Day Against DRM: Living with digital restrictions

Today is the 9th annual Free Software Foundation (FSF) International Day Against DRM. I’m taking this opportunity to share some thoughts how Digital Rights Management (DRM) influences my everyday life.’s DRM Warning Badge

I haven’t boycotted the products and services from every digitally restricted service. Although, I often think that I should have. I still can’t consume most of the digital content I’ve bought under Linux. This is annoying and inconvenient enough on its own; when it comes to platform lock-ins for apps and games things get outright frustrating.

Eleven months ago, Nintendo shut down the online services for their Wii gaming systems, effectively killing the platform as an online arena and pushing players to upgrade to the Wii U. That was only one and a half year after they released the Wii U! Needless to say, I haven’t bought many games for the Wii U that I bought just days before Nintendo’s announcement.

I’m pleased to see Microsoft and Sony not shutting down their online services for their aging Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 systems. It’s only a matter of time before the economics passes a certain level and they shut the systems down. The Xbox 360 will probably have a longer shelf life, as their online service is a paid subscription. Unless users unsubscribe en masse, it can keep going for a good few more years.

I’d probably be willing to pay more for games if their license included a clause that the game would be open-sourced ten years after release. They could charge more as the game could be kept playable on new platforms and operating systems by enthusiasts.

On the media side, I’ve been stopped from consuming content from many DRM controlled providers. I’ve bought a movie or two from the Xbox Video Store and Google Play Movie Store that had DRM. Xbox Videos don’t work on Linux, PlayStation 4, nor Google’s Android, and Play Movies don’t work on Linux, Xbox One, nor PlayStation 5.

However, I haven’t bought nearly the same number of movies as I did in the past. Finding a movie I want to watch takes time and effort, remembering where I bought it takes time and effort, finding out why it wouldn’t play right now and whether to restart the stream takes time and effort. I’ve got to be super interested in a movie for it to be worth the sheer nonsense with the overhead and frustration.

I’ve also unsubscribed from Netflix’s streaming TV and video offers. They kept unlisting shows I liked watching and they did it while I was mid-season! The selection on Netflix in my region is still not great. Not being allowed to watch it from my Linux laptop also lowered Netflix’s value considerably. I’m sure all of this makes a few rights-holders out there very happy. As a consumer of these services, it makes me want to go and cry in a corner.

I had one big scare back in February with my account. After logging in, I found my library contained zero audiobooks. I started panicking a bit as I’ve spent quite a bit of money on my audiobook library over the years. I checked the app and found my library there was also empty. Logged out of the website and app, and logged back in. Everything was back to normal and I’d a fully stacked digital audiobook library after re-authenticating.

It freaked me out thinking I could lose access to all my books just like that. Audible allow their users to download their audiobook library as .aax files. Nothing on the planet except Audible’s mobile apps and iTunes can play this audio format. Each player must be authenticated by logging in with the Audible account associated with the files. So, this as a backup venue is mostly a useless gesture. Audible says that I purchase audiobooks from them. This isn’t true when they retain absolute control over whether I can open the files I purchase or not. launched a web player half a year ago. It uses the Silverlight plug-in for playback and DRM management. The player performs badly on Mac and is entirely unavailable on Linux and on mobile devices. Great forward-thinking vision for the open web there, Audible.

Audible ends all audiobooks with an authoritarian announcer in a low bitrate saying “Audible hopes you’ve enjoyed this program.” Whenever I hear that at the end of a good book, I think “I hope this wasn’t the last time I got to enjoy it. They may take away the DRM server at any time!” The same thought pops up from time to time relating to all the games, movies, and other digital content I’ve “bought.”