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Microsoft Restricts Free & Fair Use

"The program is available lawfully only to those who will surrender their freedom. That's not a contribution to society, it's a social problem. It is better to develop no software than to develop non-free software." - Richard M. Stallman, KernelTrap interview, 2005

Microsoft implements a variety of tactics to restrict how people may use their software. They use both legal and technical methods in an attempt to control customers. Some actions diquised as [security] are more accurately methods of control.

Microsoft Volume Licensing customers are bound by a document called "Microsoft Licensing Product Use Rights". This document is 52 pages long and updated quarterly. It dictates what customers are allowed and not allowed to do with the software they license. Many would be surprised at the draconian rules to which they may not realize they are bound. Compare with this the 5 page GNU General Public License (GPL) of most open source software. It allows virtually unrestricted use. Closed source customers typically pay more while receiving less freedom.

End User License Agreements (EULAs)

From the Microsoft® Windows™ XP EULA:

Except as otherwise permitted by the NetMeeting, Remote Assistance, and Remote Desktop features described below, you may not use the Product to permit any Device to use, access, display, or run other executable software residing on the Workstation Computer, nor may you permit any Device to use, access, display, or run the Product or Product's user interface, unless the Device has a separate license for the Product.

Complete remote administration using software other than Microsoft's is prohibited. Likewise remote execution by software other than Windows XP is prohibited. Such tools as Symantec®'s PCAnywhere are not allowed to run on Windows XP. Microsoft is using this contract to prevent use of competitive products in addition to their own. It's no coincidence that Microsoft has purchased a company which produces remote administration software.

See also: End-User License Agreements (EULAs)

Digital Rights Management

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is progressing to become a major social issue of this decade. Attempts by one music company to enforce DRM on a CD in England brought public protests. Companies who are trying to limit the use of things covered under copyright law are attempting to do far more than prevent illegal activies. They are attempting to prevent what is currently legal, such as copying purchased music onto an MP3 player, without their permission and possibly without paying them a fee.

Microsoft® is actively researching, implementing, and promoting DRM technologies. They would like to help media companies control the use of their intellectual property. For the sake of public relations the claim is made that this is exclusively to prevent piracy. This, however, should be examined further.

Piracy primarily exists for two reasons. If the public, in general, considers a work of intellectual property to be too expensive to be worth purchasing, yet has a strong desire to obtain that property, many will illegally copy and redistribute it for a smaller fee or free. If a work is not too costly, yet has an overly restrictive license to copy, it will also become illegally copied.

In 2002 the major record labels, working together as the Recording Industry Associate Of America (RIAA), settled with the federal government on allegations of price fixing. Collectively acting as a monopoly they set CD prices excessively high. It's been argued that music piracy is rampant due to excessive pricing by the members of the RIAA. Microsoft has also been accused in various states of abusing their monopoly to set excessively high prices for their software. Their software licenses also prevent any copying. Piracy of software is largely due to high prices.

While Microsoft takes actions to prevent free copying of media, free and open source software avoids all of these issues by allowing free redistribution. While Microsoft's actions will prevent illegal use of media under copyright law, it will also likely prevent fair use by open source software. As DRM created by Microsoft will require licensing from Microsoft, open source will not be able to contain their DRM software. Therefore anything protected by Microsoft's DRM will not be available to users of Microsoft's major competition - open source. This could include movies and music.

Other restrictive actions by Microsoft may also prevent the use of open source software at all on personal computers.

Cory Doctorow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave a speech to Microsoft explaining why DRM is bad for society, bad for business, bad for artists, bad for Microsoft as a business-move, and why it won't work as expected anyway. DRM is intended to keep the average person honest. However the average person isn't the sophistocated one doing most of the intellectual property theft. It will also limit new inventions because interfaces will be locked.

Copyright © 2004-2007 Matthew Schwartz