Wikinews discusses DRM and DMCA with Richard Stallman after GitHub re-enables public access to youtube-dl

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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Screenshot showing how youtube-dl is used to download a YouTube video in the public domain.
Image: user:acagastya.

On November 16, code-sharing and hosting service GitHub re-enabled the public access to youtube-dl repository, a software which can download videos from the internet via the command-line. This move comes after Mitchell Stoltz, a Senior Staff Attorney of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), sent a letter to GitHub on the behalf of youtube-dl's maintainers. The repository was previously blocked on October 23, after GitHub received a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) take-down notice from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Started in July 2008, youtube-dl is a free/libré open source software written in Python which can download videos from various websites. Citing alleged violation of 17 U.S. Code § 1201 Circumvention of copyright protection systems, RIAA's takedown notice had alleged youtube-dl was intended to circumvent the technological protection measures of streaming services and to redistribute music videos without authorisation. youtube-dl's source code had a number of unit tests to check if the software works in different circumstances or not. Some of the test cases included URLs of some copyrighted songs.

Portrait of Mitch Stoltz, EFF's atorney who countered the DMCA Claim.
Image: Electronic Frontier Foundation.

In the letter to GitHub, EFF's attorney Stoltz said "This file contains series of automated tests that verify the functionality of youtube-dl for streaming various types of video. The youtube-dl source code does not, of course, contain copies of these songs or any others [...] the unit tests do not cause a permanent download or distribution of the songs they reference; they merely stream a few seconds of each song to verify the operation of youtube-dl. Streaming a small portion of a song in a non-permanent fashion to test the operation of an independently created software program is a fair use." The letter stressed "youtube-dl does not decrypt video streams that are encrypted with commercial DRM technologies".

The URLs to copyrighted songs were removed from the source code on November 16, and replaced with a test video that uploaded on YouTube by Philipp Hagemeister, former maintainer of youtube-dl. Philipp Hagemeister had previously spoken about the takedown with Wikinews.

youtube-dl comes with a small JavaScript interpreter where it acts as a web-browser would behave while receiving video data from the server. The script has "extractors" for various websites to handle videos from different sources. "Any software capable of running JavaScript code can derive the URL of the video stream and access the stream, regardless of whether the software has been approved by YouTube", the letter read. It borrowed an analogy of Doors of Durin from J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings for explanation: travelers come upon a door that has writing in a foreign language. When translated, the writing says "say 'friend' and enter." The travelers say "friend" and the door opens. As with the writing on that door, YouTube presents instructions on accessing video streams to everyone who comes asking for it.

Hours after the public access was restored, Sergey M, one of the maintainers of youtube-dl wrote on GitHub, "We would like to thank @github for standing up for youtube-dl and making it possible to continue development without dropping any features. We appreciate [GitHub] for taking potential legal risks in this regard. We would also like to thank [EFF] and personally [Mitch Stoltz] for invaluable legal help. We would also like to heartily thank our main website hoster Uberspace who is currently being sued in Germany for hosting our essentially business card website and who have already spent thousands of Euros in their legal defense."

Hours after GitHub restored the public access to the repository, Stoltz tweeted "I think of youtube-dl as a successor to the videocassette recorder. The VCR empowered people to take control of their personal use of free-to-air video, but it had to be saved from the copyright cartel. The same goes for youtube-dl. GitHub did the right thing here."

Why Can't You Download Videos on YouTube? How a 20-Year-Old Law Stops youtube-dl Users AND Farmers
Image: Electronic Frontier Foundation.

youtube-dl is used by thousands of people around the world. Multiple Creative Commons-licensed and public domain videos on Wikimedia Commons are uploaded via a tool called video2commons, which relies on youtube-dl to download media. youtube-dl also lets users download videos from LiveLeak — a video-sharing platform for citizen journalism. Videos downloaded using youtube-dl are also used for the purpose of fair use, or for evidence.

