ebooks, where people have had their books restricted so they can’t freely loan, re-sell or donate them, read them without being tracked, or move them to a new device without re-purchasing all of them. They’ve even had their ebooks deleted by companies without their permission.

See all blog posts on Day Against DRM here, where you can also access banners and pledge to take action.


DRM (a day against)

Mike Linksvayer, May 4th, 2011

Yellow banner -- May 4th, 2011: Day Against DRMToday is a good day to learn about Digital Rights Management, or more accurately Digital Restrictions Management:

Although DRM seems to no longer be the red hot issue it was a decade ago, it is still very much present, causing problems regarding fair use, lack of competition, privacy and security breaches, forced obsolescence, and more. DRM is often now involved in distribution of movies and books, to the great consternation of some librarians. Not listening to librarians puts our freedom and safety at risk.

A few things about DRM specific to Creative Commons:


Rights Expression vs. Rights Enforcement: clarifying the Associated Press story

Ben Adida, August 1st, 2009

The Associated Press wants to track reuse of their content through a “news registry.” This registry “will employ a microformat for news developed by AP”:

The microformat will essentially encapsulate AP and member content in an informational “wrapper” that includes a digital permissions framework that lets publishers specify how their content is to be used online and which also supplies the critical information needed to track and monitor its usage.

While Creative Commons is very sympathetic to the difficulty of explaining technical concepts in a short press release, we’re worried that the AP’s explanation, and in particular their reference to the Creative Commons’ Rights Expression Language (ccREL), might well be confusing.

The reference to Creative Commons appears in the AP’s microformat, hNews, which introduces hRights, a supposed “generalization” of ccREL. hRights is presumably the “digital permissions framework” that the AP diagrams as a box/wrapper around news content in order to “track and monitor usage.” Unfortunately, as Ed Felten points out, this claim doesn’t add up. Microformats and other web-based structured data, including ccREL, cannot track, monitor, or generally enforce anything. They’re labels, i.e. Post-It notes attached to a document, not locked boxes blocking access to the content.

When Creative Commons launched in 2002, we were often asked “is Creative Commons a form of DRM?” Our answer: no, we help publishers express their rights, but we don’t dabble in enforcement, because enforcement technologies are unable to respect important, complex, and often subjective concepts like fair use. Thus, ccREL is about expression and notification of rights, not about enforcement.

And when you think about it, there’s really no other realistic way. If the AP actually wants a “beacon” that reports usage information back to the mothership, then every endpoint must be programmed to perform this beacon functionality. Before it delivers content, every server must check that the client will promise to become a beacon. Which means the AP wants  an architecture where every cell phone, computer, or other networked device is locked down centrally, able to run only software that is verified to comply with this policy. That’s another reason why we don’t dabble in enforcement: the costs of Digital Rights Enforcement (or its politically correct equivalent, Digital Rights Management) to publishers, users, to our culture and to our ability to innovate are astronomically high.

Then there’s the issue of “RSS syndication” compatibility. We simply don’t see how the AP’s proposed system would allow both widespread beacon enforcement and compatibility with existing formats like RSS. Compatibility means that current RSS tools remain usable. Obviously, these tools do not currently perform the AP’s rights enforcement, so how could they magically be made to start phoning home now?

That said, there is an interesting nugget in the AP’s proposal, one which we encourage them to pursue: tagging content with rights, origin, and means of attribution is a good proposal. When Creative Commons began the work that led to ccREL, there were no established or open standards for expressing this type of structured information on the web, so we had to lay down some new infrastructure. When we published ccREL, we made it easy for others to innovate on top of ccREL: we included “independence and extensibility” as the first principle for expressing license information in a machine readable format. We based ccREL on RDF and RDFa to enable this standards-based extensibility.

The AP could, rather than reinvent a subset of ccREL using an incompatible and news-specific syntax, simply use ccREL and add their own news-specific fields. By doing this, they would immediately plug into the growing set of tools that parse and interpret rights expressed via ccREL. We would be happy to help, but we built ccREL in such a way that we don’t need to be involved if the AP would prefer to go it alone. And, of course, the AP can use ccREL with copyright licenses more restrictive than those we offer, if they prefer.


Cory Doctorow Releases “Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future”

Cameron Parkins, September 9th, 2008

CC evangelist and acclaimed author Cory Doctorow announced today the release of his new book, Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future. Content is exactly what it claims to be – 28 essays on “everything from copyright and DRM to the layout of phone-keypads, the fallacy of the semantic web, the nature of futurism, the necessity of privacy in a digital world, the reason to love Wikipedia, the miracle of fanfic, and many other subjects”. If that wasn’t inciting enough, Content also boasts an introduction from EFF co-founder John Perry Barlow and book design by acclaimed typographer John D Berry.

