DRM, GPLv3 just 'hot air': Linus Torvalds

DRM, GPLv3 just 'hot air': Linus Torvalds

Summary: Linux creator describes Digital rights management and the General Public License as "no big deal".


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exclusive Digital rights management and the General Public License cause a lot of 'hot air' to be exchanged but they are not a 'big deal', according to the creator of Linux, Linus Torvalds.

DRM is a technology used to control the copying and distribution of content such as music and films while GPLv3 is a software licence drafted by the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and intended to be used to govern how free and open source software can be copied and changed.

Linus Torvalds

According to Torvalds, both DRM technology and GPLv3 will cause "lots of arguments" but in the bigger scheme of things, neither will stop good technology from prevailing.

"I suspect -- and I may not be right -- but when it comes to things like DRM or licensing, people get really very excited about them. People have very strong opinions. I have very strong opinions and they happen to be for different reasons than many other people.

"It ends up in a situation where people really like to argue -- and that very much includes me... I expect this to raise a lot of bad blood but at the same time, at the end of the day, I don't think it really matters that much.

"I think it is going to cause a lot of hot air, it's going to cause a lot of hurt feelings, there is going to be a lot of arguments about it. But in practice will it be a big deal? I suspect it is not going to be that big. But time will tell," Torvalds said during an interview at linux.conf.au in Sydney today.

Torvalds admitted he has a particular dislike for DRM technology because it makes life more difficult for users.

"One reason I really dislike DRM is that it is technologically an inferior solution to not doing DRM. It actually makes it harder for people to do what they want to do. It makes it harder to do things that you really should be able to do," said Torvalds.

Although Torvalds admits he is "very much down on DRM", he is tolerant of other people using the technology.

"At the same time, on a completely different tangent -- forget about technology -- I am a big believer in letting people do what they want to do. If somebody wants to do DRM it is their problem. I don't want anything to do with it.

"It is something that sometimes puts me at odds with people in the technical area who have an agenda that they want to drive,' he said.

GPLv3 just another licence
When asked about GPLv3, which is due for release in the first quarter of this year, Torvalds said it was 'interesting' but also not a big deal.

"It is certainly interesting since the GPLv2 has been a defacto standard in the open source free software group for 16 years -- or something like that. It's a long time and in that sense it is a watershed event.

"At the same time, if you look at the number of licenses that people have been using over the years, it is just another licence. It is not that big a deal. It depends on how you look at it," he added.

linux australia conference 2007 sydney

The current version of the GPL (v2) was published in 1991 and applies to around two thirds of free and open source software.

The best technology will win, eventually
Torvalds believes that despite all the arguments about which technology or software development methodology is better, 'good technology' will win in the end.

"One of the issues I have is that the most important thing is good technology. It's not about being commercial or non-commercial, open source or closed source. To me, the reason I do open source is, it is fun. That is the most basic thing.

"I also happen to believe that it is the best way to, eventually, get the best end result. Part of that is the 'eventually'. At any particular point in time, it may not always be the best thing right then," he said.

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Topics: Open Source, Emerging Tech, Linux

Munir Kotadia

About Munir Kotadia

Munir first became involved with online publishing in 1998 when he joined ZDNet UK and later moved into print publishing as Chief Reporter for IT Week, part of ZDNet UK, a weekly trade newspaper targeted at Enterprise IT managers. He later moved back into online publishing as Senior News Reporter for ZDNet UK.

Munir was recognised as Australia's Best Technology Columnist at the 5th Annual Sun Microsystems IT Journalism Awards 2007. In the previous year he was named Best News Journalist at the Consensus IT Writers Awards.

He no longer uses his Commodore 64.