When a copyright holder chooses to release their work, be it a photograph, a video, or audio, under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license, they allow everyone to freely own, share or modify the work as long as the reusers properly attribute the author of the work. YouTube also hosts many audio and video recordings in the public domain which can be used for any purpose without any restrictions.

In the blog post announcing "youtube-dl is back", GitHub said, "Although we did initially take the project down, we understand that just because code can be used to access copyrighted works doesn't mean it can't also be used to access works in non-infringing ways. We also understood that this project's code has many legitimate purposes, including changing playback speeds for accessibility, preserving evidence in the fight for human rights, aiding journalists in fact-checking, and downloading Creative Commons-licensed or public domain videos."

GitHub also announced any new 1201 takedown notices will be "carefully scrutinised by legal experts" to reject "unwarranted claims", and said it will side with software developers if the claims are ambiguous. The announcement also mentioned GitHub Trust and Safety team would treat developer's tickets as a "top priority". GitHub also pledged donation of USD 1 million for developer defense fund "to help protect open source developers on GitHub from unwarranted DMCA Section 1201 takedown claims".

GitHub had blocked public access to many forks of youtube-dl upon receiving the DMCA notice in October. At that time, Wikinews noted public access was not yet restored for the forked repositories listed in RIAA's copyright notice and was still displays "Repository unavailable due to DMCA takedown".

During the period when GitHub had disabled public access for the repository, Sergey M had been developing youtube-dl and hosting it on GitLab, another code-sharing and hosting site. However, since GitHub has restored public access of youtube-dl, Sergey M has made the GitLab repository private.

After this, Wikinews reached out to Richard Stallman, the founder of Free Software Foundation, who has been highly critical of DRM (digital rights management, the subject of the DMCA) for many years now, to discuss the harms of DRM and DMCA 1201.

Interview with Richard Stallman about the harms of DRM and DMCA 1201

Portrait of Richard Stallman.
Image: Bill Ebbesen.

What is DRM and whose rights [is] the DRM trying to protect?

 ((Richard Stallman )) Well, DRM as I consider it, stands for digital restrictions management. It stands for system functionalities designed to restrict users in their use of copies of works. It's an injustice. It is a system of giving, generally, the more powerful additional power over everyone else. They [who implement DRM] like to say that this is a matter of protecting rights, but it's really a matter of protecting power. That power is an injustice and it should not exist.

Interview with Stallman about the harms of DRM and DMCA 1201.
Image: acagastya.

 ((WN )) What do you think of the Recording Industries Association of America's DMCA take down notice against youtube-dl?

 ((Richard Stallman )) Oh. Well it was, as I understand it, it was entirely a distortion of the law. And the Electronic Frontier Foundation explained why that was so. And I believe that's why GitHub put it back up again. But I'm more concerned with the morality of it than the legality of it. And basically it was a system of oppression. But that's what the DMCA was mainly there to achieve: Make it easier to repress.

 ((WN )) Why was the DMCA introduced?

 ((Richard Stallman )) Well of course I don't know the motives. I can only try to guess. But in general, the bad things in the DMCA give more power to publishing companies and secondarily occasionally to authors and artists to stop people from sharing. Now that was visible here it was to stop people from sharing youtube-dl. But the DRM portions of the DMCA were designed to stop people from breaking the digital handcuffs that companies place on them.

So before 1998, companies tried implementing DRM and people who didn't like being handcuffed by DRM implemented ways to break the handcuffs. The DRM[...] the DMCA made that much more difficult and it's been followed by hardware designed to restrict the people who use it — the people who supposedly buy it — are forbidden to change the parts of it that are designed to restrict them.

 ((WN )) Is the existence of DRM necessary for the DMCA to serve its purpose?

 ((Richard Stallman )) Well, if the purpose is to repress, then yes, the DMCA; a part of the DMCA: because the DMCA says many different things. So there are two parts of the DMCA that are pertinent here. There's the part that sets up the takedown system and then there's a part about DRM and forbidding the distribution of any equipment to break DRM. So you you better say which one you mean because there's so much else in the DMCA.

