'Catalog Of Missing Devices' Compiles The Useful Tech Products DRM Is Preventing Us From Owning

from the DRM:-if-it's-fixed,-break-it dept

What has DRM taken from the public? Well, mainly it’s the concept of ownership. Once an item is purchased, it should be up to the customer to use it how they want to. DRM alters the terms of the deal, limiting customers’ options and, quite often, routing them towards proprietary, expensive add-ons and repairs.

But the question “What would we have without DRM?” is a bit more slippery. The answers are speculative fiction. This isn’t to say the answers are unimportant. It’s just that it’s tough to nail down conspicuous absences. The nature of DRM is that you don’t notice it until it prevents you from doing something you want to do.

DRM — and its enabler, the anti-circumvention clause of the DMCA — ties customers to printer companies’ ink. It ties Keurig coffee fans to Keurig-brand pods. It prevents farmers from repairing their machinery and prevents drivers from tinkering with their cars. It prevents the creation of backups of digital and physical media. It can even keep your cats locked out of their pricey restroom.

To better show how DRM is stifling innovation, Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow and the EFF have teamed up to produce a catalog of “missing devices”: useful tech that could exist, but only without DRM.

“The law that is supposed to restrict copying has instead been misused to crack down on competition, strangling a future’s worth of gadgets in their cradles,” said EFF Special Advisor Cory Doctorow. “But it’s hard to notice what isn’t there. We’re aiming to fix that with this Catalog of Missing Devices. It’s a collection of tools, services, and products that could have been, and should have been, but never were.”

At this point, the collaboration has produced eight nonexistent tech advancements, but the EFF and Doctorow are still collecting and vetting submissions. From a firmware patch that turns Vapid Spyware Barbie into a one-way font of useful information to locking out snooping vehicle black boxes, the Catalog of Missing Items has something for everyone who’s ever taped a Kuerig barcode onto a third-party coffee pod.

One of the biggest losers of the DRM/DMCA arms race is fan subtitles. Amateur creators of subtitles for foreign films have found themselves subjected to multiple DMCA notices, if not actual criminal proceedings. While it’s understandable some production companies don’t have the budget to produce dozens of different subtitles (or localize games), it’s baffling the response is usually to harm people who are helping others. The problem is that adding subtitles means bypassing copyright protection and creating a new file with the subtitles or translation attached. Companies often view this as no different that regular old piracy, despite the added value created by fans of the content.

One of the hypothetical products offered by the “Catalog of Missing Devices” solves this. Called “Panfluent” by its creator, Nicola Ginzler, the software performs machine translation for any language, allowing all internet users to view/hear anything, almost anywhere, in their native language. It also would allow users to suggest better translations and have those added to Panfluent’s databases. It would work across multiple platforms and unlock devices to prevent DRM from getting the way.

Another suggestion would correct a major annoyance with e-readers. It would allow users to select any font they want on any e-reader, freeing them from the “official” fonts handed to them by the manufacturer. This would greatly aid those who love reading, but have trouble doing so with normal e-readers. Default font choices seldom work out for sufferers of dyslexia or other cognitive disabilities. (Another addition to the catalog would force all e-readers to deploy text-to-speech.)

Other suggestions include freeing 3-D printers from proprietary supplies and turning a DVR into a meme factory by providing templates and the ability to capture any image at any time from recordings or live TV.

These are the sort of innovations we won’t be seeing as long as anti-circumvention laws remain in place. DRM lock-in helps no one but the sellers of items and content and prevents purchasers from making full use of products and content they’ve paid for. The law criminalizes tinkering with certain purchases and sets up roadblocks for security researchers. It limits the usefulness of products and further restricts people with already limited access to content, like dyslexics or residents of countries producers have no interest in serving. Worse, every few years the few exemptions granted must be begged for again, lest they disappear forever. It’s a bad law making the world a worse place and cedes far too much control to sellers, rather than those keeping them in business.

