Cory Doctorow To Push For Ending DRM

from the good-day-to-announce-this dept

This is Copyright Week, in which various people supporting more reasonable copyright laws highlight some of the problems with existing laws and important concepts that should be in copyright reform efforts. Today’s topic is “you bought it, you own it,” — a concept that is often held back due to bad copyright laws. A few months ago, a bill was introduced in Congress called YODA — the You Own Devices Act — which would allow the owner of computer hardware to sell the devices with the software on it without creating a copyright mess. It was a small attempt to take back basic property rights from copyright law which often stamps out property rights. Hopefully, a similar bill will show up in the new Congress, and become law. Even better would be for copyright law to actually recognize true property rights, rather than limiting them at nearly every turn.

One of the biggest attacks on property rights and ownership is Section 1201 of the DMCA, better known as the Anti-Circumvention clause, that says it’s against the law to circumvent any “technological measures” that were designed to block copying — even if the underlying use is non-infringing. That is, if you break technological measures to access content that is not covered by copyright at all, you’re still violating the law. This is the law that has made DRM so powerful, and which regularly removes your right to own what you bought. It’s a blatant attack on basic property rights, and (even worse) has copyright maximalists pretending that their removal of property rights is actually a move in favor of property rights.

Thus, it’s great to see the announcement today that Cory Doctorow is returning to EFF to help with its new Apollo 1201 Project, a plan to eradicate DRM in our lifetime.

“Apollo was a decade-long plan to do something widely viewed as impossible: go to the moon. Lots of folks think it’s impossible to get rid of DRM. But it needs to be done,” said Doctorow. “Unless we can be sure that our computers do what we tell them, and don’t have sneaky programs designed to take orders from some distant corporation, we can never trust them. It’s the difference between ‘Yes, master’ and ‘I CAN’T LET YOU DO THAT DAVE.'”

Doctorow has been speaking out on this issue for years. If you haven’t watched his 2012 talk at the Chaos Communication Congress on the “war on general purpose computing,” it’s well worth your time. It’s a discussion I’ve gone back to many times in the two and a half years since he first gave that talk. It highlights not only the absurdity of DRM in general, but why this is an issue that goes well beyond just the idea of locking down some content to protect an obsolete business model. As his speech noted, this is a battle over the right to actually own your computer and not to open it up to censorship and surveillance. The fight over DRM on content was just the beginning:

And personally, I can see that there will be programs that run on general purpose computers and peripherals that will even freak me out. So I can believe that people who advocate for limiting general purpose computers will find receptive audience for their positions. But just as we saw with the copyright wars, banning certain instructions, or protocols, or messages, will be wholly ineffective as a means of prevention and remedy; and as we saw in the copyright wars, all attempts at controlling PCs will converge on rootkits; all attempts at controlling the Internet will converge on surveillance and censorship, which is why all this stuff matters. Because we’ve spent the last 10+ years as a body sending our best players out to fight what we thought was the final boss at the end of the game, but it turns out it’s just been the mini-boss at the end of the level, and the stakes are only going to get higher.

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Comments on “Cory Doctorow To Push For Ending DRM”

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PaulT (profile) says:

The legal aspects are well worth talking about, especially the idiotic parts that don’t allow you to do otherwise legal things just because someone put a weak arbitrary code on something.

But, I still think the practicality is worth talking about alongside that – that DRM almost never work, and when it does it only affects people who paid for the product (often driving them to pirate sources they never considered just to get their legally purchased product to work properly).

We need people to be advertising this fact as loudly as possible, pointing out that not only does DRM not “enable new markets” as the liars often claim, but that removing it opens up competition (as per the music industry – before DRM requirements were removed, nobody could compete with iTunes because of their DRM and Amazon weren’t even considering the market until they could sell MP3s).

The technical, research and other aspects of the DRM argument are important. But we need as much focus as possible on the aspects that will get normal people interested – that it never works, that it only affects legal users, that it’s greatly used for monopolistic practices and that history shows that markets do better without it.