The large goal of the DMCA is basically to stop people from sharing. And both of those parts of the DMCA serve the purpose of stopping people from sharing. I believe sharing copies of published works should be lawful and any law designed to stop that — any law against that — is an attack on society.

So if the goal is to to divide people and stop them from sharing, well DRM certainly contributes to that goal.

 ((WN )) Is the DRM really harmful for an independent society — a society which is not controlled by a select few companies.

 ((Richard Stallman )) Oh, well DRM tends to increase the control of certain areas of society by companies, and especially large companies. You see, a truly effective DRM scheme typically involves getting everyone to follow the same standard to restrict people so there are no exceptions. They need something like a monopoly. If there were effective competition — competition between systems and practices that are diverse — then people would find ways to get copies without DRM. But what happens instead is a DRM conspiracy is set up whereby all the publishers start using — although they're supposedly competing and may in fact be competing in some other sense — in regard to their use of DRM, they're all the same. So just about everyone publishing recorded videos at one point switched to DVDs. The DVDs were designed to have DRM. It's all the same DRM system. And they were all basically the same player system.

And it means that basically competition does people no good. You can't find a publisher that's publishing the same things but without DRM: they're all restricting you the same. So if you are completely firm in your hatred of DRM like me you say well I just won't buy any such thing. But if you're not so firm you'll probably surrender and go along with the restrictions of the system that they've switched to, which at that time meant DVDs. And then, because people had found ways to break the DRM of DVDs, another sort of monopolistic system for DRM was designed and that was Blu-ray discs. And you'll notice that all sorts of video publishing companies started publishing on Blu-ray discs. Well that was one single technical standard with the same DRM. And they all used the same DRM implementing disc players for Blu-ray discs. So they have a chance of success when they avoid competition. If there were enough competition, some publishers might start saying, "Hey we'll publish without the DRM." My understanding is, you can't write a Blu-ray disc that doesn't have DRM. I've been told you can't make and sell Blu-ray discs that anyone can copy. That was one example of a change for the worst compared with DVDs. You can write DVDs that don't implement the DRM.

 ((WN )) What are some of the ways DRM mistreats the users without them actually knowing about it?

 ((Richard Stallman )) Well, when DRM mistreats you, you'll notice. You know, if you can't copy the contents into a file on your disk you'll notice. So there are many malicious things that programs can do to users without users knowing for instance spying on users. It could have a back-door. And unless you notice the use of the back door, you can't tell. But DRM is one thing that you can tell.

 ((WN )) How according to you should the laws concerning intellectual property should be applied?

 ((Richard Stallman )) I'm afraid that question is fundamentally confused by use of the vague over-generalisation "intellectual property". Are you talking about patent laws?

 ((WN )) No, I'm talking law specifically for Intellectual Property Protection.

 ((Richard Stallman )) Sorry, you don't understand. The term "intellectual property" is applied to many different kinds of laws. For instance, patent laws. When you ask that question whether you know it or not, you're asking about patent laws. That term is also commonly applied to trade secrecy. So whether you know it or not, your question is asking about trade secret law. And it's also applied to trademarks, which really just you know those are just names. And the trademark law just says what that you can register a trademark and then other people can't call their products by that name. So whether you knew it or not your question was asking about those laws too. There are also plant variety monopolies, which are not the same as patents, and you were asking about those laws too. And there is also copyright law. So whether you knew it or not, you were asking about copyright law. And there are others I don't even know what all of them are. Because there's so many and they're all different. And you were asking about all of those laws at once because you said "intellectual property".

I recognised about 20 years ago that that term "intellectual property" reliably causes confusion because it asks about so many different laws at once and these laws are totally different; they apply to different areas; they have different purposes. They're designed to achieve different things but that term "intellectual property" treats them as if they were all minor variations of the same thing and they're not.