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Comments on “'Catalog Of Missing Devices' Compiles The Useful Tech Products DRM Is Preventing Us From Owning”

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Anonymous Coward says:

And it's all WEENIE CRAP we are better off without.

Impractical and stoopy, the kind of crap that EFF weenies aren’t even competent to judge.

Read this a couple days ago. You are SLOW even to re-write.

What would Techdirt do without FREE sources to re-write?

And not just FREE, but ideologically aligned, so never have to actually THINK on a cogent, winning argument, just copy-paste a bit, then fling it up for fanboys to fawn over.

[ So why am I here? I’ve answered a dozen times, kids: because YOU, Techdirt, Masnick, and all other masnicks are amusing. Just not in the way that you think, which is part of my amusement. ]

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: And it's all WEENIE CRAP we are better off without.

“Read this a couple days ago.”

It’s amazing. The amount of time you’ve been here, and you still haven’t worked out that it’s neither a primary news source nor a site that claims to break new stories (i.e. the amount of time taken to write the story is completely irrelevant). You’d have thought that someone as mindlessly obsessed with attacking a site as you are would at least have worked out what the site was by now.

“What would Techdirt do without FREE sources to re-write?”

What would you do without this FREE site to use and abuse according to your self-absorbed, slightly insane wishes?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: And it's all WEENIE CRAP we are better off without.

Hold up, so you are going to disparage people that suffer dyslexia and cognitive disabilities to make fun of someone?

I know you lefties are no where near as “tolerant” or “kind” as you claim to be but keep in mind, people are paying attention to your hypocrisy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 And it's all WEENIE CRAP we are better off without.

You have made the common mistake of forgetting you are talking to an individual and hallucinating that you are talking to a symbolic amalgamated person in your imagination. It’s okay, happens to everyone from time to time. It’s happening to me right now! Though you do kind of ask for it…

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: And it's all WEENIE CRAP we are better off without.

You have an opinion on “weenie crap”, but offer no explanation as to the meaning of that phrase. You have an opinion on the speed at which Techdirt writes about different stories, but offer no helping hand with which they can write articles faster. You have a disagreement with the ideological leanings of Techdirt, but offer no coherent argument against that ideology. To put it bluntly: You talk a lot of shit for someone who has nothing to say.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: And it's all WEENIE CRAP we are better off without.

You have an opinion on “weenie crap”, but offer no explanation as to the meaning of that phrase.

Sure he does! He’s used it here on this post, so we can presume that the examples to which he’s applying it are his explanation of the meaning.

Thus, apparently, "weenie crap" means things like universal translation and accessibility modifications for written works.

And as such we can deduce that "weenie crap" is defined as "very good, intuitively positive, and obviously extremely useful ideas"

Now as to why he thinks we are "better off without" all that awesome weenie crap – well, on that I share your bafflement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: And it's all WEENIE CRAP we are better off without.

Friend, I’m gonna let you in on something. It’s something a whole lot of people know, but it seems you don’t:

The whole “you’re stupid, but I engage because you amuse so much” thing is deeply ineffective for establishing the unassailable superiority that you are trying to establish. I know, I know – it’s so gloriously condescending that it just MUST rile people up and make you look like the smartest in the room, right? Well… truth is, sorry, but it doesn’t. It accomplishes rather the opposite, in fact. It’s like hold a giant flag over your head that says “don’t listen to me, I’m both intellectually unsophisticated AND a complete asshole”.

Anonymous Coward says:


"Kaleidescape" for the masses. You have to read the synopsis of DVD Copy Control Association, Inc. v. Kaleidescape, Inc. to understand just how rigged the system is for the copyright industry.

"Under this particular licensing scheme, the licensee must sign a standard agreement to maintain confidentiality of the CSS technology. At the time of signing, the licensee is not aware of the particular specifications to which the licensee must comply (such as the specification that the original DVD must be inserted into the player at the time of playback). It is only after noting the ‘membership category’, executing the agreement, and paying the required fees, will the licensee receive the ‘CSS General Specifications’."


Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Kaleidescape

That reminds me of when it was time to replace our company’s Nortel phone system.

It wasn’t just that the Nortel reps couldn’t arrange a simple demo for their newer system. It’s that they refused to confirm whether certain features even existed until AFTER we signed an agreement to purchase it. They acted like they had a total monopoly.

We went with Mitel instead, whose reps had no trouble arranging a demo and answering questions. Not long after, Nortel became the largest bankruptcy case in Canadian history.

The DVD Copy Control Association had a monopoly too, briefly, or at least thought they thought they did. Like Nortel, it only really made the case for consumers to seek alternatives.

fairuse (profile) says:

Re: Kaleidescape

In case nobody was watching — DVD CCA and Kaleidescape settled 2014. https://www.kaleidescape.com/press-release/kaleidescape-dvd-cca-announce-settlement-agreement-end-decade-old-lawsuit/

Now Kaleidescape Blu-ray, 4K servers have all distribution licenses.

Got a very big boat, the kind that sails from America to Australia? Big K has all the media inside and delivers.

They got lucky and smart. Or we fell for the fallacy that physical media will fade into history.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Kaleidescape

Read the article closer.

DVD CCA and Kaleidescape have agreed that Kaleidescape will be subject to the injunction starting on November 30, 2014. Systems sold by Kaleidescape after that date will no longer be able to import CSS-protected DVDs, and such DVDs will only be playable from the physical disc.


Pursuant to the settlement agreement, the superior court at the request of Kaleidescape and DVD CCA modified the injunction to provide that it takes effect November 30, 2014. This permits Kaleidescape to continue selling systems that import CSS-protected DVDs through November 29. By then, Kaleidescape expects to have most DVD movies available for download from the Kaleidescape Store in the United States. For markets outside the United States, the Kaleidescape system will be sold after November 29 as a Blu-ray movie server only.

They’ve turned off their old features and made themselves into yet another NetFlix.

Nate (user link) says:

There is at least one error in the catalog.

The EFF claims the Kindle doesn’t have TTS. Late model Kindles do, and so do earlier models. That feature was never removed from the devices that had it, it’s just that for a while there Amazon released Kindle models without it.

Also, there are ereaders that let you install your own font. It’s not a “missing device” – Kobo makes them.

Anonymous Coward says:

DRM doesn't even really help the DRM owners

In the long term, DRM doesn’t even help the manufacturers. Take eBook readers. Sure, having all someone’s books in kindle format means they’re more likely to get a kindle next time. Good for Amazon? Not in the long term. Why? Because the flip side is also true: someone with a Kobo is less likely to change. This provides a huge limit to growth because you’re not just convincing buyers that your device is better. You have to convince them that your device is so much better that it is worth leaving their existing ecosystem and purchases and starting over.

Anonymous Coward says:

How is that regualtion working for ya?

Remember sheep, politicians are going to save you. DRM is here to protect you from accidentally stealing stuff big business says you should not be allowed to steal… O wait.. I mean your rep said that.. not big businesss… shit guess that cat is out of that bag.

O wait… you believed it? welll damn… carry on you stupid retards… I mean smart and intelligent citizens that cannot be repeatedly fooled over and over and over again!

You can be or do anything you want… except the things we said you can’t. Carry on!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 How is that regualtion working for ya?

Potentially, but everything is relative.

If I were being compared to Einstein, I would be ignorant.
If I were being compared to you, I would be Einstein.
If you were being Compared to Einstein he would say…

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

Heh heh!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: How is that regualtion working for ya?

TD is not in favor of DRM as far as I am aware.

What I am implying is that, despite the “claims” that TD is against DRM their actions that lead to the creation of a legislative environment that is very favorable to over regulation is leading to things like DRM.