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

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  • Best doesn't always win

    One comment made by Linus that I strongly disagree with, is his statement that he believes that the best technology will always win. Personally, i think the truth is nearer to "whatever is good enough, and easy enough to use, will win". You can go back to Betamax, Laser Disks, Lotus Notes, OS/2, Linux, and a host of other technologies where the one that may have been superior lost out to the one that was easier for end users to grapple and run with. Look at the iPod, it's not the most advanced MP3 player by far, but it owns the market because people like t's simple interface, and it mostly just works.
    People don't give a stuff if product B is superior, if product A is a hell of a lot easier to use, and does what they want.
  • Re: Best doesn't always win

    You can tell when someone has never used Linux before by the way they pull out some generalistic clueless nonsense.

    You're trying to blend Linux with all those other examples. Those other solutions come from a specific company or a consortium with a marketing machine.

    The best thing about Linux, is its flexibility. The user isn't cornered into accepting specific things. They can do whatever they want with it. Don't like something? Rip it out. Don't like this bit? Replace it with another. (your own or a third-party).

    For most geeks, Linux is easy...The next stage is the gradual progression of inviting the mainstream user. (The apparent goals of distros like Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, PCLinuxOS, Mandriva, Xandros, Linspire, etc).

    This will be a long gestation period where improvements will go through several iterations. (I make a conservative estimate of approx 5 yrs...I say people who keep saying "This year is the year of the Linux desktop" are a pack of idiotic clueless morons).

    Eventually, it will reach a point where the "ease of use" will be one of its advantages. It hurts now, because for once in people's computing lives, they're learning something they can use for the future. They aren't "encouraged" into upgrades, anti-piracy implementations, etc. (Think about that).

    Its already won on affordability, reliability, flexibility, and security. Heck, we're just now getting virtualization with the kernel! So we don't need VMware/Parallels/etc in the future! Just a Intel VT or AMD SVM capable CPU. Can you say the same for Windows or OSX?

    It just has to jump two more main hurdles....

    (1) Ease of use for the mainstream user. => Being worked on.

    (2) Applications. (Games and specific apps that don't work on Linux). => Struggling in some areas, no existant in others.

    Resolve these two, and you'll see a major change in the IT landscape.
  • That is best

    Linus says the "best" software will win and you've said "that isn't true...the software with the most amount of features doesn't always win".

    There's no corrolation between the number of features on an MP3 player and if it's the best. It's like saying the more weapons on a swiss army knife the better..even if you can't carry it easily...

    The best is the most suitable for your needs, thats why we have BOTH open source and closed source. That's why some people use emacs and some use vim.

    Well said Linus. Most of us know what you mean!
  • fine line between 'moderate' and 'apolitical'

    "At the same time, on a completely different tangent -- forget about technology -- I am a big believer in letting people do what they want to do. If somebody wants to do DRM it is their problem."

    Well, no Linus, it's not their problem. It's the user's problem. You're a big believer in letting people do what they want to do.. that's great stuff. Very liberal minded. I'm sure I've said something along those lines myself. Of course, I tend to clarify it with the caveat that what they want to do can't hurt or take away the freedom of others. Is that just an omission on the part of the reporter or do you really believe you have no moral responsibility to intervene when you see someone doing something wrong?
  • You don't get a choice to use DRM or not

    That's the whole point with DRM and why it goes against what Linux and the GPL stand for - choice. Mr. Torvalds mentions in the interview that you can either use it or not, but either you accept DRM and are allowed use of the media, or you reject DRM and have to "illegally" hack the media to gain access to it.

    The GPL is about freedom. DRM is about restrictions to media that you legally own. I don't understand how Linus can be so ambivalent toward such restrictive technology. Binary drivers are one thing, but anti-freedom technology like this is a completely different beast.
  • pass judgement more slowly

    You say that he hasnt used linux before, but that is irrelevant for wether people (dont) eventually use the best technology.
    Then you claim that he is blending linux to other stuff, i dont see any reason to think he was doing that. (maybe a not so to-the-person note that linux is GPL-ed and the others was more appropraite)