So every time you use that term, you're causing yourself to be confused and other people who think your question or statement is meaningful will get confused too. So I decided to reject that term completely because I want people to understand the differences between these various laws and they can't understand that until they realize that these laws are different.

Can you try to make your question specific enough that I could answer it?

 ((WN )) There are a lot of complaints which try to hide behind these IP laws in order to protect the software.

 ((Richard Stallman )) They hide behind the term "intellectual property" to prevent it from becoming clear which law they're talking about and what the issue is in the case. But actually to speak of "protecting software" there's another sneaky point there. What does it mean to "protect software"? Prevent it from being destroyed? Prevent it from being erased? Protect normally means — to something means — to stop it from being destroyed or damaged or ruined. So for instance, if somebody threatens to break a DVD, well a DVD of software, and you "stopped" the person from destroying the disk, that would be protecting software, right? That's protecting software by the usual meaning of the word "protect".

When in that kind of question when they say protect, it's bogus. So I would say to them "What do you mean by that? What exactly is the thing you're trying to stop?" I would refuse to take up the intentionally confusing terminology like protect software. I would insist on getting a concrete description of what you're trying to do. And then I could give a concrete response do you want to give a concrete description? Of course you're quoting the others, you're not saying that this is your goal. You're talking about others who say that this is their goal. And if they're speaking gobbledygook, well you can't tell what they really mean. I'm saying that when they use that terminology they are basically confusing people.

It's gobbledygook. It's not a real question. And I would refuse to try to engage with their gobbledygook. I talk about concrete questions that I can describe like should anyone be able to stop you from making a copy of something. And if you want we can make it more concrete than that but you'll have to say which concrete case you mean. The point is I don't believe that anyone should have the power to stop you from making a copy to give to your friend or to somebody you just met. And if somebody wants to try to argue for that we should give that power, well the onus is on per to demonstrate why person should have that power.

 ((WN )) A person who paid for a tool owns it and is used to modify as they wish, for example you do not like the color of your chair, paint it if your car's tire is flat, change it or ask a mechanic to help you with that, except for cases where there is a computer and usually a software involved.

 ((Richard Stallman )) Yeah. Well I think you should have the same freedom to change the software. And that relates to the issue of free mukt or swatantra software. I have fought for free software because I believe all users who are running programs should have the freedom to change those programs or get someone else to help change them. And that's why I've developed free programs and released them to give other people that freedom. And that's why I refuse to run non-free programs because they subjugate their users by stopping the users from changing those programs. It means that the users don't have control of their own computing. I consider that unacceptable so I don't accept it. I simply say I won't use that non-free software, take it away.

 ((WN )) But why is computer software treated differently than other tools? For example, if we take case of John Deere tractors.

 ((Richard Stallman )) Oh well, morally, it shouldn't be. Morally, all software should be free. Users should always get the source code and they should be able to change it and publish modified versions so that others can get the benefit of their changes.

Now, I can tell you practically speaking why it is not treated the same way. It's because software was treated as a kind of written work. Written works were covered by copyright law. They generally were not tools of any sort, you looked at them. You didn't pick up a written work and turn something with it. Right it's not a tool in the same sense as a screwdriver is. And physical structures were treated legally different from collections of text which is what a program is. And so carrying forward those two existing practices, they ended up saying that programs were copyrighted and at this point the lobbying of the companies, some of which were already large in the 1980s, was enough to cause copyright law in the US to be interpreted in rather strange ways for software. For instance, companies started saying: this program is copyrighted and it's a trade secret. Now it used to be that copyright applied to published works and anything that's a secret is not published. If it were published it wouldn't be a secret anymore. But the companies lobbied and they were allowed to have it both ways. They could say the source code is a secret and the compiled executable is published. And so they could have the benefit of copyright law and trade secret law for the same work at the same time.

