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FSF launches anti-DRM campaign outside WinHEC 2006

By Bruce Byfield on May 23, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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The Free Software Foundation (FSF) launched its anti-Digital Rights Management (DRM) campaign in Seattle this morning. When attendees of the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2006 arrived at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center to hear a keynote address by Bill Gates, a small group of FSF members and their local allies were waiting to greet them, dressed in yellow hazmat suits and handing out pamphlets explaining that Microsoft products are -- in the words of the key slogan for the campaign -- "defective by design" because of the DRM technologies included in them.

An hour after the event, NewsForge talked with Peter Brown, FSF executive director, and Henri Poole, an FSF board member who helped to organize the protest, about the next steps in the campaign.

According to Brown, today's event is the first of a series of protests in coming months against DRM throughout the United States. "We're going to be following this bit with Microsoft with other DRM distributors in an effort to put pressures on manufacturers and raising DRM as a consumer issue," Brown says. "The message we're sending is: These devices are being distributed purposely crippled. These devices could do far more than what they do, but they've been created at the behest of Hollywood and Big Media to be crippled. And as you network these devices in your home or in your pocket, you're effectively creating a system for Big Media to monitor your actions -- to basically put them in control of your home and your habits."

Planned as a flash event, today's protest was deliberately kept secret over the last few days. The Electronic Frontier Foundation alerted its members in Seattle, and information was posted yesterday to the Bellingham Linux Users' Group mailing list, but the three dozen supporters who showed up at the corner of Pike and 7th in downtown Seattle at 8 a.m. had little idea exactly what form the protest would take until shortly before they ducked into an alley to change into the hazmat suits and marched around to the front of the convention center.

DRM protest in Seattle
DRM protest in Seattle - click to enlarge

There, Poole says, "We started handing out handbills and talking to folks and running around, did some marching, and created some commotion. We were basically inside these suits with the heads fogging up," he adds, laughing.

The reception to the event from WinHEC attendees was "amazingly positive," according to Brown. At least one attendee even stopped to have his picture taken with one of the protestors. "Most people wanted to talk to us and engage us, saying, 'Yeah, we hate DRM, too.' We only had a few people who pushed back. One of the comments from someone was, 'What, you don't want to be able to watch the latest movies?' That was the one comment we had, and it went straight to the heart of the matter."

Passersby were also generally friendly. "It's Microsoft's home town, a technology town," Brown says. "A lot of people are aware of the issues. So, yeah, it was all very positive."

A security guard watched from the entrance to the convention center but, "he was smiling as we were marching by," Poole says. "He thought it was funny."

Although local news media did not cover the event, aside from one of the protestors who is a photographer for a Seattle news station, Brown and Poole are unconcerned. "It's just a small event to start," Brown says. "What's amazing is that this is the first time something's been done like this in the United States by technologists."

Both Brown and Poole agree that the event accomplished its aims while introducing participants to social activism. "I was really surprised how everybody just had a good time," Pool says.

The event was inspired by similar street theater and flash events in France in opposition to recent pro-DRM legislation.

To coordinate future events, the FSF has created the defectivebydesign.org Web site. Described by Brown as "an action center," the site is intended as a portal both for links to anti-DRM material, and as a means for activists to contact like-minded people in their area. "When we have enough of a critical mass [in one area] to take action," Brown says, "We're going to hold an event there to coincide with something that's happening locally -- whether it's foot-canvassing an Apple store or targeting the release of a Hollywood movie or a product."

The upcoming campaign will be a joint effort between the FSF and CivicActions, a consultant for activists groups specializing in technological issues. "They're actually coordinating and managing the resources for us," Brown explains, as well as supplying Gregory Heller as campaign manager. "We're providing the philosophical power behind it, but we're working with civic action groups. This is a coalition, not a closed-shop."

The FSF also is working with other groups on the campaign, including EUCD.INFO, which is involved with anti-DRM protests in France, and FreeCulture.org, an international student group.

A the campaign unfolds, Brown hopes to see computer literates engage those around them in a new role as social activists. "As the technologists," he says, "we are the ones who have the responsibility to get the message out. We've got the language, and this is our area. This is a message that we can deliver."

Looking back at the preparations for the protest, Brown says, "It's been a crazy -- I'd like to say 24 hours, but it's been four weeks. It's been insane." Referring to an earlier NewsForge article about framing the language of the debate, he continues, "We've been trying to get this framing right, and I think we've done so in defectivebydesign.org. We're describing a consumer issue. We're really about free users, and in this instance, we're describing what that means to the average human being -- not just our usual crowd."

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Linux.com.

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on FSF launches anti-DRM campaign outside WinHEC 2006

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This is really awesome.

Posted by: zoloto on May 24, 2006 06:52 AM
If I were in the area I would most definitely have supported this 100% and helped out by protesting and/or filming & photographing the event.

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Penny wise, pound foolish.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 24, 2006 07:26 AM
"According to Brown, today's event is the first of a series of protests in coming months against DRM throughout the United States. "We're going to following this bit with Microsoft with other DRM distributors in an effort to put pressures on manufacturers and raising DRM as a consumer issue," Brown says. "The message we're sending is: These devices are being distributed purposely crippled. These devices could do far more than what they do, but they've been created at the behest of Hollywood and Big Media to be crippled."

