October 31st, 2006 by Adam
The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) are an organisation that have been around for some time, and their aim is to fight for consumer’s rights regarding products and policy in the digital age. Despite being primarily American-orientated, the ramifications of their court cases, policies and appeals have international consequences.
I recently watched their Corruptibles video with great interest. It’s a fairly basic flash animation that outlines how new DRM (Digital Rights Management) systems could/will affect you in your every day lives. It’s worth a bit of a laugh, and it makes you think… but does it make you think what the EFF are trying to push?
The first part of the video makes the point that industry groups (such as the RIAA) are trying to stop users from recording music from the radio and burning them to CD – the animation shows us a man making a “love CD” for his significant other. But actually… I think the RIAA have a very good point in this case. While it’s nice not to be restricted with what you can and can’t do, with much higher quality digital broadcasting available these days, recording radio shows can be a real alternative to purchasing a CD or a track downloaded from the likes of iTunes. The operators of radio stations have to compensate artists if they play their music, but that compensation does not add up to the same amount of money as several thousand listeners who recorded the track rather than paying a few pence (or cents) to purchase the song legally. While I’m a firm believer in digital rights, I don’t believe that people should abuse digital systems to “avoid” having to pay for things that really should be paid for. The only other one of the EFF’s campaigns that I disagree with is related to this – they want all RIAA lawsuits against illegal downloaders to stop. But in my opinion, these users are breaking the law and therefore they are legitimate targets for prosecution. However, the burden of evidence on the RIAA is high, and questionable “evidence” such as screenshots are submitted to the courts. In a UK court, all digital photographs are inadmissible evidence since they can be “interfered with”, and yet a digital screenshot is acceptable?
However, the rest of the Corruptibles video is something I do agree with. The entertainment industry want you to be using a fully closed system so that no copies of anything can ever be made. This includes recording programs from the TV – something people have been doing happily since the release of the lowly VCR many years ago. In the pursuit of copy protection, the industry seems to have forgotten about us users – we want to buy films and music, and watch and listen to them when we want, how we want. It is in this argument that I fully support the EFF. The inclusion of DRM systems and copy protection is an assumption of guilt – it assumes that it is required to stop end users illegally sharing the content. However, it also stops users from legally using the content in other ways, such as playing back on other devices or transferring to new computers. These DRM systems remove rights that consumers have had since the beginning of time: The right to decide what to do with something after you’ve bought it. Is DRM defective by design? That’s really up to you to decide.
The EFF are also trying to overturn the US Government’s Surveillance Bills. This is a very very good thing – just read a few other articles in this blog to get an idea of why. This is one of the prime examples of where the EFF have international effects:
Consider this – I send an email from the UK to a friend in the US. The US are monitoring emails as a matter of course (again, see my earlier blog entries about this) and intercept the email. Is this legal? Well, there are several US bills that allow the authorities to intercept emails in the US, but when does the email actually “arrive” in the US? Is it before it reaches my friend’s inbox? Or after it arrives? I would assume that it’s before since interception suggests catching it, making a copy and then allowing it to continue on it’s journey. Obviously, the internet doesn’t work like that, but to what extent are my privacy rights protected if the US are monitoring emails? As far as I know, the US do not have the right to monitor any of my emails within the UK… but do they monitor them anyway? “US servers”, they may argue. “US Equipment”, they may say. Or would they return with the argument that “the US owns the internet anyway“? The EFF are fighting for the rights of the public not just in the US, but internationally despite this not being part of their job description.
There are currently several cases being fought by the EFF and these are all shown on their website – it is a pretty good read if you’re at all interested in your digital rights, so I recommend it. Additionally, the EFF help you protect your privacy with software: Tor. This software helps you surf anonymously so your web use can not be traced (or at least not easily and not quickly – it does not guarantee 100% anonymity since there are some quite clever people out there).
So what would I like to see in the future from the EFF? Well, despite my reservations about some of their policies, I think it’s important for them to continue and to expand. I would really like to see an EFF Europe organisation formed and I would support this via donations / membership. It worked for the Free Software Foundation (FSF and FSFE), showing that there is widespread support for these kinds of organisations. Think about it. Tell your friends about it. Blog about it. Link to it. Don’t just accept that what you’re being told is the way it has to be.