Now, if the people writing the laws had been thinking based on what is in the public interest, they might have said that's absurd but they were thinking about "how can I please these companies that will give me a job later. You know, once I'm not in office anymore, I want to get paid by companies". So they did things to please the companies which probably told them, "We'll have work for you later". That system is known as the revolving door between business and government and it's fundamentally a form of corruption, even though it's not necessarily illegal. But morally speaking it's corruption.

So what we ended up with, well, so we ended up with software that was copyrighted and the source code was secret and thus the company had two ways to restrict the users of that program. One was they couldn't get the source code so they couldn't change it really except by patching the binary and that's hard to do: it's hard to make a very big change by patching the binary. And at the same time it was copyrighted so they were forbidden to redistribute it. And if they so if they managed to patch the binary they were not allowed to share that with anybody else. And so the users were helplessly under the power of that company. That was the situation in the early 80s which led me to develop free software and start the free software movement. And meanwhile non-free software led to DRM. You see, in order for a program that's intended to restrict users to succeed in restricting users, it has to be secret. Or else there has to be something that stops the users from changing it, and stops them in some other way. Because, you know, if someone puts some shackles on you and you can then change the shape of the shackles so you can take them off your feet, they're not really effective shackles, are they?

 ((WN )) You see this is rather odd that a car manufacturer never stops the users from opening the bonnet and expect what is underneath or even change it.

 ((Richard Stallman )) Well yes, actually with software they do exactly that. And that's basically what John Deere is doing with the tractors. Because now there are computers in the car or the tractor and the computers are running software. The software is an important part of the car or the tractor and that's what the supposed owner can't change. So when you see that, you get to see the evil of non-free software and I don't think they should be allowed to sell cars with non-free software in them. I think that they should be required to make the software free so users can change the programs.

 ((WN )) What changes to the current system do you propose?

 ((Richard Stallman )) Well, that's rather complicated. [T]he changes I propose in laws and the system of distributing for the legal system for publication. Basically I think all software should be free. Free as is in freedom of course. I don't mind if you charge money for a copy but the software that you distribute should always respect users freedom. However, I am against making it a crime to distribute a non-free program, simply because criminalising such things tends to fail to achieve its goal. I mean, look at for instance dangerous drugs, that it's a crime to sell but people just break those laws massively and meanwhile in the US hundreds of thousands of people, maybe more than a million are in prison for breaking those laws and yet people are still doing it in tremendous quantities. So that's the only reason I wouldn't want to make it a crime to distribute non-free software. But it shouldn't happen. For other kinds of works, however, we have to look at copyright and I would say that works that are meant to serve a practical purpose, such as textbooks, for instance, or reference works, they should all be free as in freedom also. However, for other kinds of works, such as artistic works and works of testimony, it's okay for those works to be copyrighted. But people should at least be allowed to non-commercially redistribute exact copies. So you should be allowed to be a good member of your community, which includes among other things making copies and sharing them.

Now, if you have a copy of something and your friend says, "hey could I have a copy of that?", of course you will want to share a copy that's the friendly thing to do.

 ((WN )) What do you think of DRM actively trying to stop the right to repair?

 ((Richard Stallman )) Well, the right to repair is basically a small part of the freedom that free software gives. So of course I support the right to repair and anything that works against it is wrong. But I would go much further in the right to repair. I would say the software in your car, your tractor or your radio or whatever it might be should be free software. And that basically, that provides the right to repair because it means that the users of the product can study how it works and they can extract the knowledge needed to do the repairs and share that knowledge, you know write it down, publish it and that way all the users of the product will be able to repair it.

 ((WN )) What do you think of the companies today leasing their products or services as per the EULA and abusing DMCA and DRM to prevent the consumers from having control of the things they own?

 ((Richard Stallman )) [L]easing a product; if a company leases a product to you then you don't own it, however I would say that if you have the possession of the product for the long term, that's enough reason why the software in it should be free. So you should be free to change that software. Of course, maybe someday you terminate the lease and you return the product and they probably will restore the standard software inside it before they lease it to someone else.

 ((WN )) When I say product/services I meant the so-called software-as-a-service.

