Defective By Design's Xmas DRM boycott -- 35 days and 35 products that don't deserve your money

Peter from the Free Software Foundation sez,
Starting this Black Friday and over the next 35 days leading up to the end of 2008, we want your help in promoting a consumer boycott of Digital Restrictions Management. Every day we'll be publishing your stories -- about a product, company, service, executive or politician that has has inflicted the nightmare of Digital Restrictions Management on you and our society, reminding us all why this holiday season we need an all-out boycott.

Day 1: MacBook

Now, nearly two years later, despite the success of DRM-free services like eMusic and with Amazon, Rhapsody, Napster, Jamendo, Magnatune, 7Digital and lots of others all selling DRM-free music, customers of Apple's iTunes Music Store are still plagued by a catalogue of mostly DRM-encumbered music.

To make matters worse, Apple's newest hot products, the iPhone and iPod Touch, offer extra opportunities for DRM, wrapping applications, even those available at little or no cost, as well as movies and TV shows in yet more layers of DRM.

And now, once again, Apple have pushed their DRM agenda even further, with the release of the latest revision of their MacBook laptop computers. The new MacBooks contain a hardware chip that prevents certain types of display being used, in an effort to plug the analog hole. Devices such as the HDfury can get around this, but this adds greater cost and inconveinience to what should be a relatively simple procedure.

35 Days Against DRM – Economic Boycott of DRM This Gift Giving Season (Thanks, Peter!)


  1. I got that email earlier and once again, FSF has their cables crossed. They *should* be calling for a boycott on itunes downloads that have HDCP enabled, not the hardware that supports it. Otherwise, that means we should boycott every Windows box, every HDTV, anything with and HDMI port, etc.

    Somehow, I think that’s about as likely as everyone dumping their iphones and blackberries for an open moko.

  2. I agree with DSSTRKL – lambast the software, not the hardware, especially if that hardware doesn’t have any particular DRM-enforcement built in. At least the iPhone would seem like a slightly more appropriate product.

  3. Sadly, the iFanboys are about as likely to boycott their iCrack in favor of something that costs a reasonable amount of money and doesn’t screw them over is fairly unlikely.

    Would be nice if they’d at least stop talking about the stuff as though it was worth the money though.

  4. @Man On Pink Corner: As a vegan who hates PETA and a Free software fan who finds the FSF to be a little shrill at times, I love your analogy.

  5. In an ideal world, one would be able to do everything in GNU/Linux. Unfortunately, if you make music, edit videos or do anything that uses proprietary plugins (of the sort that open-source hackers don’t make), you have a choice: Windows Vista (which polls your hardware every 30ms, and fails if anything looks funny) or a Mac. In terms of DRM costs, the Mac is the lesser evil here.

    The day that Native Instruments port their synth plugins to Linux and someone writes an audio/MIDI sequencer comparable (favourably) to Ableton Live or Logic Express will be the day I consider ditching OSX. As far as music software goes, the open-source alternatives are primitive. But, hey, if you don’t like it, stop bitching and go write your own, right?

  6. Freedom requires sacrifices sometimes.

    That there are so many people not prepared to let go their upscale comforters, even if they understand the issues at hand, says all what we need to know.

  7. Why just boycott the software? Why not boycott the software and the hardware?

    In any case, the point’s moot here, as Apple controls both, and there stuff is indeed defective by design.

  8. I think the main call should definitely be on DRMed iTunes downloads, but the average guy on the street doesn’t give a damn. Only tech-minded people like ourselves will read this boycott anyway, so the idea is that when people come to us for advice (e.g. when they’re thinking of buying a new phone/computer) that we steer them away from the DRM-heavy items. That’s likely to have more of an impact than people like myself who avoid DRM but don’t constitute a majority.

  9. MacBooks have got to be the last ones to the HDCP party. Every PC maker does it, and iMacs have had it for a while. HDCP won’t affect you if you never play DRM content, and you can’t play said content without it. It does not affect open media!

    So, DBD wants to boycott the latecomer to the game? HDCP FSF should change their name to Total Whiners Against Technology. I like that acronym more.

  10. To follow up from a screen a little larger than my phone, so I might actually make sense…

    From the DBD article:

    The new MacBooks contain a hardware chip that prevents certain types of display being used, in an effort to plug the analog hole.

    Blatently and obviously misleading (to everyone but Cory, perhaps.) What analog hole? HDCP only applies to digital displays. You can use any VGA monitor you want! Also, when does HDCP block non-HDCP displays? When playing DRM protected content. Can you play that same content on alternative hardware that doesn’t support HDCP?


