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October 15th, 2014

Netflix, Chrome, DRM & Other Nasties

Monday’s article on easy Netflix coming at last to Linux garnered a few polite responses, taking me to task for my enthusiasm for a “non-free” solution. The problems are that Netflix uses DRM and that currently its use on GNU/Linux requires the use of the proprietary Chrome browser. One commenter even questioned FOSS Force’s commitment to software freedom with the remark: “Your logo “Keeping Tech Free” I take it that means free beer and not freedom.”

Netflix logoNope. I’m an advocate of free “as in speech” software — which includes the freedom to choose. If there’s a FOSS solution for something I need or want to do, I’ll take that every time, and encourage my friends to do so as well. However, if there’s something I need or want to do with no FOSS solution available, I might use a proprietary solution, depending on the depth of my need or want and on how draconian the terms of the proprietary EULA.

As far as I’m concerned, when a person makes a commitment to FOSS, the commitment is not only to own the software being used whenever possible, but also to completely own the computer as well. I think this was summed up well in May of last year when we included this tidbit in FOSS Week in Review:

“This week Richard Stallman posted an article he penned on the GNU Project’s website titled Is It Ever a Good Thing to Use a Nonfree Program? The answer is “no.” If you don’t know why off the top of your head, then you need to read the article. This doesn’t mean you have to quit using nonfree software. You just need to know it isn’t a good thing when you do.”

Yup, I know I’m using a non free browser, and yup, I know it isn’t a good thing.

As soon as Mozilla gets up to speed so that Netflix works in Firefox, I’ll use it. As for Netflix’s use of DRM? Hold on to your hats — that doesn’t bother me. I’m not buying movies from Netflix, which would be another story, I’m merely paying for the right to watch them stream through my computer. The way I figure it, the studios have every right to protect the millions of dollars they have invested in each and every movie they make. Indeed, I want them to do just that, because I want them to be able to make more movies. I like movies, you see, and they’re damned expensive to make.

Yesterday, Jeff Hoogland, the founder and former lead developer of Bodhi Linux, dealt with the issue of Netflix on Linux on his blog. He says that “Netflix support is a win for desktop Linux” and urges his readers to “stop complaining.”

“Every time I see one of these large services start supporting desktop Linux, the complainers come out of the wood work with something else to whine about. With Steam it was DRM in the games that now ran natively. With Netflix folks are complaining about it requiring the use of Google’s branded Chrome browser.”

Again, it won’t be long until other browsers will work with Netflix — Google just happened to be the first to arrive at the fair. As for DRM, that’s relevant if I’m buying a movie or music outright, but doesn’t and probably shouldn’t matter when it comes to streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu or Internet radio.

I don’t want to steal movies, I only want to watch them.

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

29 comments to Netflix, Chrome, DRM & Other Nasties

  • Mike

    I have a lot to say on this issue but not much time at the moment.

    For now, just a simple nitpick:
    You can’t steal a movie, unless you are actually breaking into the studio and taking the film reels.

    We have been conditioned by the big content owners to equate copyright infringement with stealing. They are not governed by the same laws and are not the same thing. I was disgusted recently when I saw some grade school curriculum regarding digital media that pushed very hard for the media conglomerates’ views on this topic. Brainwashing at an early age produces a docile public.

  • @Mike Indeed, you can steal intellectual property. The definition isn’t confined to physical things. This, from Merriam Webster:

    : to take (something that does not belong to you) in a way that is wrong or illegal

    : to take (something that you are not supposed to have) without asking for permission

    : to wrongly take and use (another person’s idea, words, etc.)

    There is much that is wrong with the way that copyrights are set-up in the U.S. — the term is much, much too long for example — but copyright infringement is as much theft as physically stealing something.

  • Mike

    “Indeed, you can steal intellectual property.”

    @Christine – No you can’t, at least not by copying. The only way you can steal information is to delete everyone else’s copy of it. The entire concept of intellectual property is nonsense. The very words – intellectual property – set up the expectation that knowledge is a finite resource and can be stolen, like a car. If I copy an idea, I do not deprive anyone else of that idea, therefore it is not stealing. The MW definition specifically mentions ‘to take’, which implies depriving someone else of something. The last entry ‘to wrongly take and use’ is about plagiarism, not copying information.

    Anything else is purely an artificial construct designed to preserve profitability of a product.

  • If you steal a copy of an ebook, you’re depriving the writer and the publisher of their income — and you’re stealing some of the hard work that the writer put into the writing the book without compensating him for his work. The same is true for music, movies and software. In fact, the GPL depends on copyright laws for enforcement.

    In the best of all possible worlds, copyrights might not be necessary — but we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. Artists need to be compensated for their work and the copyright laws are the best we have.

    That being said, I don’t see anything in the definition of the word “steal” that stealing has to deprive someone of something.