 ((Richard Stallman )) Oh, software-as-a-service — it's too vague a term to mean anything. It's of interest perhaps to businesses for thinking about their strategies, but in terms of how they're treating customers it's too vague, it doesn't mean anything.

 ((WN )) I could call it service-as-a-software-substitute.

 ((Richard Stallman )) Oh that's different, you see, though. That is a much more specific term. It doesn't cover as many different cases and that's why I use it because it's more specific, it's narrow enough that I can say something coherent about it. I can't really say anything about "software-as-a-service" because it's too broad, it's too varied. Service-as-a-software-substitute I can say something about because it is less varied. It means that the service consists of running a certain program for you. And my response is don't let someone else run it for you, run it yourself. If it's a free program and you run it yourself, you have control over it and that's the way it should be. If it's a free program, but you pay someone else to run it for you, then you don't really get control over what that program is doing, because it's running in a someone else's computer.

Of course, if it's a non-free program then even if you run it yourself you don't really have control. You don't have control over what it does, but you have more control if you were running it than if someone else is running it.

 ((WN )) So what do you mean when you say you own a copy of a software?

 ((Richard Stallman )) Well, with free software, when you get a copy, you own it the same way you could own a chair. You buy a chair you own it. With a free software you buy a copy you own it. But with, say consider, for instance, some software package you might think that you're buying a copy, but the company will say you don't own it, you just have a license to run it under limited terms. Well I think that is mistreatment of the public. That's part of the reason why I won't ever use that software.

 ((WN )) [T]alking about software, what are the set of rights an owner of a software must have?

 ((Richard Stallman )) What do you mean by owner of a program? Do you mean the developer, do you mean a user?

 ((WN )) Anybody who bought the software.

 ((Richard Stallman )) Okay, so first of all, well, I would say since we're talking about the user of a program, that software should be free. And that means that the user, any user, gets the four essential freedoms: Freedom zero is the freedom to run the program however you wish for whatever purpose you have in mind. Freedom one is the freedom to study the source code of that program so they've got to give you the source and then change it so it functions the way you wish. Freedom two is the freedom to make exact copies and then give or sell them to others and freedom 3 is the freedom to make copies of your modified versions and give or sell them to others.

 ((WN )) You talk about reselling. Now it is completely okay if I had to resell a vehicle. But in case, if it came with a software, let's take example of Tesla.

 ((Richard Stallman )) Oh well please be careful. You're using the term resell which is not a term I used. What I said is the freedom to make copies and then give the or sell those copies to others. Now that's not reselling in the usual sense of that word. Because what I'm talking about involves making more copies. With a free program, you have the right to copy it and give or sell the copies. You also have with a free program you have the right to change the code and then copy that and give or sell copies.

So this is a rather firm stand. It's not the same thing as you bought a car and you sell the same car to somebody else.

 ((WN )) Should that right also be protected for the free software. If I get a copy of the software, should I be allowed to give that copy to someone else permanently? Let's say I bought it on a DVD and I would give that DVD to someone else, me not having the copy at all.

 ((Richard Stallman )) Well, that I expect is lawful nowadays although there are some that will try to make you sign a contract and won't let users get copies without that. And that is an additional level of oppression. But I'm going far beyond that. I'm not just saying you should be allowed to resell the same copy. I'm saying you should have the freedom to copy it to, make more copies.

 ((WN )) So while we are speaking about selling the exact the copy itself now consider this the Amazon Kindle. It comes with the account tied to the Amazon account. If I were to give it to someone else the books would not transfer.

 ((Richard Stallman )) Well, that's one of the injustices of DRM. This is one of the reasons I would never use an Amazon eBook, and I never have. No company should know what books you have. No company should be able to stop you from giving those books or selling those books to someone else. And if the book is digital, that means it is possible to copy it so no company should be able to stop you from non-commercially copying and redistributing those books. If you have a book and I would like a copy of it and you wish to copy it, you should be allowed to copy it for me. You shouldn't have to, but if you feel like to, you know it might be a lot of trouble and you'd say "I'm sorry, I'm too busy", but if you want to do it and suppose it's easy, then you should be allowed to do it. So I'm not just against the specific method, which is DRM, I'm against the goal that [it] is ostensibly meant to achieve — that goal shouldn't be achieved by anything. People should be free to share.

