Maker Faire 2014: Cory Doctorow trashes DRM as the death of maker culture and open source

Posted on May 9, 2014


Cory Doctorow 1. Maker Faire 2014, Centre For Life, Newcastle

Cory Doctorow at Maker Faire UK 2014: “What is remarkable is that it has become normal for your computer to disobey you.”

Maker Faire UK 2014 was a forum for open source thinking and featured the internet activist Cory Doctorow, who warned of the dangers of installing digital rights management (DRM) into the new version of HTML5. Hear what he had to say about DRM, spying and the death of maker culture.

Cory Doctorow is an internet activist, novelist, former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), co-founder of the Open Rights Group and a visiting lecturer at the Open University. His presentation at Maker Faire UK talked about the reasons for the introduction of DRM and why the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is looking to install it into the infrastructure of the web with HTML5. This, he believes, will make the internet less secure, more open to exploitation and lacking in innovation, leading to the worst of all dystopian futures.

Net confusion
In the first part of his presentation he sets the scene and talks about how we often confuse the way that the internet and computers actually work.



DRM breaks computers
In the second part, he looks at why using DRM not only stops our computers from working properly but, because of political intervention, leaves us in a position where it is illegal to make it work correctly.



The rise of Netflix
Part three looks at the rise of video streaming services like Netflix and their influence on the W3C’s development of HTML5. He also discusses how this will affect maker culture and open standards. There is a danger of other content producers insisting on DRM standards and that threatens to close down the web and information sharing.



Exploitation, surveillance and blackmail
We have entered a situation where the enactment of digital laws worldwide stops people from speaking about flaws in DRM, and in part four Cory explains how this leaves us open to exploitation, surveillance and potential blackmail. He points to the NSA and GCHQ programmes to weaken internet encryption and exploit flaws in both hardware and software, creating the worst of all worlds for internet users.



Ensure your digital rights
Part five has Cory talking about how to engage with politics and ensure a ‘bill of digital rights’ for internet users, and to oppose DRM through organised groups like the EFF and Open Rights Group.




In Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ we saw a future where entertainment was used to mesmerise or anaesthetise the populace. In Orwell’s ‘1984’ we saw mass surveillance and an all-seeing state used to terrorise the population into compliance.

Normally those two are presented as two different kinds of dystopian future, but what we’ve learned is that we don’t have to choose, we can have both.


Mozilla goes to the darkside
In an update on the DRM saga, Cory reveals at his personal website ( that Mozilla’s open source browser developers have opted to include DRM in Firefox. He writes at depth about Mozilla’s decision for The Guardian’s Technology section, calling it a sad day for open source software while acknowledging Mozilla’s attempts to minimise the harmful aspects of DRM. Any way you read it, it’s a sell out.

Net neutrality
Cory also muses on the de facto loss of net neutrality caused by the US Federal Communications Commission’s disastrous decision to let broadband providers in the US charge net video streaming companies like Netflix or Hulu a premium to carry their data-heavy services. The decision seemingly allows broadband providers to get two bites of the cherry – once from consumers who pay for higher bandwidth and then from the companies themselves. It also sets a precedent of allowing them to create a two-tier internet with premium services offered all the bandwidth and everyone else chugging along at slower speeds.

Vox published an interesting run down of net neutrality, US legislation and the controversial court case which swung things in the favour of broadband providers in the first place. The court’s decision has relevance for internet provision all over the world. Journalists have taken a stand at, vowing to fight the decision and keep the net free and open for all.

Both net neutrality and DRM problems are caused by the Hollywood-isation of the net through video streaming services. Is it worth it – the loss of open source, maker culture, security and the power to control what your computer does? Do we really want the internet to become another broadcast media channel? Do we really want mass surveillance and thought control for the next generation? Fight for net neutrality and to rid the net of DRM.