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Defective by Design: A resistance to restrictions

by Greg Farough Contributions Published on Dec 17, 2019 03:35 PM

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) keeps a close eye on the headlines for threats to user freedom coming from many different fronts, such as the way Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) impedes an individual's right to control their computers and devices. The Defective by Design campaign is a place for us to transform our digital dissent into in-person actions, canvassing, and effective protests. We couldn't do work like this without your support, which is why we're asking you to join our associate membership program.

Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) stepped up its game in 2019 when it comes to oppressing users. The hydra of streaming media conglomerates gained an ugly new head in the form of Disney+, and Pearson's latest attempt to restrict access to their textbooks reminded us that even education can't escape digital handcuffs. Over the years it's crept into our coffee, spied on our habits, and may one day threaten toast, but the fight's not over yet.

As every aspect of our lives goes digital, there's no part of our lifestyle that is safe from DRM. This gives us one of two choices. Either we can go the analog route and stop trying to access the media we care about in order to retain our freedom, or we can eliminate DRM altogether. Looking back on 2019 and the thirteen-year history of the Defective by Design campaign, we're confident that the best option is the latter one.

Our goal may be ambitious, but it's not impossible to achieve. The passion we've seen from anti-DRM activists over the years has driven one point home: the only thing standing between us and our objective is the billions of dollars corporations spend to try and persuade us to trade freedom for convenience. But as every underdog story shows, it's passion and not profit that wins in the end. For instance, due to a large public outcry, Disney has begrudgingly lowered the DRM level of its new streaming service. Yet we won't rest until it's gone for good.

We spent this year on the frontlines in the fight against DRM. Sometimes this was easier than at other times: the weather in Boston for our International Day Against DRM (IDAD) wasn't quite as cold as it was when we campaigned against Disney outside of local theaters on the premiere of Frozen II. Just before moviegoers huddled inside the theater, we were there to pass out fliers and start conversations on the dangers of Disney+.

At the same time, we were invigorated by the support we've seen from both individuals and organizations around the globe; at the time of this writing, we're expecting to receive a shipment of 2,000 stickers from an anti-DRM activist with a printing press. No matter how large or small they are, these gestures of fiscal support add up to make an enormous impact on our work.

Just as DRM infects many different areas of our digital lives, the Defective by Design campaign spans multiple forms of media. In addition to drawing the support of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Creative Commons, FSF Europe, and 11 other partner organizations in the International Day Against DRM, we made a shareable book dust jacket in nine different languages that activists around the world have used to inform others of the grave threat ebook DRM poses to our cultural legacy.

As steadfast as we are, the FAANGs of the hydra are getting even sharper. DRM may have started out as a seemingly benign way for record labels to make an extra buck at the expense of their listeners' freedom, but like most bacteria, it began to take increasingly sickening shapes and forms. Streaming services are growing more popular by the day, and the companies behind them are developing ever more insidious ways to restrict and spy on the people who purchase their products.

The commitment of our community fuels our own. It's your feedback that helps us update the Guide to DRM-Free Living, your financial giving that keeps our lights on, and your dedication to a world without DRM that inspires our passion against all odds. Together we can push the fight against DRM forward, and design a future that isn't defective.

Photo by Greg Farough Copyright © 2019 Free Software Foundation, Inc., licensed under CC-BY-SA 4.0.

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