Do you care about Free Software? Linux? Firefox? Open Office? The GIMP? Well, as software users you should. It’s software made by users for users. And even if you choose to use commercial software, Free Software is what gives you choice. Classic capitalism always gyrates against monopolies or duopolies, in other words against a status where the major players peacefully coexist, keeping prices high, innovation low, and always forcing you, the consumer, to upgrade or buy anew because of planned obsolescence.
It’s true, capitalism is extremely innovative in dynamic markets, but once the few biggest players have bought all the smaller ones, it all goes into stasis and the formerly innovative companies tend to replace innovation with litigation and lobbying. It’s sad but true, we have seen it over and over again.
Free Software may look like it has won against the likes of Microsoft, but big business is still busy fighting against it, albeit no longer overtly. They try dirty tricks though. One of them is, to lobby governments or standards organizations into requiring proprietary software either by law or by making it impossible to implement a standard without paying patent licenses. It’s a dirty war and businesses won’t stop waging it. Why shouldn’t they, it’s in their interest.
Oh, let them, I hear you say, in reality it does not make a difference. This is how our economy soars and that’s good for everyone. Isn’t it?
Let me give you an example. There was a standard way to connect computers and monitors. It was called DVI, and there was a second way to do it, called DisplayPort. Basically they did that and only that, they were open and they solved all technical problems. DVI was the old technology that had a compatibility option with analog technology, and DisplayPort was the new, digital only technology. They only had one problem: they didn’t encrypt the signals.
Encryption of a video signal between computer and monitor is an insanely expensive and completely useless technology, at least from a consumer’s point of view. It makes perfect sense though, if you are the entertainment industry. For them it closes an interface that can be used to copy information sent from the computer to the monitor.
Basically the content industry forced the electronics industry to implement HDMI, a connection standard that is complicated and expensive, because core components can only be built by using patented technology. Using that approach, it was guaranteed that nobody could legally create open-source HDMI adapters. There are some more aspects to the story, but that’s the management summary.
And now they try it again. This time they try to lobby or bully the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C, the web’s de-facto standards body) into including provisions for DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) into the Web’s future language, HTML5.
DRM is by definition a proprietary technology, it is covered by a cobweb of patents, and it is not possible to fully implement DRM in Free Software. Sure, Google Chrome is open source and free as in beer, but Google is a big company and you cannot expect it to any more adhere to the former motto of “not doing evil”. The way they have stopped Reader has shown that Google can’t be trusted any more. In the long run Mozilla Firefox may be the only truly free browser on the market, the only browser not completely controlled by a single company. Yes, they partially also depend on Google’s money, but Google does not control them. Nobody does.
Having DRM as a part of HTML would completely change the picture. Suddenly no free browser could be competitive any more, and this is not because DRM is so hard to implement, it is because it is protected by patents.
In other words, please go and sign this petition to the W3C. Together we are strong, together our voice will be heard. That is not a guarantee for victory, but it is a good start, and at least it worked against ACTA, PIPA and SOPA.