When the coffee machine refuses you

Digital RIghts Management. It’s a term designed to put you to sleep and make you ignore what is happening around you. Wikipedia says: Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a class of technologies that are used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders, and individuals with the intent to control the use of digital content and devices after sale. It’s most common on digital products but things are getting more interesting and we should be paying more attention.

The DRM chair was a fun way of demonstrating the destructive elements involved in applying DRM – especially outside the world of software. The chair would self destruct after being used 8 times. This was a perfect illustration of the way in which technology can be used to hobble the things we surround ourselves with. It was a thoughtful, illustrative mix of art, design and political commentary. It wasn’t supposed to be an instruction manual…

DRM CHAIR from Thibault Brevet on Vimeo.
In Why Copyrighted Coffee May Cripple the Internet of Things Marcus Wohlsen explains how Green Mountain Coffee is adding DRM to its Keurig machines

…CEO Brian Kelley says its new coffee makers will include technology that prevents people from using pods from other companies. The approach has been compared to DRM restrictions that limit the sharing of digital music and video online. But more than just curbing your coffee choices, Green Mountain’s protections portend the kind of closed system that could gut the early promise of the Internet of Things — a promise that hinges on a broad network of digital, connected devices remaking the everyday world.

Cory Doctorow comments

I think Keurig might just be that stupid, greedy company. The reason they’re adding “DRM” to their coffee pods is that they don’t think that they make the obviously best product at the best price, but want to be able to force their customers to buy from them anyway. So when, inevitably, their system is cracked by a competitor who puts better coffee at a lower price into the pods, Keurig strikes me as the kind of company that might just sue.

This is just coffee. Not even particularly interesting coffee but what’s interesting is where we are heading. It is now easy and affordable enough for a seller of coffee to think about DRM. To limit consumers ability to change products, to buy a more affordable or better tasting brand. If it’s cheap enough to do this stupidity with coffee? Why would we imagine a world where this does not happen with everything else? Image a future where the spices you have will not blend with your lunch because they are sold by different corporations.

Do you own your library?

After having packed most of my books into boxes, physically transported them to their new home and placed them haphazardly in the bookshelves to await the slower and more pleasurable task of re-arranging my books I feel a strong sense of ownership, property and belonging. My books are part of who I am. Their physical appearance and their content are telltale clues to the identity of their owner.

I have previously written against the e-book but there is a specific issue which is important to point out. Cory Doctorow has written a short note entitled In the age of ebooks, you don’t own your library. The note points out the tendency of e-books to limit the rights previously held by the book reader. Today when buying files for the e-book reader the transaction is often termed as a license and may (this needs to be tested in the courts) limit the ways in which we can buy, sell, borrow and copy our books. In the worst case scenario licenses such as these will spell the end of borrowing books from friends and become another nail in the coffin of the second hand bookstore. Cory writes:

It’s funny that in the name of protecting “intellectual property,” big media companies are willing to do such violence to the idea of real property — arguing that since everything we own, from our t-shirts to our cars to our ebooks, embody someone’s copyright, patent and trademark, that we’re basically just tenant farmers, living on the land of our gracious masters who’ve seen fit to give us a lease on our homes.

The physical property we own will be dependent upon our behavior towards the content we require to fill it. Television requires the shows and we must pay the cable company, computers require software and we must license it, e-books will require us to subscribe to the rules of those who own the content.

Unless we stick to the old fashioned paper versions of course…

How DRM Becomes Law

Cory Doctorow has written a short must read article on how DRM becomes law in Information Week. I know that there is a lot of stuff out there which is must-read but DRM is really important. It has already reached a point where the regulation of our access and use of technology is controlled not by a transparent process of law and regulation but by the interests and technology of those who manufacture technology.

Imagine if road traffic where regulated by the groups who made asphalt, air-traffic by airplane manufacturers and what you could say on the phone was controlled by the mobile phone companies! Nobody would agree to that. And yet we accept DRM.

By the way, Cory also has the most decorated laptop I have ever seen. I just had to take a picture of it in Dubrovnik.


Free Aunty Beeb

The BBC is one of those world institutions, a social and cultural backbone which we almost always take for granted. Naturally one does not achieve such status without making wrong turns. Thankfully there are those who are quick to point out the errors and attempt to show the correct path. Much like one may lead an old aunty to the table there are activists who disagree with the BBC’s use of DRM technologies.

The site Free the BBC contains a letter to the BBC with the main arguments (relevant to the BBC) against DRM. Many of the arguments have been heard before but I particularly liked this new one:

The BBC royal charter establishes a number of goals and operating conditions including “promoting education and learning”, “stimulating creativity and cultural excellence”, and “bringing the UK to the world”. DRM runs contrary to all of these purposes. DRM limits education by restricting copying for public educational purposes, and even inhibits private study. It stifles creativity by trying to make even incidental remixing impossible. Finally, it arbitrarily limits the BBC’s reach by forcing viewers to use particular proprietary software applications. DRM advances corporate interests over the public interest, which is in flagrant opposition to the charter.

So what are you waiting for? Go there, read the letter containing the arguments and sign it!

For those of you who found the title slightly cryptic: The BBC is sometimes referred to as Aunty Beeb.