Ninja (profile) says:

Cool! I’d say that left alone, DRM will eventually kill itself too. I know some pretty technologically impaired people that already actively avoid things with DRM even if they don’t know it’s DRM because of bad past experiences (thanks Ubisoft and Blizzard for helping fill the ranks!). I generally liked the Assassin’s Creed games I got as gifts but even though I’d love to buy more titles of the series I won’t. Because DRM. And because Ubisoft. In fact I made a life commitment to avoid some companies like the plague and not even pirate from them. Most of the time it’s pretty easy to do it for these companies despair.

retrogamer (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’d really like to agree with you, but I’m just not so sure gamers are going to ever vote with their wallets. People keep begging for more from Square Enix, who have said publicly “DRM boosts profits and it’s here to stay.” Compare Steam to GOG and look at the state of console gaming today… This is why I’ve moved on to the indie/homebrew scene with groups like NG Dev Team, but they are few and far between.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“I’m just not so sure gamers are going to ever vote with their wallets”

Two points:

One: “gamers” are not a Borg-like collective. Lots of gamers are either boycotting companies outright or selectively buying only non-DRM games.

The problem isn’t that gamers aren’t acting. It’s that the game companies always think “need more DRM” is the answer to the falling sales. They notice the complaints about DRM and notice the falling sales, but have convinced themselves that the former only come from pirates and not the people that would buy a non-DRMed copy.

Two: you’re talking about the general consumer here, not “gamers”. These are the same people who whine about how bad the Transformers movies are while queueing up to see the next one. The people who complain about Apple’s walled garden while unwrapping their new iPhone and paying for some new apps. The people who bemoan the decline of the independent bookstore or record store 15 years after the last time they set foot in one. Morons with no concept of how things work in terms of cause and effect in commerce, but there’s a lot of them out there.

retrogamer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I respect your points, I think I should have said “a critical mass of people who buy games, in a large enough % to force change” or something along those lines. I’d just point out that I am one such person who is buying non DRM games, but there just don’t seem to be very many of us right now.

Unrelated to that discussion, two of the Cluetrain authors have written a very good essay on the locking down of the Internet I wanted to post:

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“there just don’t seem to be very many of us right now”

But, by which metric? There’s plenty who aren’t vocal about it on forums like this, they just don’t bother buying. There’s some who gave up buying from certain companies but don’t realise that it was DRM that was the problem, not just “the last 2 Ubisoft games I bought didn’t work so I won’t buy another”. How many have just got so fed up that they don’t bother with gaming as a primary hobby any more? Plus, of course, the people who have simply turned to piracy, not realising that they’re contributing to the thinking that led to DRM in the first place?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because EA and Ubisoft still sell a lot of games, that there aren’t plenty of people who haven’t stopped buying from them. The problem is determining who’s who and getting them to speak up. For example, Assassins Creed sales might be dropping, but how much is DRM and how much because nobody liked AC3 and AC:Unity was a buggy mess? Who knows, but I’d be willing to bet it’s not negligible.

The problem is getting everyone to speak up, and doing so in a way that doesn’t get rejected as “a bunch of pirates” by the bean counters. To that, sadly, I don’t have a definitive answer.

retrogamer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

The only good metric for whether people are buying DRM free games right now (on a large scale) that I can think of is going to be GOG. The problem is (as far as I know, I could be wrong) they don’t make those public, you just have to rely on an individual publisher making their sales figures known for now.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

True. You can get some metrics from the likes of HumbleBundle, but not for individual titles and some bundles still go through DRM systems.

On top of that, you still have the problem of not knowing who’s buying those games as well as DRM titles and who’s buying as a replacement. Some people will be loading up on GoG’s current Lucasarts sale and play nothing else for the next 6 months. Some will buy them, then still buy EA’s next Origin release.

It’s not a binary issue, so getting at the truth is complicated, even if the data’ available. I just think that there’s more out there reacting to DRM than anyone realises.

retrogamer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I am a GOG user actually (probably didn’t make that clear enough), but I think GOG has a long way to go in becoming a true Steam competitor. Look at the number of new titles (not re-releases of old titles) on GOG compared to Steam (or for the PS4/XBone/Wii-U for that matter). I’m grateful we’re getting anything at all, but GOG just isn’t a major release platform for new games right now.

Having said all that, GOG is turning a solid profit and getting some notice, I am hoping that they can start landing some major new titles down the road. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is coming DRM free in May, and that is huge. I think that if it is a hit on GOG, that could start to get the ball rolling. I’m pre-ordering it knowing that I may have to wait for it to run via WINE (or get a Linux port) just to support the developers for embracing a DRM free platform.

retrogamer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I would agree with that also, the point I was (trying) to make is that the lack of new titles means that gamers probably aren’t dumping DRM platforms (Steam, consoles, etc.) in a large enough number to matter. An earlier commenter took issue with my suggestion that there don’t seem to be that many of us who are using GOG exclusively, that’s who I was posting that for. GOG doesn’t have to release figures for us to know that many of its users are only using the platform for old games, I think. But, on the flip side, if The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt sells enough copies it could entice more publishers to go DRM free simply for added sales (even if they are happy with Steam sales numbers already).