 ((WN )) Why do you think the EULA exists?

 ((Richard Sanskrit )) Oh, well you mean why do companies impose EULAs on programs. Well they want to restrict people. They're trying to subjugate users. They have many ways of doing that. I have never agreed to any EULA.

 ((WN )) You know the analogy that I prefer for DRM is think of a car that you just purchased. The seller tells you that 'if it breaks down, come bring it to me and I'll fix it for you'. One day you realise that it's not working. Turns out the exhaust pipe has some blockage in it and if you try to fix that now the seller tells you, "just because you did that now not only I'm not going to fix if the car breaks down I won't even let others fix it for you".

 ((Richard Stallman )) I would say I don't think they are similar. They're not really analogous. I would say that restriction on a car is comparable to the restrictions on proprietary software regardless of DRM. You know any non-free program because typically it's impossible for you to fix it because they don't give you the source code. Even if you are an authorised user, you can't have the source code for most non-free programs. The source code's not released at all. So you can't fix it yourself. Now these various situations they're related but they're not closely analogous. They're not the same thing going on in these different fields. They're often somewhat different and both evil but not in exactly the same way.

 ((WN )) How has the software distribution changed over the decade specifically in the rights that the users had?

 ((Richard Stallman )) Well, non-free software started to exist in the 1960s at least maybe in the 1950s. But in the 1970s free software almost ceased to exist — all the software with small exceptions was proprietary, non-free. And it was in the 1980s that I launched the attempt to re-establish free software and to liberate users.

 ((WN )) What are the problems with the DMCA 1201 which is circumvention of copyright protection [measures]?

 ((Richard Stallman )) Well that basically the worst part of that is the complete prohibition on distributing things that — tools that can break DRM. So for instance, anything that could access the video on a DVD or a BluRay disc is forbidden unless some company gives permission for it. I'm not sure which company is allowed to give permission for it. But basically you can't get permission for that so it has to be an underground device, one that is circulated without permission — a forbidden tool.

 ((WN )) What are the modifications that you would propose for the DMCA laws regarding anti-circumvention?

 ((Richard Stallman )) I would eliminate them entirely. I might make — I might go further, yeah, I would go further and say that making or selling or leasing or importing what is it making, importing, selling, or leasing any product with DRM is a crime.

 ((WN )) Is the Free Software Foundation, SF Conservancy and the Electronic Frontier Foundation aware of and working with any senator to sponsor a bill [for these changes]?

 ((Richard Stallman )) I don't know what those other organisations are doing. I don't think the Free Software Foundation has contacts so high in government. You know, opposition to anti-circumvention existed around 20 years ago but it mostly got crushed what happens is most people will not continue to oppose the law once it has existed for some number of years. It's too easy for people to say "well we lost that one, now what battle are we gonna fight?" But people like me, we never give up.

DRM is evil and since I will never accept a copy of anything with the DRM, I have to fight against DRM.

 ((WN )) What are some of the ways a digital publisher can sell copyrighted works...?

 ((Richard Stallman )) The words you are using, I will not accept. I'm not going to answer that question because to do it I would have to accept the concept of piracy and the concept of protected and I will not. I refuse to use them. When people, when they say piracy what they mean is sharing. It's a smear term to insult people who share. I will not smear sharing. I think sharing is good and stopping people from sharing is evil. Now I when they say protected, what they really mean is restricting. And I think that's bad. However I am in favor of supporting artists better. The existing system changes so as to support artists less and less. Now this has become a scandal in the field of music as the streaming disservices pay musicians so little when streaming their music that the musicians are basically going broke. What this shows by the way is the hypocrisy of the copyright system which ostensibly exists to support the artists. But in fact it supports businesses that screw the artists.