    "This will be a long gestation period where improvements will go through several iterations. (I make a conservative estimate of approx 5 yrs...I say people who keep saying "This year is the year of the Linux desktop" are a pack of idiotic clueless morons). "
    Estimating five years ahead is a lot easier to get away with if your wrong isnt it? Remember, you are guessing to be one of those idiots in five years :p, so dont be so hard on those one-year guessers.
    I myself use Ubuntu and i can appreciate it a lot.
    I could see it happening that some of the same people using firefox slowly find out about Ubuntu and do a dual install. (So i do sympathise with the "idiots", but many shouldnt be screaming it off the roofs..) Ubuntu gets a lot of attention on sites like digg also.
  • Oops

    my previous comment was meant to be reply to comment nr 2. If a moderator feels like it, move it there.
  • You do have a choice

    The answer is you do have a choice. You don't have to buy something with DRM. When I want music I go down to the music store and buy cdroms. I don't own a working cd player, but I can rip them to oggs. At the same time I'm not daemonizing my friends, and family who use the itunes store. At most I point out the lockin.
  • Best what???

    Linus said "the best technology will always win".

    This is not necessarily software, hardware or firmware, but could be the whole package.

    Take the 68000. In my opinion it had features superior to the i386. But it was the open architecture of the IBM-PC which made it the best technology and so the i386 got the gong by riding the winner.

    As Linus intimates, it is the open architecture of FOSS which is the best technology, not the individual components like the software or the license.

    Even that old stand aside, SUN, have decided to release Java and now OpenSolaris under the GPL.

    It's not the license they want, it's the whole technology that goes with it, like the 1 million developers, the community spirit, the ability of Linux to support every new platform quickly, the amazing innovation, the robust code, the effective bug tracking, the re-awakening of the importance of Open Standards, and the addition of Open hardware to the mix.

    What he means I think is that Open Technology is the best technology and all the parts are just that, parts.

    At the moment there are only about 400M PCs out there, in a potential user population of at least 1000 times more.

    It is the ability to see this macroverse and compare that with current state of affairs that makes Linus' comment very rational
  • Why DRM Bites

    I had to copy some sound effects off a royalty free CD of stock sound effects. I tried to do this with Windows native tools, but Windows did everything it could to thwart me, locking the sound effect in a DRM protected file. Here was I trying to work, and Windows blocking me every step of the way. Eventually I got some third party ripping tools and did it that way.

    Same thing with so many games. Ridiculous CD checks or product activation bureaucracy. Genuine purchasers get sick of it and go looking for cracks.

    Another example is DVDs. We have region locking, so a DVD I buy overseas won't work in my home country. We have the ridiculous PUO (prohibited user operations) that make me sit through distributors logos (like I care) and that damned FBI warning we've all seen a zillion times. How many lifetimes have been collectively wasted by people who had to sit through these things?

    DRM sucks, and can always be defeated. It just makes the life of legitimate owners difficult.
  • DRM has to be easy to use. So far most of it is lousy. Problem is, so is most co

    I certainly seems as though iTunes contains the most usable and successful DRM to date. The MSN music system and the way it tied into windows was severely crappy and the same price as a physical CD.

    It also seems to me that:

    a) music and video content has reduced phenominally in value to customers since video games and internet games have become THE content people want. I think World of Warcraft itself has subscriptions of something like $2billion a year.
    WoW is a single game.

    b) perhaps because of a) there seems to be lack of anything new worth watching or hearing. I get amazon
    rental, and getting a half decent rental list is a lot of work. I know some people who love the various StarTrek spin-offs and have all the series, but these are few and far between. Video On Demand helps delivery and I want it, but the biggest DVD catalog in the world (amazon) doesn't have that much good content.

    c) Other DRM systems that currently do work are PS2/Gamecube and other console game content protection systems.
    Even though Video Games are the new entertainment, there is a severe lack of new ideas in this realm also. With sequel-itis moans and groans in the Video Game media. When are the XBox 360 and Wii going to get something original and that scores highly in reviews?

    So in summary, I find myself agreeing largely with Linus Torvalds, DRM, meh.

