Mike Gerwitz

Activist for User Freedom

International Day Against DRM 2016


Today is the 10th annual International Day Against DRM—a day where activists from around the world organize events in protest against Digital Restrictions Management.

DRM is a scheme by which tyrants use antifeatures to lock down what users are able to do with their systems, often cryptographically. For example, your media player might tell you how many times you can listen to a song, or watch a video, or read a book; it might delete books that you thought you owned; it might require that you are always online when playing a game, and then stop working when you disconnect, or when they decide to stop supporting the game. If you try to circumvent these locks, then you might be called a pirate and be thrown in prision under the “anti-circumvention” privisons of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). These are all things that have been long predicated, and are only expected to get worse with time.

That is, unless we take a stand and fight back.

I had the pleasure of participating in the largest ever protest against the W3C and their attempts to introduce DRM as a web standard via the Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) proposal.1 This event was organized beautifully by Zak Rogoff of the Free Software Foundation and began just outside the Strata Center doors where the W3C was actively meeting, and then continued to stop outside the Google and Microsoft offices, both just blocks away. We were joined outside Microsoft by Danny O’Brien, the EFF’s International Director, who stepped out of the W3C meeting to address the protesters.

Afterward, most of us traveled to the MIT Media Lab where Richard Stallman—who joined us in the protest—sat on a panel along with Danny O’Brien, Joi Ito of the MIT Media Lab, and Harry Halpin of the W3C. The W3C was invited to participate in a discussion on EME, but they never showed. As a demonstration of the severity of these issues, Harry Halpin vowed to resign from the W3C if the EME proposal ever became a W3C Recommendation.

I can say without hesitation that the protest and following discussion were some of the most powerful and memorable events of my life—there is no feeling like being a part of a group that shares such a fundamental passion (and distaste!) for something important.

And it is very important.

DRM is pervasive—the Web is just one corner where it rears its ugly head. The International Day Against DRM gives you and others an excellent opportunity to hold your own protests, demonstrations, and events to raise these issues to others—and to do so as part of an international group; to send a strong, world-wide message: a message that it is not acceptable to act as tyrants and treat users as slaves and puppets through use of digital handcuffs and draconian punishments for circumventing them.

  1. The EFF has some great photots; I’m the one in the hoodie between the giant GNU head and Zak Rogoff.↩︎