    So the only thing defective by design here is the protected content. I can take a new MacBook with HDCP, hook it up to any external display, and watch as much unprotected stuff as I want.

    They dig on the iPod/iPhone as well… well, mine happily plays unprotected, even gasp! pirated media as long as it’s in a format the device supports. (Lack of support for your choice of format is NOT DRM!)

    I don’t know where DBD is finding this locked-down hardware that ONLY plays purchased DRM-locked tracks.

    But… DBD isn’t going to use common sense and advise against DRM content, because everyone already knows that. They are going to be T.W.A.T.s, leech on Apple’s recognition and popularity, and yell about boycotting an incredibly well designed MacBook that is no different than every other HDMI/HDCP equipped device.

  11. Still waiting for that now well over a year over due paean to linux (mind you, on a supported plan, not quite do-it-yourself out of the box)vs Mac that Cory promised us. I expect it to be fully multimedia, mashup,buzz-word enabled with videos of straw men beating dead horses.

  12. There’s been a lot of todo about the Macbook’s new DRM. What do older Macs do with these protected videos? Will they play on any external screen at all? Are the movies that have this restriction clearly labeled in the itunes store?

  13. The way the FSF insists on using their own proprietary lexicon with phrases like “Digital Restriction Management” and “GNU/Linux” reminds me of the way Scientologists or evangelical Christians of the apocalyptic dispensationist bent speak.

    I understand why they feel the need to do this, they consider phrases like “Digital Rights Management” to be Orwellian doublespeak, but I think this kind of private language prevents effective outreach. Why not just say “DRM” and be done with it?

  14. I stopped reading at “Day 1”. I couldn’t read anymore because my eyes had rolled too far back in my head.

    I also found the PETA remark funny.

  15. I stumbled over 7digital via and it absolutely rocks, especially now they’ve driven out the last remnants of the old Republic, uh, DRM / WMA stuff. I’ve not bought any digital music online until now, forcing myself to buy the physical disks and rip them myself due to the lack of legal DRM-free options. (Admittedly I’ve hit Pirate Bay, very occasionally, and I felt *awfully* guilty about it, except for the BBC radio and TV shows I’ve already paid for with a license fee. Especially where I’m replacing copies of stuff I taped off the radio when it was broadcast in the first place.)

    Wow! So this is what all the iTunes Store users were getting so excited about back whenever it was. It’s pretty cool. Never having used the crippled alternatives, though, I’ve never missed ’em.

    Oh yeah, disclosure — I’m a shrill, swivel-eyed, card-carrying FSF zealot, which is why I refused to buy DRM’d stuff. And let me tell you, it feels pretttt-tttty groovy over here on the moral high ground, watching the rest of the world slowly surrendering to the inevitable historical dialectic, and all. ;p

  16. I still don’t care, I’m never touching apple again once I have to upgrade. I’m fine with OSX, but I’m giving the finger to anyone that uses HDCP. My ps3 has all ready screwed me over because my projector came from a better time when hdcp didn’t exsist.
    HDCP is just another hoop my computer would have to jump through to play my media.
    I’m not saying that Apple should be singled out, but I’m sick and tired of redundant copyright securities like DRM and HDCP. The only thing that it really does is put an expiration date on HD displays. I’m mostly offended by things like this because I see it as an invasion of my privacy, the proverbial “they” just want to be able to dictate what we see and make sure that they can squeeze every penny out of us while doing so. Plus I still don’t get who pirates media manually buy recording from a hd output? Didn’t that style of piracy stop with the death of the vhs?

  17. One’s boycott efforts should be directed at the MPAA and the RIAA for foisting this crap onto the hardware / OS makers.

    The fact that Apple knuckled under here is sad — but what are they gonna do? If I remember correctly HDCP is a pre-requisite for Blu-Ray support.

    Funny how these organizations try to get people to pay for these hobbled versions of their media when the far-superior, unencumbered versions of them are flying around the internet for free…

    DRM only hurts paying customers.

  18. WeightedCompanionCube, I don’t mean to belabour an argument, but you assert a couple of incorrect points.

    “HDCP only applies to digital displays.”

    Unfortunately that’s not the case: the image constraint token exists to cause HDCP sources to downsample content sent to non-HDCP sinks. This was designed in from the start to deal with older display devices which do not provide enough analog-hole countermeasures to satisfy the AACS-LA. Furthermore, deployment of the ICT has been delayed some years to discourage market forces from creating a market for non-HDCP devices.