    The other thing, about licence, I also think... meh.
    Once I was a strong proponent for GPL, then I thought, actually windows software is better (after the USB plug and play mess in Linux, and lack of kernel ABI).
    I temporarily liked Vista, until the bloat sucking the life out of the hardware got to me.
    Then I tried FreeBSD and liked it because of it's underlying simplicity.
    But ultimately, I think I'd prefer a Nokia (Linux) Webpad, or a SPV Smartphone, or some other cheap webpad.
    (tablet PCs need to be 30% of their current costs to sell one to me), and in this kind of market, the OS is somewhat irrelevant, as long as you can open google, run some eg: java games (phone).
  • And that's always been the problem with Linus

    For someone who has so much air time, he never seems to have anything important to say. Many people, including myself, believe that a fundemental aspect of "good software" is its freedom-granting license that empowers people to study, improve, and redistribute. Linus has never understood the socialogical and yes, even practical affects that freedoms 0-3 translate into and instead, downplays the work of the Free Software Movement with his own personal hobbyist attitude.


    Give us a break already. If you have nothing to say, just stop talking please and hand the mic over to Richard.
  • Hot air?

    The "hot air" with the GPLv3 came about by Linus publicly stating that he wasn't going to use it. I miss the old days when RMS worked on the license and LT worked on kernel code. The entire point of GPLv3 is to end the "lots of arguments" about DRM.
  • DRM, GPLv3 just 'hot air': Linus Torvalds

    Re QuantumG's comments posted 17/01/07

    "do you [Linus] really believe you have no moral responsibility to intervene when you see someone doing something wrong?"

    What he's letting people do is put DRM on material they produce. Why waste his time and effort fighting them? As it annoys the users, the DRM devalues the product and causes a shift towards alternative sources or "work-arounds". Some passionate users like yourself may argue the point publicly, some legally, some politically. On all fronts, the problem is resisted without wasting the time of a leading techo. This passive approach contrasts with say Microsoft, who're moved by other companies' commercial interests to build DRM management into Vista. The danger is people who want to watch their HD-DVDs or Bluray disks will use Vista over Linux because that's the only one that works. But the Linux community - being developer heavy and "freedom" conscious - isn't likely to put up with that for long: they're more likely to hack the security, then find that having done that they can easily do more, like extract the video into other editors and files. Another cycle in an old story.
  • Hot air?

    Linus is trivialising the - largely invisible - work of many others in mobilising protests against DRM technologies.

    Linus is also trivialising the fore-sight that went into the creating of the GNU GPL v2 and v3.

    It's quite surprising that someone who can lead a technical project with such obvious capability is so lax in foresight and respect for much of the background work that provides the legal environment for Free (as in freedom) Software to flourish.

    But I suppose that is not a pre-requisite for technical leadership.
  • No you don't...

    It's not about buying non-DRM'd products and boycotting DRM'd ones. It is the legislation around DRM that is the problem.

    Legislation - legal hurdles - must be fought by legal weapons - aka licenses.

    Why doesn't Linus just do what he does best - code and provide technical leadership - and let Eben Moglen and the FSF do what they do best - protect legal interests of free software users?

    In other words, Linus is not a lawyer. Commenting about the provisions of the GPL v3 are not his domain of expertise.
  • Will GPL V3 limit what can be used with gcc

    I read that when GPL V3 is complete, the FSF will put the GCC under it and then nothing compiled with GCC can then have DRM in it. WIll this fork the GCC so a GPL V2 version can stay DRM compatible?
  • Will GPL V3 limit what can be used with gcc

    I read that when GPL V3 is complete, the FSF will put the GCC under it and then nothing compiled with GCC can then have DRM in it. WIll this fork the GCC so a GPL V2 version can stay DRM compatible?
  • RMS Hitsquad

    Oh, look! A hitman from the F/OSS Mafia, sent out to assassinate Linus for speaking against GPL v3.

    For all you political software types, it's like this:

    RMS = Stalinist Linus =Anarchists F/OSS = Spanish Civil War