Free Software enforcing DRM?!

May 30th, 2009

So I just recently switched to KDE 4 (still using it with xmonad, of course) and I just now ran into my first really big annoyance.

I just downloaded a PDF, and tried to copy and paste a bit of text from it. I used the selection tool, and Okular (KDE’s document viewer) offered to speak it to me, but said “Copy forbidden by DRM.”

pdftotext was able to convert the entire file to text format in an instant.

Why are people intentionally adding code to KDE to remove my freedom? This is crazy and nuts. Nobody should be doing this, least of all in Free Software!

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  1. jim

    Just go to the preferences and turn off the “Obey DRM” option.

    Reply

  2. Tim

    Debian ships software with DRM enabled !!111eleven!!

    And I write lots of words before I check the first config window!!

    Huzzah for lameness!

    Reply

    Anon Reply:

    Except that it doesn’t! Debian defaults to GNOME, not KDE. If you use GNOME it doesn’t, because GNOME uses a different PDF reader (evince instead of Okular).

    11!eleven1one!!~

    Reply

  3. Michael "Why enable by default?" Howell

    Why is it enabled by default? More importantly, isn’t it useless to have it at all if it’s possible to turn it off?

    The whole point of DRM is that you cannot turn it off….

    Reply

  4. anon

    actually, as per the pdf spec, they are forced to implement those restrictions under penalty of legal action

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    I don’t believe it for one second. Nobody is forcing you to be SMTP compliant, and this is no different. It’s not like it’s a circumvention device under DMCA. If you don’t implement the feature that honors this flag, you simply haven’t implemented a feature.

    Reply

  5. Michael "Fast" Howell

    @anon: “they are forced to implement those restrictions under penalty of legal action”
    Way to reply quickly… I wonder if allowing one to disable it invalidates their compliance.

    Reply

  6. Adeodato Simó

    I don’t think it’s particularly lame not to think such thing could be
    disabled via the preferences dialog. You can stay tuned to
    http://lists.debian.org/debian-devel/2009/05/msg00879.html, we may get
    an answer why that option exists and why it defaults to obeying DRM
    restrictions.

    Reply

  7. xian

    As I recall there was also debate about it in KDE when first developed. It was argued that some companies might require drm pdf compliance to be able to use the software. Having the option there allows regular users to turn it off, but could be forced on for a corporate desktop (yay KDE’s kiosk framework). If there was no option for drm companies might not even be able to deploy a KDE desktop.

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    In that case, they should at least ship it disabled by default, and make it clear from the error message where to go to tweak it. It is not at all intuitive to go looking for a “disable DRM” option in some config panel.

    Reply

    xian Reply:

    The default does not really bother me one way or the other. However, if you were in a company that locked in the use of drm, it would be lame if ocular displayed a message saying “you can’t due this activity due to drm, uncheck the drm box in the options” only to have the option disabled by your administrator. Basically, I can see the use case for why the drm functionality is there, and I can see why it would be a whole lot of work to build various error messages for all kinds of scenarios when I don’t really think it is a big problem. I look at it as if you had windows on your desk with acrobat, and it gets replaced with KDE and ocular that acts the same way, life is plain easier for you.

    None of this is to say that I like drm or anything, but I can see why it acts the way it acts. Also we get the checkbox to disable it, yay.

    Reply

  8. basic

    believe it or not xpdf (the code which almost all free software PDF viewers are based on) has been doing this for years (and it’s shipped enabled by default). My guess is that they are following xpdf.

    The rational the xpdf author give can be found here http://www.foolabs.com/xpdf/cracking.html

    My guess is that your pdftotext (which uses the same xpdf code I believe) has the DRM disabled by your distro?

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    I don’t understand how Adobe can require him to adhere to it. It’s an ISO standard; it’s not as if he has to have Adobe’s permission to write xpdf or anything. There’s nothing illegal about software violating specs. My goodness, if there were, Microsoft would have gone out of business long ago.

    That is quite possible that Debian may have patched out the DRM in xpdf.

    Reply

  9. Jeff Schroeder

    fyi: Gnome’s PDF browser, evince, does NOT exhibit this problem for the same reason you mention.

    Reply

  10. foo

    So, you respect Free Software licenses but don’t want to respect the ‘license’ of the PDF you are looking at?

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    There is no license that we’re talking about; it’s just a bit.

    And anyway, software can’t violate licenses; only humans can.

    Reply

    foo Reply:

    Both your responses are technicalities.

    My question could perhaps be rewritten as follows to allow you to understand it better:

    You respect copyright (and authors rights) on freely licensed and distributed works but not on proprietary works?

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    Again, it has nothing to do with it.

    Copyright law says that I can make copies of it under certain fair use permissions. Whether or not I can cut and paste, or must retype, is completely orthogonal to the issue.

  11. Ana’s blog » Blog Archive » The freedom to choose

    [...] John, no need to be so alarmist, this is KDE, look at the options: [...]

  12. Michael "Licensing" Howell

    @John Goerzen: “I don’t understand how Adobe can require him to adhere to it.”
    I think that Adobe has patents on the PDF specification, and licenses it the same way a copyright license can be put on software. You either work under the Adobe license, which allows you to implement under restriction, or regular patent law, which doesn’t let you implement at all.

    Reply

    rjc Reply:

    PDF is an ISO standard.

    Reply

    Michael "RAND" Howell Reply:

    @rjc: “PDF is an ISO standard.”
    So is OOXML…

    More importantly, and to the point, ISO does not require submitted specifications to be open specs. They merely require that they be licensed reasonably and non-descriminatorily (is that a word?). Requiring implementors to do DRM is (controversially) reasonable, and it is definitely non-discriminatory (applies to everyone).

    Reply

  13. Kurt Häusler

    I can understand why a distro like debian would leave this option switched on by default, it is similar to the way semi or non free repositories also have to manually enabled.

    It is to protect the user from unknowingly breaking or contradicting the wishes of content creators, who are not always “big evil corporations”, as well as helping to ensure not only a legally, but a morally clean system.

    Debian users in particular realise how important voluntary acceptance and compliance of licenses like the GPL is, and go to great lengths to avoid breaching such terms, it seems to me that enabling this option by default is in accordance with the same spirit of respecting the wishes of people who generously contributed content, but still wish to apply certain restrictions.

    Basically the decision to act in a way opposing the wishes of someone else should be deliberate rather than accidental.

    Reply

  14. Kurt Häusler

    “Why are people intentionally adding code to KDE to remove my freedom? This is crazy and nuts. Nobody should be doing this, least of all in Free Software!”

    Actually, before you did not have the freedom to avoid breaching the wishes of the content creator. The decision was hidden from you and made on your behalf.

    Now the power to think about, and make the decision thoughtfully, consciously and mindfully of the moral consequences has been returned to you.

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    I do not respect the wishes of a content creator that seeks to remove my freedom. Period. It was unethical of them to do so, and there is nothing unethical about me doing something perfectly legal with the file.

    Reply

    Tom DuBuisson Reply:

    Kurt,
    This point was raised before – see the above conversation between John and Foo. It boils down to copy/pasting data, even from a copyrighted file, being fair use – which any University student who has presented a paper should know.

    Reply

  15. foo

    It’s a good thing that the default is turned on (and now I explain why). The only problem, is that the app should teach you how to disable restrictions inmediately, which I don’t remember if it does.

    Why DRM on by default is important? Because otherwise you could download or buy a PDF with DRM, open it with okular to read it, print it and copy text from it without problems, but when you bring the file to a computer you don’t own and only has Acrobat, now, when maybe it’s too late, you realise you can’t do that anymore.

    I think that is pretty important to allow users to bypass DRM, but also to make them well aware that some authors or publishers are encouraging stupid limitations on their rights. That way users will be better informed of which authors/publishers should be avoided.

    Reply

  16. gjv

    The point you have been attempting to make has not been missed. It is however a technicality in light of how our current copyright laws are broken. I would encourage anyone who does not understand what is at stake to review the video at the website link provided. Beleaguering these types of “DRM as a feature” types of issues may actually in the end work against the principles you seem to want to uphold vis a vis the rights of the content creator.

    Reply

  17. Rich

    At least it’s optional! Sumatra PDF is under the GPLv3, but enforces the same copy protections, and the author refuses to even make it an option:

    https://code.google.com/p/sumatrapdf/issues/detail?id=2003

    This is completely antithetical to the principles of free software. I don’t understand how so many of these open source developers can justify writing code that restricts fair use rights. It boggles the mind how they can continue to make arguments that this is a good thing while simultaneously writing Free software.

    Reply

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