Well, instead of trying to fix that system I say let's replace it and in the article in the page I told you about — copyright versus community, I propose two different two alternative systems to support artists. So take a look at it.

 ((WN )) How should artists and publishers who sell their art (music, artwork, literature) in a digital form sell it without imposing DRM, without worrying about one individual paying for it, an redistributing it to a larger audience, non-commercially?

 ((Richard Stallman )) You must accept that people will do this, because it would be wrong to try to stop them.

 ((WN )) How do you think the browsers are affected by implemented by w3c allowing EMEs [Encrypted Media Extensions] to exist?

 ((Richard Stallman )) You mean allowing DRM in browser? Well, basically what that means is free browsers cannot support the entire web standards. The DRM is something that only non-free browsers can do. So you have to decide do you want freedom or do you want to surrender to DRM and access the DRM covered works. For me the choice is clear. I won't accept a copy of a DRM infected work. But the danger is that is will we be able to keep free browsers going at all.

 ((WN )) I believe in the announcements Mozilla mentioned how they had to choose between either supporting DRM or otherwise giving up on their[...]

 ((Richard Stallman )) Yeah, well that's basically that's how these schemes are set up. Most users don't understand freedom. They have superficial short-term desires. They want to get copies. So if a conspiracy of publishers — and that's effectively what it was all, people don't like to think of it that way — if a conspiracy of publishers says "we're all going to publish using this scheme to restrict you, so if you want to get anything from of the kind of work that we publish DRM will be your only way", people will say all right we'll accept the DRM. And then they push browser developers like Firefox and stores and so on into handling the DRM subjugated tools and products except for people like me who say, "No thanks, I don't want any of those at all ever".

Logo of GNU General Public License v3. GPLv3 was released in 2007 and has stance against patents and forbids "circumvention of technological measures".
Image: Free Software Foundation.

 ((WN )) Was the [GNU] GPLv3 rather too late to prevent [damages of DRM]?

 ((Richard Stallman )) I'm afraid so. I'm afraid so. Although of course, we don't know what would have happened if history had been different. You can only speculate about that.

 ((WN )) Is there any scenario where DRM is morally justifiable?

 ((Richard Stallman )) Not that I can imagine. The users should be, first of all DRM means non-free software designed to stop people from doing things with copies of published works. I don't think users should be stopped from copying and changing and sharing published works. For art, they don't have to. I don't think users have to be permitted to distribute modified versions. But they must be permitted to non-commercially share copies and DRM always prohibits that.

 ((WN )) Are you aware of snaps and flatpaks that are used to install applications [on GNU/Linux]?

 ((Richard Stallman )) I've heard of it and I know that they can be used to install non-free software which of course it's foolish to do. You shouldn't trust a non-free program. But yes you can install non-free software. That has always been true and the reason is with free software ultimately you can do whatever you want. There's no way to stop you. So a free operating system always permits you to install non-free programs.

 ((WN )) The applications, which would otherwise be available in the distribution repository. Now, the software developers are just moving towards...

 ((Richard Stallman )) That's a bad thing. That's a bad thing. It's a foolish thing. It's hard to trust these snaps and flatpaks. And not only that, but those platforms distribute non-free software, so it's a bad idea to point to them at all. And in addition, it means that there aren't multiple -- you know with with distributions, as distributions package a program they will look at the program and thus they can fix things, if they see anything bad they can change it. And thus, this is part of how users collectively maintain their control. I've never installed a snap or a flatpak. And I don't think I want to. I wouldn't. I don't trust it. How do I know whether that flatpak includes some non-free software. How could I check? I don't think they're designed to let people check. They're not designed for anyone to be able to build the program. As far as I know, I could be mistaken but if all everybody does is just install the binaries, in the flatpak. Nobody's building it, how does anybody know if the complete source is available.


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