Like his other novels, Doctorow has chosen to release Content both as a print book for sale and as a free-to-download CC BY-NC-SA licensed PDF. In his essay, “Giving it Away” (originally published in Forbes, December 2006 – republished in Content), Doctorow describes his decision to use CC licences and the benefit he has seen as a result:

When my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, was published by Tor Books in January 2003, I also put the entire electronic text of the novel on the Internet under a Creative Commons license that encouraged my readers to copy it far and wide. Within a day, there were 30,000 downloads from my site (and those downloaders were in turn free to make more copies). Three years and six printings later, more than 700,000 copies of the book have been downloaded from my site. The book’s been translated into more languages than I can keep track of, key concepts from it have been adopted for software projects, and there are two competing fan audio adaptations online.

Most people who download the book don’t end up buying it, but they wouldn’t have bought it in any event, so I haven’t lost any sales, I’ve just won an audience. A tiny minority of downloaders treat the free ebook as a substitute for the printed book — those are the lost sales. But a much larger minority treat the ebook as an enticement to buy the printed book. They’re gained sales. As long as gained sales outnumber lost sales, I’m ahead of the game. After all, distributing nearly a million copies of my book has cost me nothing.

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Zombie DRM

Mike Linksvayer, May 8th, 2008

I hate to beat a dead horse, but the horse’s promoters provide a convenient excuse when they claim the dead horse is making a comeback. The horse in question of course is DRM (emphasis added):

“(Recently) I made a list of the 22 ways to sell music, and 20 of them still require DRM,” said David Hughes, who heads up the RIAA’s technology unit, during a panel discussion at the Digital Hollywood conference. “Any form of subscription service or limited play-per-view or advertising offer still requires DRM. So DRM is not dead.

CC using record label Magnatune just announced a DRM-free subscription service.

Another jewel from the same News.com article:

Fritz Attaway, executive vice president at the Motion Picture Association of America said: “We need DRM to show our customers the limits of the license they have entered into with us.”

If you needed DRM to show users the limits of a license, CC licenses would require DRM. Instead, CC licenses repudiate (known forms of) DRM. No, the only thing the RIAA and MPAA are showing their customers is disrespect.

Of course this is a really old story.

We need Digital Asset Management tools that help our computers help us manage content, not DRM that turns our computers against us.

Via TechDirt.

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Is it possible to design non-defective DRM?

Mike Linksvayer, February 28th, 2008

DRM (Digital Rights Management, pejoratively known as Digital Restrictions Management) is said to be defective by design — making digital devices and content more annoying, less secure, less compatible, and generally less useful, and especially where protected by recent legislation, in conflict with free speech. If this dysfunction is not included by design, it is at least a direct side effect of a largely futile attempt to make computers worse at copying.

In light of these problems, Creative Commons licenses stipulate the following:

When You Distribute or Publicly Perform the Work, You may not impose any effective technological measures on the Work that restrict the ability of a recipient of the Work from You to exercise the rights granted to that recipient under the terms of the License.

This is not an outright prohibition of DRM on works distributed under terms of any CC license, but it does rule out existing DRM schemes that would clearly restrict the ability to exercise the rights granted in any CC license.

However, use of Digital Rights Expression, also variously known as Digital Rights Description and Rights Management Information, has always been a core part of Creative Commons’ strategy. The point of DRE and other information describing creative works is to describe works, not to facilitate restrictions imposed by your own computer. Computers should help users find and manage content, not help content owners manage and expose users.

We’ve only begun to exploit the ability of machine-readable code describing works and licenses to make media more valuable rather than less. Look for a paper on what we’re now calling ccREL — CC Rights Expression Language — coming soon.

ccREL has nothing to do with DRM, but this hasn’t stopped many people with DRM implementations or schemes from approaching us about making CC licenses work with their DRM. Nearly all of these conversations have been very brief as they were clearly futile.

The only exception to that certain futility rule has been Sun’s Project DReaM team. While it is far from clear that they have succeeded, theirs is perhaps the first honest attempt (at least outside academia) to specify a DRM system that supports CC licensed content and fair use — which we consider a requirement for supporting CC licenses.

The project has produced two white papers outlining potential support for CC licensed work and fair use, which are now open for comments: DReaM-MMI Profile for Creative Commons Licenses (pdf) and Support for Fair Use with Project DReaM (pdf). A forum has been set up to collect comments.

An introductory post from Susan Landau sets forth the challenge:

This is just to say that we welcome comments on the DReaM-MMI fair use document and the DReaM-MMI specification for implementing Creative Commons licenses. We’re not unaware of the inherent contradiction of a DRM’s support for fair use and Creative Commons licenses. What we are seeking to do in DReaM is develop an open-source DRM system, and include in it the things that ought to be part of any DRM system: support for fair use — and Creative Commons licenses.

We are very happy that Project DReaM has taken this step to encourage open discussion, which is certain to generate intense criticism, as anyone familiar with the DRM debates will immediately recognize. However, open criticism by many legal and computer security experts is the only way to properly evaluate a DRM system that aspires to support public licenses and fair use.