Hence the question: “How is that regulation working for ya?”

“some” but “limited” regulation is necessary, the problem with TD is that there is no limit to that regulation. As long as the power is placed in the Hands of a D, they usually agree with it as they did with Wheeler Vision. But when the power goes into the hands of an R, like what happened with Ajit, just as I have warned them would eventually happen, they got bent out of shape.

Regulation is fine and dandy, until it is being used to ROB the consumers of liberty of who can serve them in the market. Right now regulations ensure these monopolies and they are busy fighting over table crumbs no realizing that they have been exceptionally well duped. And because of that environment of regulation, things like DRM being codified into law was so damn easy that is still is not even a line item during presidential debates despite the fact that is impacts American more than Terrorism does.

Not only have them been well fooled, they have been tricked into playing against themselves.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: How is that regualtion working for ya?

"some" but "limited" regulation is necessary, the problem with TD is that there is no limit to that regulation.

Yes, never mind the fact that Techdirt has run articles that express opposition to US government surveillance of domestic communications, constant overreach by foreign governments vis-á-vis the controlling of online speech, the DMCA in general and its notice-and-takedown system in particular, excessive copyright terms, gag orders from the government that prevent the gagged parties from even saying they received a gag order…shit, am I missing anything, guys?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 How is that regualtion working for ya?

I guess what I said went “clear over your head”

I know TD wants sensible regulations. The problem is that they think they can have it.

You can’t, it has never happened and will never happen and because it will never happen, regulation needs to be limited, just like your liberty, in the market to make sure it is not abused to the detriment of others.

You are just an endless maze of stupid!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 How is that regualtion working for ya?

"regulation needs to be limited, just like your liberty"

Y’know it’s almost as if that’s the foundational challenge at the very core of all questions about government and civilization. Of course, if it were, that would mean that almost everyone who seriously discusses these issues is already aware of it, and that they have been well beyond that simple observation for years, decades, generations, centuries – instead concerning themselves with the actual nitty-gritty challenges of organizing and improving a rapidly growing and advancing society while remaining ever vigilant about that balance.

But, but… if that were true, then that would mean you’re not a genius striding into the comments and educating everyone – it would mean you’re a rather foolish-looking dilettante who thinks that a very elementary idea (that has been discussed by just about every political philosopher ever) is in fact a comprehensive, unassailable theory. AND WE ALL KNOW THAT’S NOT THE CASE, AMIRIGHT? HAHAHA.

TL;DR: Omg this fucking guy I can’t even.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 How is that regualtion working for ya?

Of course we all want “sensible” regulations. Giving in to the idea that they can never exist and we can never implement them, however, is far easier than actually fighting for them. Go ahead and give in to defeatism because you cannot guarantee victory; cynicism like yours keeps you comfortable, anyway. Idealism, albeit tempered with a dose of realism, gets people off their asses so they can fight for the things they want their government to do.

Is it a long shot that we can achieve “sensible” regulations in a given part of our society? Absolutely. Is it still worth fighting for? Goddamn right, it is. Do you want to stay comfortable, or do you want to fight? That answer is one I leave to you.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 How is that regualtion working for ya?

Indeed. The problem this guy rails against isn’t regulation himself, but rather that some people in the US have been either so afraid of their own government or the boogeyman of socialism that they’ve essentially sold regulatory power off to the people who should be regulated.

The problems with the FCC, the DMCA, the SOPA crap you nearly got, etc., is that they’re being written by people who represent private corporations. You need to start getting people who represent the public involved as well.

Sadly, people like our resident idiot above are more interested in attacking people for daring to suggest that the government and regulators should represent them than actually supporting any change. He’s totally incoherent, but wants some regulation, not too much, doesn’t want the government involved somehow and things that anyone who support government regulation approves of the government controlling every aspect of their lives. A strange case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 How is that regualtion working for ya?