Economist Against DRM

Not bad. The Economist is against DRM making bold statements in a recent article:

Belatedly, music executives have come to realise that DRM simply doesnâ??t work. It is supposed to stop unauthorised copying, but no copy-protection system has yet been devised that cannot be easily defeated. All it does is make life difficult for paying customers, while having little or no effect on clandestine copying plants that churn out pirate copies.


While most of todayâ??s DRM schemes that come embedded on CDs and DVDs are likely to disappear over the next year or two, the need to protect copyrighted music and video will remain. Fortunately, there are better ways of doing this than treating customers as if they were criminals.

Nice to see that serious media has begun to realise that rhetoric alone is not enough to legitimize DRM. Articles such as this show that media is beginning to practice journalism and report not only what is written in corporate press releases but are looking at what is happening all around them.

(via Boing Boing)

Tell Dell

The Bad Vista blog has an interesting post about Dell. Apparently the company is looking for ideas how they can improve their systems. Besides letting them know which hardware they should have, Bad Vista recommends letting them know that selling their computers with preinstalled with free software, or without any operating system would be a way of promoting freedom.

You can go here to propose your idea and to vote for ideas you support. If you register an account with them, your vote counts for 10 anonymous votes.

Bad Vista also has created a nice t-shirt on Cafe Press

Bad Vista

The Free Software Foundation has launched a new campaign called BadVista (www.badvista.org). The campaign has two gaols (1) to expose the harms inflicted on computer users by the new Microsoft Windows Vista and (2) to promote free software alternatives that respect users’ security and privacy rights.

The part about Vista which bugs me is that Microsoft is attempting to sell this as something new. But from the users point of view there is nothing really new here. Vista is actually all about control: firstly, Microsoft’s control over users and secondly, the support department’s control over the customers/clients/users. For the cost at which Microsoft is selling it you would think that Vista would flop. But if you believe that you have forgotten about Microsoft’s tradition of marketing by FUD (playing on the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt of the users).

FSF program administrator John Sullivan writes: “Vista is an upsell masquerading as an upgrade. It is an overall regression when you look at the most important aspect of owning and using a computer: your control over what it does. Obviously MS Windows is already proprietary and very restrictive, and well worth rejecting. But the new ‘features’ in Vista are a Trojan Horse to smuggle in even more restrictions. We’ll be focusing attention on detailing how they work, how to resist them, and why people should care.”

I think that the BadVista campaign will provide interesting reading… for those of you who want to catch up on Vista and its problems here are some related Vista articles

FIN24, Windows Vista: Fact or Fiction, 15 December 2006

eWeek, Vista, why bother?, 14 December 2006

CRN Test Center – CRN, 25 Shortcomings Of Vista , 4 December 2006

DRM & Dog Poo

I wrote an article which has been published on the Swedish Green Party website Cogito.nu. The article discusses the dangers to democracy posed by digital restrictions management (DRM). In the article I discuss the way in which regulation works by using an example of picking up dog poo. Strange mixture of DRM & dog poo but I think it works. The article is available here (in Swedish).

Book Chapter Out Now

I have a chapter in a book that has come out today. Unfortunately for many of you it is in Swedish… wow! talk about your hubris!  The book is called Värdet av Förtroende (The Value of Confidence) and contains chapters which discuss different aspects of trust. More information from the publishers.
My chapter Förtroende och Teknologi (Trust and Technology) deals with the dangers of becoming complacent and beginning to trust technology without having a deeper understanding of the pitfalls of technology. I base the chapter on the introduction into Sweden of police DNA databases. Much of the article is also critical to the role of the academic since I criticize a law professor for singing the praises of technology she does not understand. My criticism was originally written in an unpublished short article (also Swedish) I wrote in January 2005.

The cover of the book is not too exiting but I guess the publishers really believe that you should never judge a book by its cover.  I am also a bit annoyed with the publishers for not letting me use a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon which I had got permission to use.

Copyright and University Libraries

Today has been another travel day. Up to Stockholm for a day discussing copyright in relation to university libraries. As usual I found the librarians active and concerned about copyright issues. This is only natural since they are forced to be pragmatic about the way in which they react to copyright.

Most of the problems discussed today dealt with archiving. The most common forms of documents, which need to be archived (and are troubled by copyright), are student essays, licentiate theses and PhD theses.

Copyright creates problems in a couple of ways. First off can universities force student works to be archived and if so can they be put online? The same questions apply to the output of teachers and researchers (not always the same thing).

The whole question is complicated by the shifting practices among libraries, university departments and faculties. Actually the universities rarely have power in these issues since the decision making power is on the faculty level. For more on the dilemmas of university copyright see here.

As I mentioned the librarians were pretty cool. From totally ignoring the question of copyright and taking the â??just do itâ?? approach â?? to the more careful approach which is more concerned with the consequences. The lawyers on the other hand tend to be pessimistic and uncooperative. They want to risk nothing, do nothing, for fear of losing. Sometimes I wonder what they think they would lose in a battle? Since the slow disintegration of copyright is losing the war.

An interesting thing was that the librarians were very concerned about the potential malicious side effects of DRM use by publishers.