by Bill Xu, Richard Stallman

Throughout human history, people with lofty ideals have fought for human freedom. In the 70s and 80s, with the spread of proprietary software, the users lost the freedom to cooperate, and lost control of their computers to the proprietary software developers.  When Richard Stallman recognized this social and ethical problem, he launched development of the GNU operating system ( and established the Free Software Foundation (  In the area of law, he developed "copyleft" and the GNU GPL. As a result of the free software movement, we now have an entirely free operating system, GNU/Linux.  With the help of GNU GPL, we have thousands of other free software packages.  Now it is possible once again for computer users to have freedom to share and to control what their computers do--if they insist on free software.

Anti DRM

(photo 1: The public action of anti-DRM in USA)

In the 23 years since that effort began, computing has changed greatly. There are many new threats to the freedom of human beings in the digital age.  DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) refers to a class of software designed specifically to restrict its own users. DRM can stop you from copying files, stop you from viewing them, even stop you from keeping them. So the real abbreviation of DRM should be Digital Restriction Management. Companies impose DRM on the public in order to profit from the power it gives them. We need to think of DRM as a threat to our own freedom.

Apple DRM

(photo 2: What do the Apple users get with the DRM help?)

It's time for us to appeal the people and the government against DRM. In this article, I'll discuss more detail about DRM with Richard Stallman, and let you know what's the truth about DRM, and the latest progress of anti-DRM in the world.

Bill Xu:
Dear Richard, how are you? Though DRM has been there for many years, but many people still don't know it well. Could you please tell us what is DRM and how you think about DRM?

Richard Stallman:
Digital Restrictions Management refers to the practice of designing programs to restrict their users.  These programs have been equipped with the functionality of refusing to function.  They are not designed to work for you, they are designed to control you.

Bill Xu:
As we know, FSF launched a campaign to eliminate DRM. What's the latest progress?

Richard Stallman:
The overall goal of this campaign is to make people aware of DRM and how it shackles computer users, and organize people to oppose it as a political question.

The method being used is a series of public actions.  The idea is that each action draws attention to the issue, and recruit more support, so that the next action can be bigger.  We have had 3 actions in about 2 months, which means we're still at the beginning stage.

With time, we will succeed more or succeed less.  You can help us succeed by participating through

Bill Xu:
I found that a Boston-based advocacy group launched an online petition asking Bono to take a stand with them against DRM, and I signed too. They'll send the printed version of the petition to Bono and the ones that are randomly selected. Why do you chose Bono? Will Bono stand with us? And what do you want to say to the Chinese artists.

Richard Stallman:
The people in charge of the campaign are Henri Poole and Peter Brown; they chose this plan.  I don't know much about Bono, partly because I don't usually like the music styles that are popular in the US.  I gather that he campaigns for other idealistic causes, so he might listen to ours.

My message to musicians in China and elsewhere is that they should denounce the record companies which use them as an excuse to grab more power over the public.  The same record companies that treat musicians very badly (except for a few long-established superstars) demand power over us in those musicians' name.  The more power the record companies get, the more they will mistreat music listeners and musicians.

If you are a musician and not a superstar, you will do better by being friendly with your fans, than by threatening to punish them for sharing your music.  Sharing is part of social solidarity, and sharing music is part of loving music.  Musicians who love music should not oppose sharing.

Bill Xu:
One of main purpose of GNU GPL v3 is anti-DRM. As I know, Linus Torvalds don't support it at first, and he thought DRM is good, it's useful to improve the software security, and didn't plan to use the GNU GPL v3 as the license of Linux Kernel in the future, that is, he will continue to use GNU GPL v2. I personally think this is a bad news for the free software community. Did you discuss this with Linus in person? What's the latest progress now?

Richard Stallman:
Torvalds disapproves of GPL v3 because he rejects its goal of protecting users' freedom from tivoization.  Since we are not particularly friends, I don't think he would listen to me.  I hope he will change his mind, but I don't think my talking with him is likely to achieve that result.

Readers can judge for themselves whether they want to surrender to tivoization, or resist with GPL v3.

Bill Xu:
Someone said that GNU/Linux system will be discarded in the consumer electronics market, if it won't support DRM. How do you think about this?

Richard Stallman:
Anyone can make GNU/Linux support DRM.  GNU/Linux is free software, and anyone is free to add whatever functionality he wants to add -- or whatever limitations and lack of functionality he wants to add -- in his own version.  And anyone is free to offer that version to you, if you want it.  Whether you accept it is up to you.

GPL version 3 won't change this, because it will be a free software license.  Under GPL v2 or GPL v3, companies will still be able to distribute versions of GNU/Linux that are designed to restrict you. They will also be able to ship proprietary applications that run on top of GNU/Linux and restrict the user.