I know TD wants sensible regulations. The problem is that they think they can have it.

Sensible regulation is always limited, and biased towards protecting the individual from the corporations. Trying to claim that sensible and limited are totally distinct is mere wordplay so that you can rail against this site.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 How is that regualtion working for ya?

Y’know that strange psychological effect where you hear a word over and over again and it stops sounding like a real word and starts to lose all meaning?

That happens to me with "regulation" every time this guy talks. And the funny part is, what he was saying had no meaning in the first place!

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: How is that regualtion working for ya?

Its a great Strawman, whose logic chain reminds me of a meme:

Step One: TD Supports ISP Regulation
Step Two: TD supports any and all regulation, past and future
Step Three: ???????
Step Four: TD Supports DRM

It might be throwing the “Platforms can choose their users and content = Companies can do whatever” Strawman into the mix.

Double Troll!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: How is that regualtion working for ya?

I said none of those things actually.

paste the quote where I said that TD supports DRM.

there is a quote where I did state that TD does not support it as far as I know however.

I don’t think you have enough intelligence to debate here. Try obtaining an education that is higher than your current one and perhaps you will have a little more “wit” to come at me with.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 How is that regualtion working for ya?

Remember sheep, politicians are going to save you. DRM is here to protect you from accidentally stealing stuff big business says you should not be allowed to steal

You start your post with "Remember sheep", we can take this to mean you are sarcastically paraphrasing what you believe TD to be saying OR paraphrasing the line that TD has swallowed by big government, big business, etc… You also maintain that TD supports "politicians are going to save you" in the form of regulation. Ergo, therefore, etc…, your second sentence about DRM is also part of that paraphrasing and as such you state that TD "supports DRM".

If that isn’t what you meant and you don’t want to get all bent out of shape because people think you are saying something you didn’t intend because you said it wrong, then go take a grammar and English class and say it in proper, grammatically correct English.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 How is that regualtion working for ya?

TO be honest, its hard to keep all you grammatically deficient AC’s straight. As well, the lack of clear thesis structure in your initial post makes it very hard to actually understand your point. It seems clear you were not gifted with the High School Education I got from my public high school. I can not say where the deficiency lies, but I know many who were home schooled or came from another country for whom essay writing was not a skill they were taught, and others who immediately forgot those lessons. When, in an article about the harms of DRM, you start gloating about how poorly Techdirt’s supposed pro regulation and pro politician stances are supposedly going, but dont directly relate your comments to DRM, combined with complaints that Techdirt wants ALL the regulation, its quite understandable how I might think that you felt Techdirt was previously supportive of DRM.

Your well formatted replies in this thread also confuse me, as it seems you can make a coherent point/argument, but choose not to in your initial post.

ECA (profile) says:

Anything else we can add..

That STUPID computer that controls your car..
How easy it would be, to create a STANDARDIZED computer that would take all the values and THEN control your vehicle to work the best under Any situation.
But they dont. There are restrictions. Some make your vehicle work BAD, if you try to speed.

DVD/Drive Digital recorders..
Look up the current selection of Security recorders, that handle 4-16 cameras and record/display($200-300).. NOW think of your TV and Time SHIFTING programs you would like to see.. Now try to do this on your computer, or a CHEAP device that will do the job, and not cost a Small fortune. There is only 1 company doing it in the USA-LEGALLY..and it only records into SD FORMAT..(I sent them a letter, and asked why).. The difference between these 2 devices isnt THAT MUCH, as well as a Sec. Recorder, that does 4 video inputs VERY WELL, upto 1080 30-60 frames..

Then lets ADD a BIG WHY..
When apple sues because the Curve on the corner of another Phone is the SAME as theirs..
How about $5 worth of Plastic for a head light..and pay $200 to replace it.. TRY to make it yourself and I will bet you get a NOTE in the mail..
How about Every battery you BUY..has to have a CR, and design..and NO OTHER company can copy it..