  • JustDave

    …but where does the line get drawn?
    Give me Adobe products because I prefer them to Gimp and Blender.
    Give me NERO I prefer that burner over Brasero or K3b.
    The list could go on and on and before you know it you have a MacOSX / Windows like Operating System, full of proprietary software with whatever backdoor intrusion they come with. Next you will need a full firewall/anti-virus to combat the vulnerabilities in the proprietary software that no one can patch or fix because the source code is closed/locked.

  • Mike

    > “If you steal a copy of an ebook, you’re depriving the writer and the publisher of their income — and you’re stealing some of the hard work that the writer put into the writing the book without compensating him for his work.”

    Ok, you don’t understand what I’m getting at.

    Your ebook example mixes two orthogonal issues:
    1) The author deserves compensation for their work.
    2) Usage of (not stealing) said ebook.

    There is no reason these two things must be correlated. Example: Say I gather investors or crowdfund to publish an ebook I wish to write or have already written. I reach a level I consider fair compensation for my work and release it to the world. Everyone can freely use it, trade it, eat it, or whatever they like.

    The problem you have in seeing my point of view is you are stuck in the view of information as property. Copyright supposedly limits author compensation to a fixed period of time (because surely you don’t believe the author deserves to be compensated ad infinitum for a finite amount of work, right?) but through DRM this can be controlled in perpetuity. Being paid a finite amount up-front for a finite amount of effort solves the problem.

  • JustDave

    It is not like you need Netflix because without it you cannot watch any movies or tv shows on your GNU/Linux desktop …you can.

  • Mike

    @Christine – Another way to look at it:

    You say authors/musicians/filmmakers deserve to be compensated for their work. Do software developers?

    Somehow a number of software developers manage to get compensated for open source work. Being paid up-front is one way that can be accomplished. Why can’t the same be true for those other professions? The work they do is not more difficult or original than that done by software developers.

    The problem is the existing model treats information as property – it is not, and shouldn’t be treated that way.

    DRM is the antithesis of FOSS and should be treated as such.

  • Copyleft

    Quote “In fact, the GPL depends on copyright laws for enforcement.”

    I thought GPL used Copyleft ?

    Proprietary software developers use copyright to take away the users’ freedom; we use copyright to guarantee their freedom. That’s why we reverse the name, changing “copyright” into “copyleft.”

    http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/

  • @Copyleft Yes, this is all true. However, when FSF enforces the GPL license, they do so by enforcing their copyright on the software.

    @Mike We will agree to disagree. However you are wrong in your assessment that I am “stuck in the view of information as property.” As a person who is probably more left leaning and progressive than you will ever be, still carrying scars from the 1960s to prove it, nothing can be further from the truth. However, I’m not living in the Utopian society that I might prefer, but must deal with the realities of life in the U.S. during the early decades of the 21st century.

    Oh, and good luck with your crowdfunding efforts that will allow you to take five years off work to write a novel.

  • Mike

    > “Oh, and good luck with your crowdfunding efforts that will allow you to take five years off work to write a novel.”

    @Christine – Sorry, but that’s BS. Software projects can take just as long and involve just as much work as any book or movie (I would argue that software actually requires more in many cases). You simply need to rethink how you go about it.

    If it can work for software developers, it can work for all the others as well. It’s hypocritical to think somehow a novelist’s work is somehow more deserving of protection than a software developer’s.

  • “It’s hypocritical to think somehow a novelist’s work is somehow more deserving of protection than a software developer’s.”

    @Mike I never said that. Those are words you put in my mouth. I think software developers deserve the same protections as anyone else. I said, “The same is true for music, movies and software.” How you took that to mean that I was excluding software is beyond me.

  • Mike

    >> “It’s hypocritical to think somehow a novelist’s work is somehow more deserving of protection than a software developer’s.”

    Apologies, I didn’t mean for that statement to be directed at you specifically, it was intended as a statement of fact.

  • tracyanne

    Christine. Copying an ebook or a movie or music or even Proprietary software, for that matter is not and can never be theft. The creator/copyright owner (not necessarily the same person btw) still has their original copy.

    If I am to copy that ebook/movie/music/software and use/read/view/listen without the creator/copyright owners permission, I may have deprived that person of income (they also gain no income if I have no interest at all in the item), but I have stolen nothing. The creater/copyright owner still has their original copy.

    In addition I have deprived them of income in exactly the same manner in which I deprive them of income, if a friend loans me a hard copy of the book, a DVD of the Movie, a CD of the Music, and the use of their computer with the proprietary software installed. Because clearly I did not shell out money for the item.

    In both cases, hard copy or digital the creator/copyright owner still has the original. And in both cases I have enjoyed (or not) the book, the movie, the music, the software, without recompense to the creator/copyright owner, and I have stolen nothing.