    “Can you play the same content on alternative hardware that doesn’t support HDCP? NO.”

    That is incorrect. ffmpeg now has support for E-AC3 audio decoding, and has been able to handle MPEG-2, VC-1 and H.264 codecs for some time; demuxers for the video and audio formats have been in source trees for the better part of a year now. mplayer plays HD content well, VLC and Xine are well on the way, Media Player Classic supposedly does a good job, and others will follow quickly. HDCP was cryptographically broken before it was released; AACS processing keys are distributed days, sometimes hours after they are refreshed; BD+ has been so broken that the Doom9 forum folk are now concentrating on tuning the performance of their homebrew VM. Clearly, playback of HDCP-protected content on non-HDCP hardware is -possible-.

    In the US, said playback may not be -permissible- because of the DMCA. In Canada, Bill C-61 would also prevent such playback if it were re-proposed and passed. Other laws exist elsewhere which allow different use patterns. Our personal feelings about these laws aside, it is also clear that playback on non-HDCP hardware is -allowed- in some countries, and under some circumstances.

    “[T]he only thing defective by design here is the protected content.”

    No. That is not true.

    The AACS-LA has entered into agreements with their technology partners which define what those partners must do in order to be allowed to ship AACS-LA licensed and patented technology. These agreements also impose the possibility of extremely onerous civil fines if they are breached: a post by an ATI driver developer identified as bridgman on the Phoronix forums indicates that violating these agreements would render the company financially unable to operate, -as would allowing the tech to be reverse engineered-.

    I’m going to say that again: the AACS-LA has made an agreement with its partners which makes THEM liable for security breaches in shipped implementations. This security mathematically depends on keeping secrets from the user: therefore the user cannot even know how the entirety of the hardware is supposed to operate. This makes fully open drivers a flat-out impossibility for HDCP-enabled hardware.

    The agreements between the AACS-LA and hardware vendors are broken; the relationship that hardware vendors are trying to make with their customers is broken; the manner that the AACS-LA is attempting to influence the hardware market by delaying the deployment of the ICT is broken; the laws which prevent users from working around these restrictions are broken; and, let’s not forget, the DRM mechanisms themselves are broken.

    It is not just the content.

    “Lack of support for your choice of format is NOT DRM!”

    Very true: the lack of a desired feature is instead, by the strict definition of the term, a defect.

  19. There’s a good reason iTunes still has DRM on a lot of their stuff while other services don’t; the labels are trying to punish Apple for being successful.

    A senior executive at another record company, who requested anonymity out of concern about irritating Mr. Jobs, said he was prepared to keep copy restrictions on his label’s songs on iTunes for six months to a year while Amazon establishes itself.


  20. GNOMON, you’re trying to be Peter Gutmann, aren’t you? Long-winded and missing the point.

    HDCP and ICT-requested downsampling still only apply to digital displays. Limiting analog outputs is the much less-used SOC, and a different can of worms.

    My point about no alternative hardware existing that can play protected content referred to playing it LEGALLY. I can crack BD+, AACS, iTunes DRM, etc.. and play it without HDCP, and I can do it on the HDCP-equipped MacBook DBD wants to boycott. Yes, HDCP won’t be a requirement if I strip the DRM. That’s not the point. The point is, I’m not going to find a package that does it for me on store shelves.

    A defect is when a system either does something it shouldn’t, according to specs, or doesn’t do something the specs say it should. My car doesn’t fly, but that’s not a defect.

    I don’t see how securely handling protected content is “Defective by Design”. It’s not defective, it’s a properly functioning feature. If it was keeping YOUR data secure, you’d want it to have all the anti-tamper features you could stuff in it. (And trust me, hardware crypto engines are about as black box as things get, and it’s for your own good.)

    If you don’t like protected content, don’t buy it, or crack it at your own risk. Don’t expect legit hardware to do it for you.

  21. Very true: the lack of a desired feature is instead, by the strict definition of the term, a defect.

    Not a defect, just a different product than the one you had in mind.

  22. Pretty sad that they don’t allow comments, I wonder why. That’s not very “free” (as in speech).

    Im not a fan of DRM, but I’m less of a fan of those who complain about DRM without offering reasonable solutions, other than to boycott everything except Linux. I happen to like my paid software–I bought it because it works. Some features may not be there, but that’s the beauty of choice. Knowing that the software works without having to spend a large percentage of my time at a command line and days on forums is worth the trade-off.

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