Response to Tim Berners-Lee’s defeatist post about DRM in Web standards (Defective by Design blogs)

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, star of the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, and one of the best-known tech celebrities outside of Silicon Valley, believes he is powerless.

Well, at least when it comes to keeping Web users free and safe.

On Monday, he published a blog post defending his recent decision to override objections to streaming and browser companies' plan to enshrine insecure, freedom-defying DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) in the technical standards that underly the Web. The plan, known as EME (Encrypted Media Extensions), would grant perceived legitimacy to these digital handcuffs and energize the long-standing campaign to incorporate them ever deeper into the digital world.

As director of the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), Berners-Lee has the ability to block EME from ratification as an official Web standard. Nevertheless, he defended his decision not to do so, arguing that "[i]f the Director Of The Consortium made a Decree that there would be No More DRM in fact nothing would change. Because W3C does not have any power to forbid anything."

This argument relies on a false dichotomy between wiping DRM from the face of the Earth, and giving it his stamp of approval. Of course, a refusal to ratify could not immediately stop the use of DRM, but it could meaningfully weaken the position of DRM in the court of public opinion, and put EME proponents Netflix, Microsoft, Apple, and Google on notice that a very prominent figure was willing to stand up to them on behalf of users. Changes in society's technological infrastructure require political movements, not just technological arguments, and political movements benefit greatly from the support of prominent figures.

Berners-Lee's refusal to take up the mantle of his own power for the benefit of users is disappointing. And it appears somewhat selective. He is known for his positions in other technology policy struggles over which he has less direct control, making strong statements in favor of net neutrality and against DRM anti-circumvention laws (such as the US's Digital Millennium Copyright Act §1201), which give legal teeth to DRM.

Portraying DRM as a necessary evil, Berners-Lee goes on to argue that it must be welcomed into the Web through enshrinement in official standards. If it is not, he fears that Hollywood will take its movies to other platforms—such as proprietary applications and set-top boxes—which will spy on users more than the DRM that mediates Web-based streaming. But it is dubious how much better Web-based DRM really is for users, considering that the W3C can only suggest that companies implement it in a way that spies on users less, and there is little incentive for companies to heed that suggestion, regardless of the streaming medium.

Berners-Lee's distinction between EME and proprietary apps is also spurious. EME requires a Content Decryption Module (CDM) to work. All CDMs currently in use and expected to be used are proprietary. Berners-Lee and the W3C leadership keep trying to sweep this fact under the rug—EME does not get us away from requiring proprietary apps to participate in media on the Web. EME is a proprietary app.

Berners-Lee's piece appears to have been published somewhat hastily, sporting punctuation errors and an incorrect date (it was published on February 27th, dated February 28th). This slipshod quality is unfortunate, considering what is at stake. As Web users have attested through in-person protests and our anti-EME selfie campaign, DRM is coercive, disempowering and insulting to users. DRM's dark history—from the Sony rootkit malware to draconian anti-circumvention laws—make it unrealistic to argue that adding it to Web standards will be good for users. Ratifying EME would roll back privacy, freedom, and accessibility, and set back the interoperability that is necessary for disruptive innovation on the Web.

Berners-Lee seems to agree with the general premise that DRM is bad, or at least agree that it is suboptimal. But he does not seem interested in using his bully pulpit to move us towards a world where users truly have control over their computers. As usual, it will fall to those most affected by a proposed harmful policy to advocate for themselves.

We urge individuals and W3C member organizations to take a stand against DRM in Web standards. The movement to save the free Web from DRM continues to grow, and we still have a chance to bog down EME in dissent so thoroughly that it cannot reach ratification.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged

FSF Job Opportunity: Campaigns Manager (FSF News)

The Free Software Foundation (FSF), a Massachusetts 501(c)(3) charity with a worldwide mission to protect computer user freedom, seeks a motivated and talented Boston-based individual to be our full-time Campaigns Manager.

Reporting to the executive director, the Campaigns Manager works on our campaigns team to plan, carry out, evaluate, and improve FSF's advocacy and education campaigns. The team also works closely with other FSF departments, including licensing, operations, and tech. The position will start by taking responsibility for existing campaigns in support of the GNU Project, free software adoption, free media formats, and freedom on the network; and against Digital Restrictions Management (DRM), software patents, and proprietary software.

Examples of job responsibilities include, but are not limited to:

  • Planning and participating in online and physical actions to achieve our campaign goals
  • Setting specific goals for each action and then measuring our success in achieving them
  • Doing the writing and messaging work needed to effectively explain our campaigns and motivate people to support them
  • Overseeing or doing the graphic design work to make our campaigns and their Web sites attractive
  • Supporting and attending special events, including community-building activities and our annual LibrePlanet conference
  • Assisting with annual online and mail fundraising efforts
  • Working with our tech team on the technology choices and deployments—especially of web publication systems like Drupal and Plone—for our campaign sites
  • Being an approachable, humble, and friendly representative of the FSF to our worldwide community of existing supporters and the broader public, both in person and online

Ideal candidates have at least three to five years of work experience in online issue advocacy and free software; proficiency and comfort with professional writing and publications preferred. Because the FSF works globally and seeks to have our materials distributed in as many languages as possible, multilingual candidates will have an advantage. With our small staff of thirteen, each person makes a clear contribution. We work hard, but offer a humane and fun work environment at an office located in the heart of downtown Boston. The FSF is a mature but growing organization that provides great potential for advancement; existing staff get the first chance at any new job openings.