    The creator/copyright owner has only lost potential income, which is quite different from them being mugged.

    This is not a defence of copyright infringement aka piracy (which is quite a different thing, and people get killed during acts of piracy), and btw it is not I who have committed copyright infringement by downloading or borrowing, it is the person who made the download available/ loaned me the item.

    Just because a powerful and very wealthy lobby group attempts to frame it as theft does not make it so.

  • Mike

    If reading an ebook without permission is theft, then what is reading a book at a library?

    Large copyright holders would gladly suppress the ability for you to share a book, or watch a movie with friends, all in the name of higher profits. After all, copyright law means you can only watch a legally purchased movie with your family through the permission of the owner. In reality, it’s only because they lack the ability to enforce their copyright on a more granular level. But technology will eventually change that, and everyone will pay everytime they read a book, or watch a movie and all forms of sharing will be outlawed. Don’t believe me? You should.

    DRM is the enemy of freedom.

  • Mike

    “Digital rights management always converges on malware.”
    – Cory Doctorow

    Perhaps the best article on the subject ever written:
    http://boingboing.net/2012/01/10/lockdown.html

    We must definitively reject DRM on music, movies, books, and software if we want a free society.

  • CFWhitman

    I also have a problem with copyright infringement being referred to as “stealing.” Stealing has in fact always meant that you are depriving someone else of what you were taking. In fact, the definitions given by Webster’s agree with this by using the word “take.” Taking something is a very different thing than copying something.

    The third definition does not mean “take” in the same way exactly, but it is actually a reference to taking credit for words or ideas you got from someone else, not simply using them (everyone who hears words or ideas uses them (or rejects them); they would not be any good to anyone if they were not used).

    Of course, just because copyright infringement is not stealing doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. Generally infringement that is clearly morally objectionable (beyond being illegal) involves dishonesty of some kind (like selling pirated copies as though they were authorized copies). Then there are practical and legal reasons not to infringe copyright.

    Copyright is a complicated issue, but to accept that “intellectual property” can be “stolen” implies things that are not true and supports ideas that are very damaging and hypocritical, like perpetual copyright.

  • Unbeknownst

    Wow, again this discussion… as if this subject hasn’t been under scrutiny from all sides by everyone… well, I might as well give my opinion.

    First, what is stealing? When I jump ahead of someone waiting to be served and get served even if such person has come first — can we say I stole his turn? Well, in my language we do say that.

    Nonetheless, there’s a precise legal definition of what “stealing” is. Depriving someone of a fair compensation isn’t it — it’s another kind of illegality (at least, over here). Also, producing pirate copies and selling then is also not configured as stealing here, but is some other thing.

    These distinctions are important, even though for non-lawyer people (like me!) stealing pretty much sums up the idea. Another example is piracy, which involves pillage, while modern (wrong) usage describes illegal copying as pirating.

    Why people use such names? One reason is lack of vocabulary: misdemeanor, felony, etc. are less common and less known words. Another reason might veiled interest: one can lobby for harsher penalties if describing the situation in a exaggerated manner. We cannot allow such kind of distorted thinking, as it is aimed at turning the Law against people. Same thing for patents, created to protect inventors, and now a tool for great corporations to exploit said inventors and protect themselves against innovation.

    The essential point is that, generally, F/OSS people abhor depriving someone of due pay. The concept of copying proprietary software or artworks is also abominable — this is obvious, otherwise F/OSS people would simply forget all that Freedom-related trouble.

    But lots of people on this world simply don’t care about F/OSS and “steal” e.g. Windows and jokingly say “it’s free”. This obviously some kind of illegality and it’s in our foremost interest that it be stopped, because that would enhance the attractiveness of F/OSS software, absent a non-paid, even if illegal, alternative.

    In a sense, I’m also against DRM, because it is an anti-freedom mechanism. Also, as Tracyanne mentions, users have legal rights (e.g. lending a book) and these should not be affected by DRM. So the DRM workings are far from perfect or even correct.

    Finally, I think we should consider what is being done. Does Netflix want to rule the world? No. Does it prevent others from not using DRM? No. Is it abusively expensive? Not in many countries, except perhaps those which are so poor that their problems are much greater than not being able to watch movies. I don’t intend to have proprietary software in my main computers, but I could set aside a notebook to watch Netflix at home. In fact, I was almost accepting using Android for that. Linux is simply better in a number of ways.

    I also believe we’ll always have that situation: someone devises some new thing and charges for that… until Freedom forces catch up and make it a commodity. This forces folks to come up with new technology, preventing them from sitting on a lot of money and doing nothing (which is our current situation with proprietary software).

    Thus, _IMHO_, F/OSS is kind of a ordering and motivating force in the world, a powerful tool which should be better used by everyone.

  • Mike

    As the article I linked to implies: DRM implications go far, far beyone mere copyright and “piracy” issues.

