Free Software Campaigners Disrupt iPad Launch

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The Free Software Foundation (FSF) says Apple should drop restrictions on music, video and e-books

Apple has been criticised by free software campaigners over the way it controls music and other content on platforms including its newly launched iPad tablet device.

Launched on Wednesday at a event in San Francisco, the Apple iPad is expected to be released in the UK in March equipped with Wi-Fi access only with larger capacity 3G-enabled models available later in the year. As well as allowing users to browse music and video content in the same way as the iPhone and other Apple hardware, the iPad will also tap into an iBooks bookstore application launched alongside the device.

But free-software campaigners have criticised the iPad and iBooks launch as another example of the computer maker’s attempts to control digital content through technical measures known as digital rights management (DRM). Anti-DRM campaingers from the Free Software Foundation set up “Apple Restriction Zones” on approaches to the Yerba Buena Center For Arts, where the Apple launch was held.

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One of the organisers of the protest, Free Software Foundation (FSF) operations manager John Sullivan said the Defective by Design campaign has a successful history of targeting Apple over its DRM policies. “We organised actions and protests targeting iTunes music DRM outside Apple stores, and under the pressure Steve Jobs dropped DRM on music,” he said. “We’re here today to send the same message about the other restrictions Apple is imposing on software, e-books, and movies.”

Sullivan added that if Apple is really as supportive of creativity as it claims, it should drop restrictions on the use of content. “If Jobs and Apple are actually committed to creativity, freedom, and individuality, they should prove it by eliminating the restrictions that make creativity and freedom illegal,” he said.

FSF executive director Peter Brown added that more attention needs to be given to how content is controlled and managed. “Your computer should be yours to control. By imposing such restrictions on users, Steve Jobs is building a legacy that endangers our freedom for his profits,” he said.

Apple first removed DRM from some of the music in its iTunes store back in 2007 following an agreement with EMI. It then went on to expand the offer to include other major publishers in April 2009. “We are thrilled to be able to offer our iTunes customers DRM-free iTunes Plus songs in high quality audio and our iPhone 3G customers the ability to download music from iTunes anytime, anywhere over their 3G network at the same price as downloading to your computer or via Wi-Fi,” said Jobs at the time.

The FSF acknowledged the suggestion that content publishers, and not Apple, are behind much of the DRM included in the software maker’s devices. “Other critics of DRM have asserted that Apple is not responsible, and it is the publishers insisting on the restrictions,” the FSF stated. However, on the iPhone and its new tablet, Apple does not provide publishers any way to opt out of the restrictions – even free software and free culture authors who want to give legal permission for users to share their works.”

Apple is not the only company to have been targeted by the FSF recently. Last year, the FSF launched a “Windows 7 Sins” campaign claiming that Redmond’s new operating system represents a threat to the privacy and security of individuals and companies.


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