Benefits and Salary

This job is a union position that must be worked on-site at the FSF's downtown Boston office. The salary is fixed at $60,385/year and is non-negotiable. Other benefits include:

  • Full family health coverage through Blue Cross/Blue Shield's HMO Blue program
  • Subsidized dental plan
  • Four weeks of paid vacation annually
  • Seventeen paid holidays annually
  • Weekly remote work allowance
  • Public transit commuting cost reimbursement
  • 403(b) program through TIAA
  • Yearly cost-of-living pay increases (based on government guidelines)
  • Conference travel opportunities
  • Potential for an annual performance bonus

Application Instructions

Applications must be submitted via email to hiring@fsf.org. The email must contain the subject line "Campaigns Manager". A complete application should include:

  • Cover letter, including a brief story of a time you motivated and organized others to take action on an issue important to you
  • Resume
  • Two recent writing samples
  • Links to videos of any talks you have given (optional)
  • Graphic design samples (optional)

All materials must be in a free format (such as plain text, PDF, or OpenDocument). Email submissions that do not follow these instructions will probably be overlooked. No phone calls, please.

The application window is closed.

The FSF is an equal opportunity employer and will not discriminate against any employee or application for employment on the basis of race, color, marital status, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, handicap, or any other legally protected status recognized by federal, state or local law. We value diversity in our workplace.

About the Free Software Foundation

The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software—particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants—and free documentation for free software. The FSF also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software, and its Web sites, located at fsf.org and gnu.org, are an important source of information about GNU/Linux. Donations to support the FSF's work can be made at https://donate.fsf.org. We are based in Boston, MA, USA.

More information about the FSF, as well as important information for journalists and publishers, is at https://www.fsf.org/press.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged

Software Freedom Conservancy Welcomes Harvey OS as Member Project (The Software Freedom Conservancy)

A news item from Software Freedom Conservancy.

Harvey project logo

Today Software Freedom Conservancy is pleased to announce that Harvey OS has joined the organization as a member project. Harvey is a new operating system. It’s most directly descended from Plan 9, the research operating system developed at Bell Labs as a successor to Unix. This influence spans from its distributed application architecture all the way down to much of its code. However, Harvey aims to be a more practical, general-purpose operating system, so it also uses ideas and code from other systems.

Harvey OS strives to provide an accessible development environment. The kernel is compact—less than 100,000 lines of code. You can build it with either GCC or LLVM, and run it under QEMU or real hardware. This makes it especially suitable for education and experimentation. It is a work in progress and the development team welcomes new contributors and ideas.

“Harvey is built on a very strong foundation: a security model based on network authentication instead of a password file and user names instead of integer user IDs; management of resources via a common interface and namespaces; and transparent resource sharing over networks,” said Ron Minnich, one of the Harvey OS committee members and a long-time contributor to many open source operating systems. “While Harvey started with Plan 9, the license change to the GPLv2 is letting us bring in better technologies where needed. We are always looking for new ideas, especially in the areas of filesystems, graphics, and user interfaces.”

“In order to promote software freedom effectively, Conservancy provides a good home to a wide variety of projects. That includes both stable, proven software, as well as experimental, up-and-coming projects,” said Karen Sandler, executive director at Software Freedom Conservancy. “We’re pleased that we can be helpful to Harvey OS, and we’re happy to have them join our family of member projects.”

“We have welcomed many people to the Harvey OS community recently, and they are interested both in learning and contributing new ideas and code,” said Minnich. “With our new membership in Conservancy, we can now support these members as needed with hardware or travel support.”

###

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged

Clojars is Conservancy’s Newest Member Project (The Software Freedom Conservancy)

A news item from Software Freedom Conservancy.

Clojars logo

Software Freedom Conservancy is pleased to announce the addition of Clojars as its newest member project. Clojars is a community-maintained repository for free and open source libraries written in the Clojure programming language. Clojars emphasizes ease of use, publishing library packages that are simple to use with build automation tools.

Conservancy is a non-profit public charity focused on ethical technology. It provides a home to its member projects that develop free and open source software. Conservancy helps its projects run as charitable initiatives without having to independently undertake the effort to do it on their own. Joining Conservancy allows projects to collect donations, hold assets, and provide some liability protection for their lead developers’ project-related activities.

“Clojars is proud to join Software Freedom Conservancy,” said Toby Crawley, co-maintainer of the Clojars project. “This will help us continue to develop Clojars, to engage with corporations using Clojars, and to create new programs and funding initiatives to support the growing Clojure community.”

Conservancy Evaluation Committee member Tom Marble commented, “As a Clojure developer I am pleased to welcome Clojars to Conservancy because both value community, collaboration and diversity. Clojars provides a popular network repository for Clojure and ClojureScript packages. It is an essential part of the Clojure development ecosystem. I expect that as a member project, with Conservancy’s guidance, Clojars will grow and thrive.”

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged