A world without DRM and SaaSS

We all agree probably that DRM1 sucks and that we give more and more of our data out of our hands because it is convenient. Just recently I decided again to give Lastpass another try because it is far more convenient and better usable on Linux and in a cross-platform environment than the alternatives Keepass, Pass and 1Password. We also use Google Docs to collaborate, Dropbox to make our data easily available to all our device etc. In addition he says that you should only use free formats for music and video like ogg and only free software2.

Richard Stallman (RMS) says that you shouldn’t use DRM or “Software as a Service Substitutes” (SaaSS). SaaSS are services like Lastpass, Dropbox, Google Docs etc. The reason is that they violate your freedom to do anything you like with the software that you use via those services. Thus you do not actually know or check what the software does with your data. Dropbox could potentially just give some government agency access to your data with you not knowing about it. But I hope that they don’t do it.

Even so I find the ideas very good, I always think what it would entail to actually implement them. DRM is nowadays pretty much everywhere when you consume digitally delivered media. All the video streaming platforms like Netflix are using DRM because the media studios demand it. DVDs and Blurays are protected by DRM as well, even though it is nowadays circumventable. Movies in the cinemas are delivered today on encrypted hard disks with DRM on it. Youtube etc use patent-protected media formats, so you can’t use that. So no movies for you. The only way you could watch movies would probably be via TV. But often not in HD because that is nowadays usually encrypted, too.

Music streaming sites also use DRM because it is demanded from the licensors. Most music players only play mp3s or m4as. Some do ogg but the software on them is probably not free. The only way I could imagine to have portable digital music is by building yourself some music player that can play ogg. And then you buy CDs and rip them to ogg. But I have no idea which platform you could use. A Raspberry Pi uses proprietary firmware.

You could read some ebooks. There are publishers and online stores that sell DRM-free ebooks. It is not a lot but there are ways to get that way of entertainment. But I doubt that there is an ebook reader you could use. So in the end you’d probably could read them only on your laptop.

We do not need to talk about games, do we? Steam is out of the question. But there are open source games available. I just cannot remember any really good ones except maybe Nethack or Dwarf Fortress. Those are an acquired taste though imho. Ah, there is the Battle for Wesnoth which is quite good. If you know more really good F/OSS-games please contact me via the e-mail-address at the top of the site.

When you want to use a computer, you have a very small selection of computers available. There are not a lot of computers available which you can use with a free BIOS like coreboot or Libreboot. If I remember correctly RMS himself uses a Thinkpad X60 which is a laptop released in 2006. And I think you can use some free BIOS on a Thinkpad X200 or T400 which are from 2008. So only old computers for you.

And let’s not talk about smartphones. Essentially you cannot use one. A landline would probably be ok though.

And not using SaaSS takes away a lot of convenience. For e-mail I interpret it that you either have to run your e-mail-server or use only one from someone you trust and who allows you to fiddle with the source code if necessary. Well, actually it means you have to run your own e-mail-server. There are nowadays F/OSS-replacements for Dropbox and Bittorrent Sync. So you could replace that but you would need to run them yourself. There are several SaaSS that have nowadays F/OSS-replacements but they all would end up in you running your own server. And maintaining a server means that you have to know a bit more about computers and need to spend some of your leisure time maintaining it.

The ideas from RMS are great imho. But living them means that you have to give up a lot of convenience and ways of modern entertainment. It feels like setting yourself technology- and entertainment-wise back to the 80s or 90s. Since these ideas are pretty crass in their results voting with your wallet would mean it is only a drop in the ocean since it would be incredible hard to convince other people to do the same. I like to compare RMS’ way of living in terms of computers, DRM and SaaSS to vegans3. But I can far more easily imagine living vegan than living the technology way of life preached by RMS.

Update: There are apparently ebook readers that use free software.

If you want to run a laptop with Libreboot, have a look at their site which are compatible. nixCraft just released an article about shops that sell computers with Linux preinstalled or even with Libreboot pre-installed.


  1. Digital Rights Management. The stuff that is responsible that you can’t watch content bought from iTunes on your beamer when it is connected with VGA or DVI, that you can’t give your friends your ebooks and that you can’t backup your DVDs or Blurays without breaking the law (at least in Germany).

  2. Free as in freedom.

  3. It is probably the morally right thing to do but you need to set some limits on your behavior that might take away some of the joys of life. I love steak.

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