    FOSS alone is not a complete solution. It is possible to take completely free software and place it in a device that is cryptographically locked to prevent tampering, which means the end user has no control over its behavior whatsoever. “Won’t happen”, you say? Consider a Chromecast, or any number of locked Android devices.

    Maybe on the day that all consumer hardware is locked in such a way that FOSS for all practical purposes ceases to exist, and all significant digital media is locked away behind DRM controlled paywalls, and truly private correspondence is impossible, then people will realize how high the stakes really are.

  • Michael R

    “Since the statutorily defined property rights of a copyright holder have a character distinct from the possessory interest of the owner of simple “goods, wares, [or] merchandise,” interference with copyright does not easily equate with theft, conversion, or fraud. The infringer of a copyright does not assume physical control over the copyright nor wholly deprive its owner of its use. Infringement implicates a more complex set of property interests than does run-of-the-mill theft, conversion, or fraud.”
    ** US Supreme Court

  • @Michael R Good work! Now we have case law and everybody’s point is made — and I am proven wrong 🙂 . Legally, copyright infringement does not constitute theft.

    I love the readers of this site!

  • Mike

    I think this entire discussion highlights the insidiousness of the media industry’s efforts to equate copyright infringement with theft. As I said before, their twisted view is being drilled into grade school children.

  • @Mike Does that mean you think copyright infringement to be okay?

  • Mike

    @Christine

    It depends on the situation. I certainly don’t see it the way the industry would like me to, which is as a major crime. I suppose you could look upon certain infringement as a form of civil disobedience, especially where DRM is concerned.

    Currently, things like ‘fair use’ are very nebulously defined and largely misunderstood by the public, meaning anyone using making a backup of a work, for example, is unable to determine if they are actually using a work within their rights unless tested in a court of law. According to the law you cannot preemptively determine fair use. A copyright holder can take you to court for virtually any reason, and only the court can determine if your specific case merits fair use protection.

    I believe copyright should allow an author to have some small control over a work for a very limited amount of time, no more than five or ten years. Furthermore, copyrights should not be allowed to be transferred from the original owner, except perhaps to a descendant upon the author’s death and still subject to the original time limit. Fair use should be rigorously defined to include the ability to transfer a work to another medium, or make backup copies, or even to deconstruct and investigate a work to allow for research that is currently being stifled. Horrendous laws like the DMCA need to be removed from the books.

    Beyond this, I believe DRM is an abuse of copyright power.

    I’m not kidding about the quality of that article from Cory Doctorow – It is a bit of a read, but it is well worth it.

  • @Mike We’re pretty much in agreement. I’m absolutely opposed to DRM when it comes to purchases. I think that if you buy a song, movie etc., you should be able to freely move it around to your different devices and pretty much do what you want. DRM on streaming services doesn’t bother me so much. As for the time limit — when I was growing up, a copyright lasted for 28 years, which I thought was fair. Under current U.S. law, a copyright can be in effect for well over a hundred years, which is absolutely unacceptable as far as I’m concerned.

    I’ll read Doctorow’s article as soon as I get the chance. Thanks for the heads-up.

  • Mike

    The issue I have with DRM extends to streaming because as technology improves and bandwidth increases it becomes ever more likely that content holders will switch entirely to that model, meaning you will never own any media again.

    Doctorow’s article is an excellent read regarding copyright and DRM, but it’s main point is about the implications that lie beyond the copyright battle…what is to come next.

  • Ricardo

    I know, I always chime in late but I wanted to give my $ 0.02 (plus taxes 🙂 ).

    When it comes to copyrigth/theft discussions, I always remember a quote that goes something like:

    “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange them, then we’ll both have an apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange tham, then we’ll both have *two* ideas.”

    That makes it pretty easy for me to see the difference between theft and copyright infringement.

    Cheers.

  • Unbeknownst

    Late to the discussion, but I thought this is meaningful…

    From Wikipedia — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erga_omnes :

    “In international law it has been used as a legal term describing obligations owed by states towards the community of states as a whole. An erga omnes obligation exists because of the universal and undeniable interest in the perpetuation of critical rights (and the prevention of their breach). Consequently, any state has the right to complain of a breach. Examples of erga omnes norms include piracy, genocide, slavery, torture, and racial discrimination.”

    I’m totally in favor of having easy ways to pay to authors for creative works. I would even discuss differences between a show and a book. What I cannot bear is naming unpaid and unlicensed use of proprietary works as “piracy”, which is a violent crime.

    Now, from that page, it becomes obvious why they want that. How would you convince another country to protect your rights? Simple, put your problem among more serious ones.

    They think we’re stupid enough to fall for that. I guess they overestimated us.

  • Mike

    An example of the insanity that results from DRM and laws like the DMCA:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegal_prime