The Free Software Foundation’s Defective by Design campaign International Day Against Digital Restrictions Management is here again.
It’s been 12 months since the campaign celebrated the 12th anniversary of its quest to prompt, pressure and prevent companies from restricting what we can do with legitimately bought content and products.
This year the main focus is perhaps the noblest to date – the right to an education.
“Defective by Design is calling on you to stand up against Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) on the International Day Against DRM (IDAD) on October 12th, 2019,” the campaign site reads.
“This year we will be focusing specifically on everyone’s right to read, particularly by urging publishers to free students and educators from the unnecessary and cumbersome restrictions that make their access to necessary course materials far more difficult.”
The campaign homes-in on publishers including Pearson, which individually stands accused of placing “digital handcuffs” on students with a “Netflix-like” textbook model that requires constant Internet connections to validate purchases, limits how many pages of a title that can be read at a time, and monitors reading habits.
Defective By Design wants publishers to remove every piece of DRM from their educational materials, a lofty but particularly noble aim. There can be few students or educators out there who still believe that locking up papers, studies and similar material is the best way to impart knowledge and as a result, improve society.
Only time will tell whether that particular quest will bear fruit but reading the campaign’s notes one can’t help but feel there’s a mountain to climb in respect of the broader picture. While those with plenty of energy are invited to join in the chorus or even stage their own events, the section detailing how people can offer basic support is unintentionally depressing.
“The easiest way to participate is to join us in going a Day Without DRM, and resolve to spend an entire day (or longer!) without Netflix, Hulu, and other restricted services to show your support of the movement,” it reads.
“Document your experiences on social media using the tags ‘#idad’ or ‘#dbd,’ and let us know at email@example.com if you have a special story you’d like us to share.”
While a day without Netflix should be achievable, the site lists plenty of other companies that should be avoided, if one wants to seriously protest the spread of DRM. Doing without all of them will be a herculean task for any digital native.
For example, the black hole left by Netflix abstinence cannot be filled by listening to Spotify or Amazon Music, which are labeled by the campaign as “worst offenders” when it comes to DRM. Even with the benefit of music-free silence, people are encouraged not to use Amazon’s Kindle either.
It’s at this point you begin to realize how deeply entrenched DRM is and how difficult it will be to extract ourselves from it. The situation is further compounded when the list reveals that we should avoid using an iPad or indeed any Apple or Microsoft products.
Considering most desktop users are running Windows and millions of mobile users are Apple-based, spreading the hashtags ‘#idad’ or ‘#dbd’ on social media while strictly following the “boycott if possible” rules could rule out millions of participants. That is not what is needed today but so compromises will have to be made.
The moderately good news is that Android isn’t on the list as a “worst offender” but unfortunately it still incorporates DRM. And its developer, Google, has a page all of its own on the Defective By Design site, called out for being a promoter of DRM and for lobbying in favor of restrictive web standards.
We wish the International Day Against Digital Restrictions Management every success because very few people are still fighting this battle and the education element, in particular, is hard to understate. But in a world where profit trumps moral ideals at every turn, this war becomes more difficult to win with every passing year.
And in many cases, it’s arguably our own fault.
Support the 2019 campaign by visiting Defective By Design here