Can Linux on the desktop and DRM ever coexist?

Can Linux on the desktop and DRM ever coexist?

Summary: An interesting piece over on TechRepublic by Jack Wallen got me thinking about Linux and DRM (Digital Rights Management) - could the two ever coexist peacefully or will heavy-handedness from big corporations and fanboy prejudices work to keep the OS away from the masses?

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An interesting piece over on TechRepublic by Jack Wallen got me thinking about Linux and DRM (Digital Rights Management) - could the two ever coexist peacefully or will heavy-handedness from big corporations and fanboy prejudices work to keep the OS away from the masses?

Wallen makes a compelling point:

What strikes me as strange is that (1) Linus Torvalds himself has come out to say Linux should adopt DRM and (2) DRM is not trying to make proprietary any software or keep anyone from having the software they know and love. The only thing DRM wants to do is protect the digital content created by writers, musicians, artists, and the like. There is no evil empire at work, there is no desire to cripple an open source system. There is only a desire to protect the rights and income of the creators of the work.

Wallen boils DRM down to the basics. It's not a lock-in mechanism, it's a protection mechanism for people's work. It's like a lock on a car, toolbox or home. You only see it or feel its presence when you choose to.

Note: By 'Linux' here both Wallen and I are of course referring to Linux distros on desktop and notebook systems and not modified versions of the Linux kernel such as Android.

Windows users make use of DRM. Mac OS users make use of DRM. iPhone users make use of DRM. Android users make use of DRM. Kindle users make use of DRM. This DRM is used to give users controlled access to protected media. DRM doesn't have to be used to lock up the OS, and DRM doesn't have to affect anyone who doesn't choose to buy protected content.

As things stand right now, the only users out in the cold as far as DRM goes is Linux users.

[poll id="638"]

The reality is that DRM doesn't have to be evil (it can be, but it doesn't have to be). It can be pretty benign stuff. 99.5% of my interaction with DRMed content problem free. I make use of iTunes, Audible, Kindle and a whole lot more and it rarely gives me grief. Problem is, the perception of DRM, especially among power users, is that it is evil. 100% evil through and through. Now, I'm not a big fan of DRM (of course there are times when I wish it wasn't there), but I see it as a necessary evil. There are plenty of writers, musicians, artists, and so on who don't feel comfortable releasing their works without DRM, and without an OS that supports DRM users of that platform are cut off from that content. It's either cut the amount of digital content available massively, or live with DRM.

Now, this might not bother the hardcore Linux user, but there are plenty of people out there who would love a free operating system that would allow them to stream Netflix or read a Kindle book or run iTunes.

But ...

The problem with DRM is that those that control the DRM also impose other limitations. For example, take a look at how Google is cracking down on rooted Android handsets and blocking them from Youtube's pay-per-view service. The rooting police are here, and Google is the one waving the baton. Rooting a handset doesn't by itself mean anything and doesn't by itself break the DRM concerned, but Google (possibly at the behest of a third-party) is nonetheless blocking all rooted handsets.

This is the sort of thing that gives DRM a bad name.

I wonder if even with the backing of Linus Torvalds whether a DRM package (optional, of course) would ever be tolerated by the Linux masses. From my experience of the Linux community, it'll be a really hard sell to get the hardcore Linux fans to warm to the idea of DRM even being needed on Linux, let alone being offered, optional or otherwise.

My guess is that we won't be seeing DRM on Linux any time soon.

Topics: Security, Hardware, Linux, Mobility, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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  • RE: Can Linux and DRM ever coexist?

    We do not need DRM, computers, software or any of this electronic content.

    Abandon all this useless technology now!! We can be free again if we choose to be so.
    X41
    • Troll much? (nt)

      @X41

      NT
      Economister
      • RE: Can Linux and DRM ever coexist?

        @Economister That isn't fair - it's a valid point of view (you might not agree with it... but it isn't trolling).
        jeremychappell
      • It's trolling because he's posted this in many...

        @jeremychappell: ...forums.
        ye
      • In a tech forum?

        @jeremychappell <br><br>"We do not need DRM, computers, software or any of this electronic content."<br><br>COMPUTERS, SOFTWARE and ELECTRONIC CONTENT? He seems to be advocating pen and paper and perhaps analog radio and TV broadcasts.<br><br>If he posted his views with supporting reasoning, I might reconsider. Right now he is just being an idiot.
        Economister
      • RE: Can Linux and DRM ever coexist?

        @AHK: "Can Linux and DRM ever coexist?"

        Who cares?
        nomorebs
    • I agree

      @X41 only M$ and greedy Steve Job$ love DRM and closed source.
      Linux Geek
      • RE: Can Linux and DRM ever coexist?

        @Linux Geek Tell that to the author that makes a living selling his books.
        hayneiii@...
      • RE: Can Linux and DRM ever coexist?

        @Linux Geek. It really doesn't matter who loves it or not... DRM is barely helping protect anything. People who comply with DRM have restrictions set by it, people who override DRM, can access the content without the restrictions. Just look at games, they can't even last a day before their cracked and released...

