In July 2002 the electrohippies disbanded "to infiltrate and grow the online activism network". That journey took members of the collective to work on interesting projects around Europe, in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. At the same time the agenda on the public's use of digital technology, as foreseen in our papers and communiqués between 2000 and 2002, has been affected by The War Against Terrorism (TWAT). However, it is our view that far worse than the security restrictions and increased state surveillance of TWAT has been the extension of digital rights management (or DRM) which has been developed and enforced using a range of new intellectual property rights laws that were lobbied for by the computer software and media industries over recent years.
The operation of the electronic environment is largely governed by open standards. For the Internet, and many types of computer software, these open mean that users across the globe can freely communicate and exchange information because they are able to read each other's data. The strengthening of intellectual property rights over recent years means that this free interchange is at risk:
Fundamentally, DRM is a form of technologically-mediated economic exploitation. The developers of proprietary software are using legally enforced monopolies to extort money from people who need to achieve a particular task using digital systems. That's not an issue if your use of these systems and applications is voluntary, and you have "open" alternatives available. But increasingly, to participate in educational programmes and even for public functions such as accessing information from public authorities or your bank, you are now required to use proprietary applications. And rarely do the developers of these systems consider the effects of enforcing the use of closed systems on the less affluent within society. As we move to computer operating systems that use DRM the pirating copying of software will become extremely difficult. Therefore the high charges for these software applications, combined with little scope for illicit use, represent a "tax" on participation in the information society.
The issue of open participation in the digital domain, open standards, and the economic exploitation of the public through DRM and closed standards, will come to a head in 2007 with the introduction of Microsoft's Vista operating system. The architecture of the Vista system represents the beginnings of enforced, generalised DRM restrictions on our use of computers. Due to Microsoft's current dominance in the field of desktop computer systems many people will have little choice but to accept these new restrictions. More problematically, because the developers of online content the media industry are strongly behind the development of DRM they will require the use of DRM-compliant systems to access their material in order to strengthen their economic monopoly over digital information. Consequently it will not be Microsoft who will lead the push for the widespread use of DRM-enabled systems, but the developers of the software, and the publishers of the content, that we use on our computers today.
As these new systems require some of the latest, powerful computer hardware, it also means that people will have to buy new equipment, and those on lower incomes will not be able to recycle older computers to find a low-cost route into the digital domain. Currently it is possible to use an older computer to access digital music and other online information if you can find the right software. But as electronic publishers move towards enforcing DRM controls only those who have DRM-enabled systems will be able to access DRM-protected content. What is worse, DRM systems not only protect against copying, but they are also able to enforce the method of use, or the number of times a particular piece of information can be used. For this reason computer systems will cease to be tools to access information, but instead they will take on a role more akin to a digital set-top box that enforces "pay-per-view" access.
As was said recently, Microsoft's new Vista system has to be paid for but they throw in the bugs and security flaws for free. Vista will not end the problem of computer viruses, or even spyware especially as some of the recent spyware systems have been implemented by the producers of digital content rather than malicious software writers. But on top of the usual problems associated with new Microsoft systems, DRM represents another layer of problems that the users of computers will have to get used to... but it need not be so there are real alternatives to Microsoft, expensive, hi-tech. hardware and the "closed" model of computing that are being forced onto the public today! Our new goal is to highlight these alternatives so that the public has a real choice over what systems they use.
the electrohippie collective have come together once again to use our particular skill-set to highlight the damaging effects of Vista and DRM. But we have also formed a closer relationship with the Free Range Network, and their Salvage Server and CommunityLinux Training Centre projects. Together we hope not just to raise awareness of the problems that the expanded use of DRM, enabled by the Vista system, will create. We will also seek to raise awareness of the alternatives to proprietary software. Using the Free Range Network's experience we hope to promote a greater understanding of the Gnu/Linux operating system, and the real alternatives that free and open source software represent to computer users today. In our view, once people understand the difference, they will voluntarily switch.
However, even though people have a choice over which system they use, we
still have the problem that public bodies and other institutions are wedded to
proprietary systems. Therefore, as part of our new range of actions, we will be
lobbying, and perhaps taking mass participation actions online against, those
public bodies that try to enforce the use of proprietary standards via their
web site, or who use DRM to control access to the information that they hold
under statute on behalf of the public....
we foresee an interesting few years ahead!
the electrohippie collective
21st September 2006