The argument could be applied to any device with a limiter. e.g. scooter speed restriction. Guess those are "defective by design".

"And as you network these devices in your home or in your pocket, you're effectively creating a system for Big Media to monitor your actions -- to basically put them in control of your home and your habits."

Business have been able to collect information on their customers for years. So throw away your grocery store cards. Keep big brother grocers from controlling you.

Overall protests like the FSF are reactionary than proactive. Were were the protests back when the Sonny Bono act was wending it's way through congress. Were were the empty retail music and video stores, because everyone stopped purchasing and flooded the content producers with letters and phone calls?*

Seems humanity has to feel pain in order to be motivated to do what they should have been doing right off.

*And let's not get into the mixed message piracy sends.

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Re:Penny wise, pound foolish.

Posted by: Joe Barr on May 24, 2006 10:19 AM

And were were is your h key?

Locked up somewhere by DRM, I betcha.

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Re:Penny wise, pound foolish.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 24, 2006 12:30 PM
"The argument could be applied to any device with a limiter. e.g. scooter speed restriction. Guess those are "defective by design"."

A scooter speed restriction is a safety device. DRM is not protecting anyone but coporate interests who wish to profit in a way that does not benefit you, me or our shared culture.

"Business have been able to collect information on their customers for years."

Not on the same scale. When all of your media (music, movies, books, photographs, etc) require continual activation the keepers of the DRM system can extract significantly more and different information than ever before.

"So throw away your grocery store cards. Keep big brother grocers from controlling you."

I do not shop where they use "loyalty cards." I am fortunate to live in a city with a green grocer and butcher. I patronize these small businesses which respect my privacy.

The FSF and EFF both worked to prevent the Bono legislation and the DMCA in the best way they were capable of at the time. The FSF is commited to fighting DRM and that is a good thing.

Why even bring up piracy as DRM does not solve the piracy problem?

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Re:Penny wise, pound foolish.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2006 12:37 AM
First of all, I appreciate the effort that these guys made for the campaign. I don't think I would have gone on a march in a yellow suit, but at least they're doing something<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:)

But the piracy issue... The OP was dead on in his comment about the mixed message it sends. No, drm does not do a very effective job at stopping piracy, but that doesn't mean that piracy doesn't cause drm. If we want the media industry to continue to supply a product that is so easy to abuse while still convenient for proper use, I think we have the responsibility to at least abide by the copyright laws.

Maybe I'm way off base, but I'd compare it to trying to keep gpl violators in line. In the same sense that nobody wants them appropriating copylefted code, it's only fair that the record industry doesn't want anybody appropriating their copyrighted media.

If protests like this were held to discourage piracy I think it'd nicely round out the fight against drm and would hopefully make the media industry easier to work with. (That and we can encourage media creators to chose more sane distribution strategies, cutting out the drm-pushing middle-man.)

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Re:Penny wise, pound foolish.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2006 01:39 AM
Agreed on the copyright issue. You must follow the laws of the country where you are located. Of course, you can also lobby your representative (write, call) saying that the "Mickey Mouse" Sonny Bono copyright act was not just stupid, but dangerous to our society.

The FSF is not talking about promoting what you call "piracy" (I believe you mean "copyright infringement" here). The FSF is talking about freedom to watch what you paid for, without having Big Brother spying on you when you do so. The FSF is talking about being able to use your computer, which you bought and paid for, to do every-day tasks like sending email, surfing the Web, writing documents/presentations, etc. without "Big Media" and/or the government snooping in on you at will. And on that, I totally agree with the FSF's position.

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typo

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 24, 2006 10:58 AM
that should be eucd.info!

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Re:typo

Posted by: nanday on May 24, 2006 11:29 AM
Corrected. Thanks!

- Bruce Byfield

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Hire some PR people

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 24, 2006 09:41 PM
I'm sure this will help win over the business leaders and software engineerskeeping an eye on WinHEC. These folks sure do look serious -- not like fools at all.

Regardless of how you view the FSF's motives on just about anything, they are inept at communicating their cause to everyday folks. Click to their "defective by design" web site, and tell me how you think they can win hearts and minds when they can't even define the problem in everyday language? FSF needs to give it up and focus on policy/GNU/heady-stuff, and leave the outreach efforts to somebody else.

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Re:Hire some PR people

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2006 01:48 AM
Now, there I agree with you. The FSF historically hasn't been all that good with respect to PR. Sadly, PR seems to be necessary to get your message to decision-makers (that and thickly greasing a lot of palms). That's where the "Open Source" folks believe that they have the advantage--in the board room and executive offices, where virtually all enterprise purchasing decisions are made.

Now, had this protest gotten on any sort of television there in Seattle, then it actually might've worked, especially given their focus on environmental issues up there. But when you're in Microsoft's home turf, actually getting on TV when you're protesting against a known Microsoft initiative can be difficult (they own a lot of politicians up there).

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