        In the end, people who are legal have an inferior experience than those who aren't, and that's not only regarding to money saved.
        orlox
    • And yet here you are

      @X41
      Here you are making a choice to use "computers, software, (and) electronic content".

      Time to, as the saying goes, eat your own dog food and go the h311 away from here. Lead by example.
      use_what_works_4_U
      • RE: Can Linux and DRM ever coexist?

        @macadam

        hear hear
        josh92
    • RE: Can Linux and DRM ever coexist?

      @X41 Honestly, X41's trolling aside. The problem with DRM has never been DRM itself, but the fact that companies like Microsoft have used it as a way to exclude certain content from Linux and Linux based devices and promote themselves. DRM software and decryption technology, Blue Ray, DVD CCA, 5C, etc. are owned and the owners tolerate patented technologies as long as they are easily licensed, but not necessarily cheap. Linux has always been capable of supporting these IP standards, but as an open source system nobody is going to pay royalties to some company to do it.
      Socratesfoot
    • RE: Can Linux and DRM ever coexist?

      @X41 Then how did you post this comment? With a pen and paper? Oh no! Wait! With a computer.
      kpkeller@...
    • RE: Can Linux and DRM ever coexist?

      @X41

      Ever read "Industrial Society and its Future"? It's a fascinating read. Might make you actually think twice about being sarcastic about such a serious topic. Like its author said, technology will always encroach on freedom and then a compromise will be forged, however, over time, this process will be repeated and repeated encroaches upon freedom and the subsequent compromises that follow will accumulate until technology has eventually all but eliminated freedom. Like the paradox by Zeno about crossing a distance by repeatedly covering half the remaining distance, eventually you get so close to the end that any distance left between you and the end is imperceptible.
      josh92
  • RE: Can Linux and DRM ever coexist?

    The problem is DRM runs counter to the very idea that inspired the GNU project. RMS first became disillusioned with closed source software because he had a problem with a printer (probably something slightly exotic - I think it was actually a plotter or some kind, but my memory is sketchy). He contacted the manufacturer about the bug, but they weren't going to fix it (again, my memory is sketchy, but I think it was a product that they no longer manufactured). So being a programmer RMS said, "fine, I'll fix it myself - send me the code"... As you can imagine, they wouldn't send him this code and a perfectly good (and quite expensive) plotter couldn't be fixed. RMS felt that closed source software was "evil" and decided be build a free alternative... The FSF and the GNU project were born.

    For RMS any and all closed source software is tainted (and unacceptable). But how do you implement an open source DRM system? (In short - you can't) Now before you run away thinking RMS is "wrong" think about what might happen with a closed video player... Imagine it's DRM system was compromised, the keys discovered, whatever. New video players might implement an additional new DRM system, one that was still "secure", and new content issued would require this new DRM... Where does that leave you with your old video player that is no longer supported? Same place as RMS was with his printer (plotter - maybe).

    While I can see that content providers should be paid for their work, DRM can seriously disadvantage end-users.
    jeremychappell
    • RE: Can Linux and DRM ever coexist?

      @jeremychappell You very well can implement an open source DRM system. Examples GPG, Ubuntu uses a key store for WIFI SSID/Password settings. The issue is the Content owners want everyone to pay for the content for each and every device you use (DVD/CD/MP3), they do not want anyone to be able to back up their content or say create a media server @ home with all the DVD's on a hard drive.

      Oh, I forgot some DVD and BluRay players are running Linux
      mrlinux
      • RE: Can Linux and DRM ever coexist?

        [i]The issue is the Content owners want everyone to pay for the content for each and every device you use (DVD/CD/MP3), they do not want anyone to be able to back up their content or say create a media server @ home with all the DVD's on a hard drive.[/i]

        That's because they want you to pay for the same song (or the same album) over & over again. That's what makes DRM inherently evil. It's strips away your "fair use" rights that the Supreme Court codified into law back in the 80s.
        ScorpioBlue
      • GPG is all or nothing

        @mrlinux

        GPG will protect the content from everyone except the intended recipient. Once that recipient gets it and decodes it, there are no further protections. That recipient has full use of the sent file. It does not restrict what hardware the recipient uses nor does it prevent the recipient from sending the file to another recipient once decoded.

        DRM prevents the intended recipient from full access to the file sent. Depending on the restrictions placed, he may not send it to another recipient, he may not edit it or convert it to another format, and he may not be able to keep it forever.
        Michael Kelly
      • RE: Can Linux and DRM ever coexist?

        @mrlinux How do you stop someone changing the player to not require the valid key?!
        jeremychappell
    • RE: Can Linux and DRM ever coexist?

      @jeremychappell Oh, come on now, this is kind of disingenuous, one can not realistically expect a company to support obsolete peripherals or software. As for the DRMed player that becomes obsolete? Download a new one. If you bought a player that didn't offer free upgrades, well, you should have taken into account that the only constant is that things change.
      bigsibling