Anyone want to TRY and enter the distribution system in the USA..its fully controlled..
try to enter the Movie distribution system..ITS CLOSED. you have to PAY to get a movie shown, OR to create a theater to DISPLAY movies..

fairuse (profile) says:

It's not just DRM its About what device accepts devices not-Apple, not-Amazon

The ice is under water. What happens when the ScreenCast HDMI thing is plugged into TV and all looks good.

a. The kindle Fire HD 8.8 starts checking off: OS version, TV everything, probably makes sure Kindle matches Amazon Account. Then poof mirror to TV is on.

b. You start Xfinity Stream app. Bang not on Home network [evil laugh]. Fu’k, kill mirror, restart said app. Watch movie on Kindle.

bb. Netflix hasn’t done any stupid minimum software is x then quit.

c. Don’t get me started on iPad. It will not accept anything except AirFray. If I wait long enough Kindle will only talk to FireStick ’cause overnight update.

Amazon Prime Video will not play on Chrome browser if any Flash support is allowed. My iMac 27″ 10.6.8 is one step away from Start Volume with 10.8 (no way 10.13 enters my machine)

“1000 ways the desert can kill you….” -Happy Hour In The Gene Pool.

Anonymous Coward says:

The DMCA only makes it a felony offense if you do it for financial gain.

So breaking DRM for one’s personal private use is not currently a felony crime since it is not for any kind of financial gain.

I expect the IP chapters of NAFTA, and other agreements down the road to change that, but for right now, it is only a criminal offense if you do it for financial gain.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Couple issues with that statement.

By the definition of copyright holders and those vested in IP law, “financial gain” is defined as any sort of scenario where the rightsholder feels that you might be getting a better deal than what they think you should be entitled to. It’s this wide umbrella definition that allows them to demand money for free-to-air radio music played in a dentist’s office not open to the public, or to horses in a stable.

Breaking DRM for private use might not be considered a felony crime – because the burdens of proof for that are stronger than what IP enforcement likes to deal with. It’s why out_of_the_blue insists on civil offense terms where “50.01% is guilty”. Much less work, but he’ll demand the same payoff.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Of coure, “tattle tale” devices can be defeated with a firewall.

I know this becuase when I was in college 20 years ago, my father had a housekepper who would bring her kids with her, and they would try to get my computer started

Because credit/debit card transactions were not as secure as they are now, I had to figure out how to use CyberSitter for free, without the program calling home and reporting that I was using a fake registration

I merely used a firewall program to block all access to that IP address, and never heard anything from them, becuase my firewall, Tiny Personal Firewall, kept the program from being able to “call home” as it were.

Blocking such addresses with my firewall did not violate the DMCA when I did it in the late 1990s

OldGeezer (profile) says:

A couple of years ago I bought a Xerox laser printer that came with those “sample” cartridges. I got on Amazon & was shocked to see that 2 sets of genuine cartridges were more than I paid for the printer. Then I saw where you could buy a complete 4 cartridge set for less than one Xerox cartridge. I ordered a set. The printer boots up & says “Genuine Xerox cartridges.” I ordered 4 more sets. Same thing. No more than I print that is a lifetime supply. I print so little I had to keep throwing out inkjets when they plugged up on me. Don’t know if they are refills or someone cracked the DRM. Don’t care. They work. I’m guessing, that as cheap as this printer was, it was probably selling at a loss. They think they got you hooked on paying for it many times over. Not this guy!

ECA (profile) says:


IF all these companies would LET THEM WORK..
Stop making THEIR OWN FORMAT..
Enforce standards and practices..

Would you pay $400 for a printer that would LAST years? And INK that you could get anyplace? goto an art store and Acrylic paint and away you go??

What are the odds that we could take OLD cars and raise the MPG, 2-3 times with a few mods?? Insted of GUTLESS mini engines you get HORSE POWER..

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