There is some existing literature on DRM and fair use. One starting point is a 2003 special issue of the Communications of the ACM on the theme “Digital Rights Management and Fair Use by Design.” Unfortunately these papers are not open access, but abstracts and exceprts are available at Cover Pages. Another is the DRM page of the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic, which features several downloadable papers on DRM and fair use. In brief, there are two extremely difficult problems to overcome for a DRM system to support fair use: determining what constitutes fair use or trusting users and privacy.

Even if Project DReaM has successfully specified support for CC licensed works and fair use with DRM, there would probably be other hurdles to deploying truly non-defective DRM. The good news is that in the last year many more people have realized that DRM is not good for business or consumers, particularly in the music industry. However, attempts to make DRM work will probably be with us for some time. If it can be shown that it is possible to design a DRM system that supports fair use, consumers and advocates can demand that all DRM systems meet that standard. If not (and admittedly, we suspect this is the case), all the more reason to hasten the abandonment of DRM and the hindrance it poses to innovation, and to embrace technologies that make content more useful and empower users.

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Red Hat and “Bird Song: A Cartoon Requiem for DRM”

Cameron Parkins, September 28th, 2007

A bit late (exactly a month in fact), but in case you missed it the first time as well, Red Hat posted an amazing short about DRM titled “Bird Song: A Cartoon Requiem for DRM”. Its a beautifully made animation and Red Hat has gone the distance in licensing the different elements under a CC BY-NC-SA licence.

By utilizing CC-licences, Red Hat extend “an open invitation to use, share and modify as you wish, as long as you share your production, don’t use it for commercial purposes and give us (and those before you) a nod of recognition for getting it started”. So, as always, get your redistribute/remix/share on, and maybe your bird can sing.

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Report from the Bandwidth Music/Technology Conference

Mike Linksvayer, September 11th, 2007

A late report on Bandwidth 2007, “The “Music | Technology Conference” held in San Francisco August 17-18.

I moderated “The DRM Panel”, retitled from “Mano-A-Mano: The DRM Panel”, as it seemed the panelists would largely be in agreement. This was the case. None of the panelists were tied to a hard-core anti-DRM position or a die-hard DRM defense. Most were involved in businesses that serve as intermediaries between labels and online distribution.

There was broad agreement that in music, there has been a seismic shift away from DRM, for entirely pragmatic reasons — DRM is a pain for consumers, so has driven some to filesharing, concentration on protection has meant that the industry has not built services that use technology to provide value to consumers, leaving the likes of MySpace and Apple to slowly fill the gap.

One interesting observation was that the decline in CD sales is creating an opening for those in the industry who have been clamoring for a different approach for years. The alternative would be more circling the wagons with DRM, but that has already been tried.

There are many smart, progressive people in the music industry — we’ve seen a number of them experimenting with using CC licensing as part of their strategy — but it was cool to hear that they may be finally gaining the upper hand. There has of course been a ton of “Music 2.0” innovation happening at the edges for years, but there’s no reason that shouldn’t kick into a higher gear with the involvement of and non-persecution by the majors.

We didn’t discuss this on the panel, but during the pre-panel preparation there seemed to be agreement that although DRM is on its way out for music, the movie industry would stick with DRM for a long time. My question, if there had been time, would have been “DRM didn’t work for the music industry, so why does the movie industry think its experience will be any different?” I’m still wondering about that.

CC Creative Director Eric Steuer was on a later panel called “Sue Me, Sue You, Sue Everybody!” in which there was a pretty strong consensus that suing fans is a pretty stupid strategy that also hasn’t worked out well for the industry. As previosuly mentioned, the really smart people are going beyond just not suing fans, but empowering fans with CC licenses.

The DRM Panel

Sue Me, Sue You, Sue Everybody!

Photos by Jason Schultz under CC Attribution-NonCommercial.

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FreeCulture.org’s Down With DRM Video Contest winners announced

Eric Steuer, October 15th, 2006

FreeCulture.org has announced the five winners of its Down With DRM Video Contest. The winners will each receive a Neuros OSD media center. You can watch the videos (which are all CC-licensed) here.

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Linus Torvalds on CC and DRM

Mike Linksvayer, February 6th, 2006

Noted many places, Linux creator Linux Torvalds has written on using CC to marginalize DRM:

Creative Commons licenses already require that you can’t
use technological measures to restrict the rigts you give with the CC
licenses. The “Share Alike” license in particular requires all work based
on it to also be shared alike, ie it has the “GPL feel” to it.

If enough interesting content is licensed that way, DRM eventually becomes
Yes, it takes decades, but that’s really no different at all
from how the GPL works. The GPL has taken decades, and it hasn’t
“marginalized” commercial proprietary software yet, but it’s gotten to the
point where fewer people at least worry about it.

Emphasis added. This is embedded in a debate about a future version of the GPL, the dominant free software license. Regardless of how you feel about this debate (or know of its existence), your mission is clear: create and discover great CC-licensed content.

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