Lifting the veil on DRM in different ways

[ The following article was first posted on It is copied here for the convenience of readers of the Fellowship. ]

In the entire discussion on Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) there are multiple problems that prevent broader discussion and understanding. One of them is that when talking about "Digital Restrictions Management" (DRM) the eyes of many people simply glaze over, as it is quite a mouthful and sounds technical, a certain attention killer.

The same is true when using the labels that proponents of the technology would like to see people using, "Digital Rights Management" or "Technological Protection Measures" in particular. The names alone seem to erect a barrier for people to understand how this technology affects their lives in very real ways.

Trying to attract public attention by turning yourself in to the police, as a group of French DRM activists have done, is a good idea. The German consumers organisation vzbv has taken this to a different level by opening a virtual jail for people who admit to have made private copies — a right under German law, but one that is increasingly made illegal by DRM.

But none of this undoes the necessity to explain to "normal" people what DRM is and how it affects all our lives.

For this, I’ve drafted "If paperback books came with DRM… a short story", which takes an object that people know (a paperback book) and describes how it would behave if it came with DRM.

The goal was to describe commonly found DRM effects and put them all into the book, followed by real-world examples of DRM systems that have such effects. If you have ideas how to improve the story, if you know other examples, or if you have general feedback, please let me know at greve–at–

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About Georg Greve

Georg Greve is a technologist and entrepreneur. Background as a software developer and physicist. Head of product development and Chairman at Vereign AG. Founding president of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE). Previously president and CEO at Kolab Systems AG, a Swiss Open Source ISV. In 2009 Georg was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit on Ribbon by the Federal Republic of Germany for his contributions to Open Source and Open Standards.
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5 Responses to Lifting the veil on DRM in different ways

  1. bernhardegger says:

    what is, and what could be

    Good article, but I think one weakness is that you heave all possible restrictions on the paperback, while there’s hardly a DRM-infested device out there with all mentioned restrictions in place. As such, the comparison loses some credibility, because your paperback example is just “exaggerating”. – Maybe it’s worth noting that such restrictions often come in tiny steps, and if we don’t speak up, one day we could actually face such a worst-case paperback.

    In the “The book destroys the mirror” section you could also add the “feature” where a blacklisted Blu Ray Disc not only refuses to play, but also deactivates the player.

    There’s a typo in the “The book cannot leave the bathroom” section: “you’d are able to play”.

  2. greve says:

    Thanks for the feedback

    The point of the story is not so much to give a “realistic” example but to give people an idea of what DRM is and what it can do. Combining different components into one story is only a way to show the different effects in a compact way.

    I thought that the starting of “Reality Check” does make your point rather strongly, so I now wonder: Do you think there is another way you think that point should be made?

    Regarding the typo: thanks, fixed. :)

  3. bernhardegger says:

    step by step

    It’s not that the article doesn’t cover the relevant points about DRM, or that it would pretend the paperback example wasn’t exaggerating – it’s just not convincingly threatening, as the DRM paperback is a little detached from real life DRM applications – at least presently. You may want to stress that if we’re not standing up now, DRM will grow unhindered, one restriction after the next.

  4. bernhardegger says:

    not allowed to edit my comment…

    the typo correction went awry, now a “you” is missing

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