August 5, 2016 | By Cory Doctorow

DRM: You have the right to know what you're buying!

Today, the EFF and a coalition of organizations and individuals asked the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to explore fair labeling rules that would require retailers to warn you when the products you buy come locked down by DRM ("Digital Rights Management" or "Digital Restrictions Management"). 

These digital locks train your computerized devices to disobey you when you ask them to do things the manufacturer didn't specifically authorize -- even when those things are perfectly legal. Companies that put digital locks on their products -- ebook, games and music publishers, video companies, companies that make hardware from printers to TVs to cat litter trays -- insist that DRM benefits their customers, by allowing the companies to offer products at a lower price by taking away some of the value -- you can "rent" an ebook or a movie, or get a printer at a price that only makes sense if you also have to buy expensive replacement ink.

We don't buy it. We think that the evidence is that customers don't much care for DRM (when was the last time you woke up and said, "Gosh, I wish there was a way I could do less with my games?"). Studies agree.

The FTC is in charge of making sure that Americans don't get ripped off when they buy things. We've written the Commission a letter, drafted and signed by a diverse coalition of public interest groups, publishers, and rightsholders, calling on the agency to instruct retailers to inform potential customers of the restrictions on the products they're selling. In a separate letter, we detail the stories of 22 EFF supporters who unwittingly purchased DRM-encumbered products and later found themselves unable to enjoy their purchases (a travel guide that required a live internet connection to unlock, making it unreadable on holiday), or locked into an abusive relationship with their vendors (a cat litter box that only worked if resupplied with expensive detergent), or even had other equipment they owned rendered permanently inoperable by the DRM in a new purchase (for example, a game that "bricked" a customer's DVD-RW drive).

Now the FTC has been equipped with evidence that there are real harms, and that rightsholders are willing to have fair labeling practices, the FTC should act. And if the DRM companies are so sure that their customers love their products, why would they object?

EFF is currently suing the US government to invalidate Section 1201 of the DMCA, a law that has been used to threaten research into the security risks of DRM and inhibit the development of products and tools that break digital locks -- again, even if the purpose is otherwise legal (like letting you read your books on an alternate reader, or put a different brand of perfume in your cat litter box). Until we win our lawsuit, people who buy DRM-locked products are unlikely to be rescued from their lock-in by add-ons that restore functionality to their property. That makes labeling especially urgent: it's bad enough to be stuck with product that is defective by design, but far worse if those defects can't be fixed without risking legal retaliation.

For the full letter to the FTC about labeling:
https://www.eff.org/document/eff-letter-ftc-re-drm-labeling

For the full letter to the FTC with the stories of people who've been harmed by DRM they weren't informed of:
https://www.eff.org/files/2016/08/06/eff_request_for_investigation_re_labeling_drm-limited_products.pdf


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