However, these companies are usually not satisfied with designing the system to restrict you; they want to go even further.  They want to make sure you can't possibly change the system to remove the restrictions.  That is where they collide with the GNU GPL.

The GNU GPL is a special kind of free software license: it is a "copyleft" license.  That means every distributor is required to make the source code available, and required to recognize your freedom to change the software.  They can put in DRM features, if they wish, because they have this freedom.  And you can take out those DRM features, because you too have this freedom.

DRM companies don't want you to have any freedom.  Their goal is to shackle you, and they don't want you to be free to remove the shackles.  So they design machines that refuse to run your modified versions.  (We call this "Tivoization" since the Tivo is the first product we know of which did this.)  In effect, they turn the GPL's freedoms into a sham.

That is where GPL version 3 will make a difference.  GPL version 3 is designed to stop tivoization.  It will require them to give you the means to authorize your own versions, so that they will run in your machine.

Will GPL version 3 stop GNU/Linux from supporting DRM?  No.  But it will stop DRM from being imposed on you in a way that you can't get rid of it.  That is how we are fighting against DRM -- not by trying to prohibit it, but by making sure you are free to change it.

It is no surprise that, our adversaries predict that our campaign will fail.  Predicting defeat for the enemy is a tactic thousands of years old.  It costs them nothing to make such predictions.  Since they are talking about the future, even if these predictions are absurd and exaggerated we cannot say they lied.  Not in the strict sense of the word "lie".

These predictions that resistance is futile try to discourage us, so we will surrender without a fight.  They also try to distract us from what really matters (freedom) by offering us something unimportant (popularity for our code) as a substitute.

We will not fall for their tactics, and we will not give in, because we are fighting for our freedom.  The aim of free software is that the users should have control of their own computers (and freedom to share).  If you can't change the software in your machine because it has been tivoized, that freedom is gone.  We will fight against tivoization in order to keep our freedom.

Bill Xu:
If some free software companies, such as RedHat, support DRM, what should we do? Does FSF usually give a lawsuit to the companies that act against GNU GPL?

Richard Stallman:
If they violate the GNU GPL, using FSF-copyrighted software, we will take legal action.  However, as explained above, simply implementing intentional limitations in a GPL-covered program does not violate the GPL, and will not violate GPL version 3.  So there is no occasion for legal action because of that.  And if they support DRM in non-free applications, since those are not covered by the GPL and we are not their copyright holder, we have no say in the matter legally.

What we will say is that DRM mistreats the public, and so does non-free software.

And with GPL version 3, if anyone tries to tivoize our software, we will be able to take legal action against that.

Bill Xu:
Many big companies ,especially those companies that want to use DRM, are trying to decrease the consumer's control of computer, by controlling the computer themselves. Then the consumer lost the freedom again. And they usually call this "Trusted Computing". What is the truth about "Trusted Computing"?

Richard Stallman:
That term refers to the conspiracy of a group of megacorporations to change the design of all future computers.  The idea is that they will be able to trust your computer to obey them--instead of you.

They call this "trusted computing"; we call it "treacherous computing".  These terms reflect different points of view.  From the point of view of the companies that want to cripple your future computers, it's "trusted".  From your point of view, it's treacherous.

More precisely, their plan is to build limits into future computers so that there will be jobs you cannot program them to do.  For instance, there will be web sites  that you can't program the machine to talk to, or files that you can't program the machine to access.  They literally won't work with any program that you might write.  Only programs that are specially authorized will be able to access these files or these sites.

In other words, these "computers" won't be real computers.  A computer is a universal machine: one that can be programmed to do any task that can be done, to do anything that any other machine could have done. When the machine is designed to be impossible for the user to program to do certain jobs, it isn't a real computer.

I am not speculating when I speak of a conspiracy of companies.  This conspiracy is not secret -- it even has a web site.  Today's megacorporations are so arrogant that they don't bother to disguise their plots to restrict the public.  They think they rule the world. We need to show them they do not.

Bill Xu:
OK, thank you very much for your wonderful point of view. I wish DRM will be eliminated. and GNU GPL v3 keep to success in the future, we own the freedom in the digital time forever. Let's stay in touch on the latest progress of anti-DRM, and do the further interview in the coming future.

Richard Stallman:
I hope so, I look forward to it, thank you.

A few months ago, I did an interview named "We Touch Chen's Steamed Bread", which is about an excellent parody of "The Promise", with Richard Stallman. With effective DRM, Hu would not have been able to produce his parody; and we would all have lost, because we could not have seen it.  DRM restricts everyone, and society loses. From this point of view, freedom(to share, to modify, and others) will lead to the innovation, and make the world better. We must protect our freedom.

Now, for our freedom, let's join the campaign against DRM!