Today we celebrate the day against Digital Restriction Management (DRM). It is organised by our sister organisation, the Free Software Foundation. One of the suggestions from our colleagues there was to share your worst experience with DRM. So here is my story (there are much more important problems with DRM than a ring tone and there are definitely much more important problems with software of current phones, but this is my little story:
First of all, what is DRM? That is not easy to answer. In general DRM means that a third-party is restricting you using technical measures without your consent. It can restrict all kind of digital data like your movies, your music, your literature, and your software. The idea of Digital Restriction Management is absolutely incompatible with Free Software, which gives the users the control over their day-to-day tools and their data.
Being a Free Software activist and working for FSFE for many years I was aware of this issue. So I was always very careful about Digital Restriction Management. Nevertheless once I was not prepared. It happened with my mobile phone and it made me very angry.
(Disclosure: I was never a big fan of mobile phones. In the beginning I thought they might distract me. Next, being German, I like plans and punctuality ;) I like to know beforehand where to meet someone. I do not think it is necessary to have phone calls everytime to find out where others are. I do not like being called five minutes before a meeting, just to be informed that the others cannot make it (often with the feeling "hey I canceled it before"). But yeah, those are my "German" reasons why I stayed away from mobile phones longer than most people around me. The other more important reason is: Most of those computers do not allow you to run your own software. So these computers are very much useless to me for anything else than making a phone call. As I did not want to support proprietary software I never bought a phone myself. I found my first phone in an old sofa and later just used old phones others did not want to use any more. Never had a good feeling being forced to use non-free software. But I only used this crappy computers to make and receive phone calls, and most of those phone calls were during my work for Free Software. The first computer capable of making phone calls I bought was the OpenMoko Freerunner.)
One day my current (old) mobile had no keys left. As I got the same computer again with a working keyboard I decided to switch to that. Now the only thing I really liked about the old mobile was the Pippi Longstocking ring tone. It always made me feel good when people called me and I heard that sound. So I wanted to copy it to the new (old) mobile. When I tried it from the phone I was informed that I am not allowed to copy this file. I tried it with several methods but always the same result: I was able to copy all the other ring tones. Either by using Open Obex from my GNU/Linux machine nor between the two mobiles. But I was not able to copy that Pippi ring tone!! What is the reason for that the vendor is not allowing my to do a simple file transfer? Siemens -- as vendor of the software -- prevented me to hear the nice sound of Pippi when receiving a phone call.
So what will I do in the future (beside thinking about the good old days with Pippi ;) )? First of all I will continue to boycot DRM'ed devices. The main motive for Digital Restriction Management promotion is financial. If we do not give them money, they will have to stop to threat us like that. I am a customers, not a prisoner. Secondly I will continue to explain people why they should not give money to people who want to control their data.