What I’m getting at, is this;
1. GOG mostly gets older titles right now.
2. A lot of gamers might normally use Steam, but occasionally grab old games (especially these LucasArts ones as PaulT mentioned) on GOG. They are not the GOG users I was referring to.
3. A -very- few publishers are embracing GOG with new titles. If those sell, we might get a better figure about the people who are choosing GOG for philosophical/ethical reasons (i.e. if The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt hits GOG and Steam at the same time, the sales ratio of Steam to GOG will be telling).

Shmerl says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Witcher 3 is a bad example since CD Projekt Red own GOG. I.e. they don’t need to convince anyone that it should be released DRM-free. Other studios and publishers is a different story.

But they are getting a more recent releases now than before. Also the whole scene is now changing with more studios becoming independent and not troubled by sick DRM minds of backwards thinking publishers. That’s happening even without GOG of course, but it’s happening. GOG however do try to convince even some DRM-sick publishers to release their games. Sometimes it works (for example Deep Silver, Disney and etc.). I think they are trying to convince 2K at present.

retrogamer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

You make a good point about that (in terms of it being a bad example for publisher adoption), but I do still think the figures will let us know how many people have made the jump to GOG for new release titles (which is why I picked that game as an example). In other words, CD Projekt Red have a vested in interest in making this a same day release with GOG, so presumably the only reason people are going to buy on Steam is due to the fact that they prefer the Steam platform. Then again, it’s telling that the only upcoming marquee title to get same day release on GOG is one developed by the owners of GOG.

On a side note, I wish they would have had a same day Linux release ready. I’m pretty sure a decent percentage of anti-DRM advocates are going to hold out for a Linux port, so I still wouldn’t put too much stock on initial sales figures if/when we see them.

Shmerl says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

They have quite a number of new games with same day releases. High profile ones. They are notably from independent studios, and that’s expected. Honestly, those are the games I’m actually most interested in anyway. Divinity Original Sin, Wasteland 2 and etc. Those are all high profile games developed by studios without DRM mindset. And there will be more and more of them coming this year. Pillars of Eternity, Armikrog, Tides of Numenera and etc.

About Linux – I’m only using Linux myself, so of course I appreciate same day Linux releases. But so far it’s not that common. Divinity Original Sin is way behind with it, that’s why I still didn’t buy it. Wasteland 2 had it same day but it was somewhat rough and they are gradually fixing bugs.

About Witcher 3 – they surely aren’t going to release it the same day. I suspect they don’t even develop it at all at present. See here:

I opened a wishlist entry a long time ago for it, so feel free to vote:

retrogamer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

I appreciate the clarification on some of the indie titles (and will vote), but I just wanted to say that my original point is getting lost a little bit. I get that indie publishers are supporting GOG (and am glad for it), but the games that are going to turn the tide in killing DRM will be major publisher, marquee titles released same day. We’re still a long way off from a high % (let’s say 51% at least) of new, major titles being same day on GOG.

To back that up, I just checked the current Steam top 10:

GTA V – Not on GOG.
H1Z1 – Not on GOG.
Counter-Strike Global Offensive – Not on GOG.
Resident Evil – HD Remaster – Not on GOG.
DayZ – Not on GOG
Saints Row GOOH – Not on GOG.
GRID Autosport – Not on GOG.
Evolve – Not on GOG.
Dying Light – Not on GOG.
Rust – Not on GOG.

0 out of the top 10 Steam titles shows (at least to me) big name publishers aren’t feeling any real need to support GOG yet. Don’t get me wrong, I hope it changes, I’m just trying to paint a realistic picture.

Speaking of same day Linux releases, that’s the other issue. I am Linux user myself, but I tend to buy games for Windows and just run them via WINE rather than wait/hope for a Linux port. But, that clouds the figures about how many Linux users are actually using GOG, which is another issue altogether.

Shmerl says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

I’ve never even heard about most of those top 10 😉 Really. Are they any good? Being top 10 doesn’t translate into quality to me. Mass market is known of consuming tones of junk and running for more junk the next day. So I’m not sure if GOG is missing much by not getting those games.

I also buy Windows games to run in Wine (if they are DRM-free of course) but only if they have no Linux option. If developers promised a Linux release I’m not going to buy it until they’ll make one (like Divinity Original Sin for example).

