Join May 4th, Day against DRM: http://dayagainstdrm.org/
by Richard Stallman
In 1989, in a very different world, I wrote the first version of the GNUGeneral Public License, a license that gives computer users freedom. TheGNU GPL, of all the free software licenses, is the one that most fullyembodies the values and aims of the free software movement, by ensuringthe four fundamental freedoms for every user. These are freedoms to 0)run the program as you wish; 1) study the source code and change it todo what you wish; 2) make and distribute copies, when you wish; 3) anddistribute modified versions, when you wish.Any license that grants these freedoms is a free software license. TheGNU GPL goes further: it protects these freedoms for all users of allversions of the program by forbidding middlemen from stripping them off.Most components of the GNU/Linux operating system, including the Linuxcomponent that was made free software in 1992, are licensed under GPLversion 2, released in 1991. Now, with legal advice from Professor EbenMoglen, I am designing version 3 of the GNU GPL.GPLv3 must cope with threats to freedom that we did not imagine in1989. The coming generation of computers, and many products withincreasingly powerful embedded computers, are being turned against usby their manufacturers before we buy them—they are designed torestrict what we can use them to do.First, there was the TiVo. People may think of it as an appliance torecord TV programs, but it contains a real computer running a GNU/Linuxsystem. As required by the GPL, you can get the source code for thesystem. You can change the code, recompile and install it. But once youinstall a changed version, the TiVo won't run at all, because of aspecial mechanism designed to sabotage you. Freedom No. 1, the freedomto change the software to do what you wish, has become a sham.Then came Treacherous Computing, promoted as “TrustedComputing,” meaning that companies can “trust” yourcomputer to obey them instead of you. It enables network sites to tellwhich program you are running; if you change the program, or writeyour own, they will refuse to talk to you. Once again, freedom No. 1becomes a sham.Microsoft has a scheme, originally called Palladium, that enables anapplication program to “seal” data so that no otherprogram can access it. If Disney distributes movies this way, you'llbe unable to exercise your legal rights of fair use and de minimisuse. If an application records your data this way, it will be theultimate in vendor lock-in. This too destroys freedom No. 1 — ifmodified versions of a program cannot access the same data, you can'treally change the program to do what you wish. Something likePalladium is planned for a coming version of Windows.AACS, the “Advanced Access Content System,” promoted byDisney, IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Sony, and others, aims to restrict useof HDTV recordings—and software—so they can't be usedexcept as these companies permit. Sony was caught last year installinga “rootkit” into millions of people's computers, and nottelling them how to remove it. Sony has learned its lesson: it willinstall the “rootkit” in your computer before you get it,and you won't be able to remove it. This plan explicitly requiresdevices to be “robust”—meaning you cannot changethem. Its implementors will surely want to include GPL-coveredsoftware, trampling freedom No. 1. This scheme should get“AACSed,” and a boycott of HD DVD and Blu-ray has alreadybeen announced(http://bluraysucks.com/boycott).Allowing
a few businesses to organize a scheme to deny our freedoms fortheir profit is a failure of government, but so far most of the world'sgovernments, led by the U.S., have acted as paid accomplices rather thanpolicemen for these schemes. The copyright industry has promulgated itspeculiar ideas of right and wrong so vigorously that some readers mayfind it hard to entertain the idea that individual freedom can trumptheir profits.Facing these threats to our freedom, what should the free softwarecommunity do? Some say we should give in and accept the distributionof our software in ways that don't allow modified versions tofunction, because this will make our software more popular. Some referto free software as “open source,” that being the sloganof an amoral approach to the matter, which cites powerful and reliablesoftware as the highest goals. If we allow companies to use oursoftware to restrict us, this “open source DRM” could helpthem restrict us more powerfully and reliably. Those who wield thepower could benefit by sharing and improving the source code of thesoftware they use to do so. We too could read that sourcecode—read it and weep, if we can't make a changed versionrun. For the goals of freedom and community—the goals of thefree software movement—this concession would amount to failure.We developed the GNU operating system so that we could control our owncomputers, and cooperate freely in using them in freedom. To seekpopularity for our software by ceding this freedom would defeat thepurpose; at best, we might flatter our egos. Therefore we have designedversion 3 of the GNU GPL to uphold the user's freedom to modify thesource code and put modified versions to real use.The debate about the GPL v3 is part of a broader debate about DRM versusyour rights. The motive for DRM schemes is to increase profits for thosewho impose them, but their profit is a side issue when millions ofpeople's freedom is at stake; desire for profit, though not wrong initself, cannot justify denying the public control over its technology.Defending freedom means thwarting DRM.