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Keep in mind that several of those games are indie games, not “big name publisher” games (Rust, DayZ, I think Dying Light and Evolve are indie too). Steam has become a major indie release platform as well as bigger games.

Steam does other things to increase its popularity besides have big name games; the constant sales, curator and game finding systems, big picture mode, and in-home streaming are all great features that GoG lacks. The last in particular is fantastic; I can install my games on my beastly computer in my room and then play them on my HTPC downstairs on the projector without having to install them twice. I can also add my wife’s collection of games to mine and play them interchangeably (we both need the game to play together, but we can share singleplayer games).

While I don’t particularly like Steam’s DRM, at least for my system it’s mostly unobtrusive (if I have issues it’s related to 3rd party DRM, not Steam’s) and offers some great features I can’t get elsewhere. I’d prefer no DRM but there are enough positives that the majority of my game purchases are on Steam. I use GoG as well, especially for classic games as they have fantastic compatibility software, but it won’t become a primary for me until the actual service improves.

Gabe Newell has actually stated he’s against DRM, and Steam primarily uses it because the studios demand it for their content. In fact, many games on Steam don’t use DRM at all; Steamworks DRM is optional, and if you go into the Steam directly for a non-DRM’d game, you can just run it straight from the executable. They don’t advertise which games use their DRM and what don’t but Valve isn’t a pro-DRM company. They offer a non-obtrusive DRM option rather than have everyone use a bunch of different worse ones.

I mean, it’s absolutely people’s right to hate on Steam, but I’d argue that they do a great job of compromise and offer a lot of extra value to the consumer beyond DRM. That counts for a lot to me. I’d love to see DRM go the way of the dinosaur, but if Steam is the worst I have to deal with, oh-freaking-well.

Shmerl says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

> Gabe Newell has actually stated he’s against DRM, and Steam primarily uses it because the studios demand it for their content.

Do you have some reference for this? It sounds questionable, since even Valve’s own games require Steamworks DRM. This argument reminds me a claim from Netflix that they push DRM into HTML and the Web only because publishers demand it, but otherwise they aren’t pro DRM. But where is their own content DRM-free? It is quite hypocritical.

Shmerl says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

GOG however had another problem recently with their ToS and reverse engineering which also borders on various DRM problems. It looks like they decided to fix it.

See here:

I actually contacted EFF about it for their input, but they didn’t answer anything so far.

Anonymous Coward says:

Good to see someone fighting to end the scourge of DRM.

I’m willing to bet the maximalists will bemoan the reasonable outcome of an end to DRM.

Personally, I’d like to see Digital Restriction Management software reclassified as malware, as it should have been ages ago. Failing that, a full ban would be fair.

retrogamer (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This is one thing that amazes about all the hate for Richard Stallman, whether you agree with him about free software or not. He was calling DRM malware as far back as the late 90’s, yet PC users and gamers just goofed on his eccentricities without actually giving the argument any real thought. Meanwhile, just about everything he predicted has come true in regard to DRM. That essay he wrote about owning books (to explain the dangers of DRM and paywalls) is pretty eery when you consider what happened with Aaron Schwartz.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Thanks, never heard of richard before, its was enlightening to see the origin of gnu -linux by the man himself(youtube) and gnu’s original intent(although i always thought of it in that way, its nice to find out thats what it was created for in the first place), and your right if he was saying the things back then as he’s saying now, the man called it way back when, and am eternally gratefull all these years later, for gnu’s release and in the reason it was created(better late then never, and i have to believe if im doing it, im not unique enough to be the only one)…..he’s right, linux doesnt associate itself with gnu’s original intent, not solely anyway…….as the man says, linux was a small piece, but the final vital piece in the whole scheme of things of a user operational gnu-linux

Add one to your list of spreading the word my friend, with my thanks

Anonymous Coward says:

I really think companies should be forced to make a choice, have their content covered by copyright legislation or have it protected by DRM, either or, not both.

If they want to put their faith in DRM and depriving customers of perfectly legal uses of the copy of the data they’ve purchased then that is all the protection they get to have and DRM would not be protected by law.

Or they can have copyright, as amended in the near future, to be a lot more sane than it is now, but still cover creative industries every bit as much as it did before they started creeping towards eternity as the length of time that copyright would last for.

I believe that if that choice was forced upon them, they are not unaware how pathetic DRM is as an anti-copy protection despite how effective it is at limiting fully paying customers, then they would choose to trust to copyright law, even in the watered down version that it is abundandly evident it will have to be in the near future.

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