DRM versus pay-for-features, how different?

In this forum here it is said “Digital Restrictions Management” is not compatible with FOSS, for music.

An emphasized point is: “DRM creates a damaged good; it prevents you from doing what would be possible without it.”

But here in this forum it is said (by different person) that similar functional restrictions until someone pays an unlock fee would be OK, for general (e.g. Tasks) software.

Can someone explain the significant conceptual difference? They same seem essentially the same.

Edit: typo

You’re not the first person I see confusing the two, and certainly not the last; so I’ll try to illustrate the difference with a simple example.

Let’s imagine you’re in need of a car, to go from A to B, and ask your friend for theirs. Now, regardless of if they make you pay or not for it (the service, the wearing down, the fuel, the driving maybe, etc), you will be free to take the car at point A, drive to point B, and wherever else you decide.

Now, let’s imagine the car of your friend is rather recent, has a computer in it, with GPS, of course; and your friend, who could trust you more, decides to “restrict the route” via GPS. You are then only allowed (else, the vehicle shuts down) to drive along the single route the computer planned from A to B.

You might say “but that is fair! I asked the car to drive from A to B, it is fine that my friend makes sure I do as I said. After all, it is their car!”. And right after saying this, and hoping in the car, and driving a good bit of the planned route, you are stopped because of an accident. It is not your friend’s fault, nor is it yours, that there is an accident there. And you will surely be stopped for hours. And all that is required for you to continue on your way is that you take a tini-tiny detour around the block. But you can’t. Because of DRM.

And it is then irrelevant if you paid for the car, the fuel, the service or anything else. You cannot achieve what every party agreed you would be doing, and ALL it took is an accident. A simple, unpredictable, yet foreseeable accident.

All of us who despise DRM didn’t happen to despise it because we woke up one day and decided to. We despise DRM because we all, without exception, had the experience of having the displeasure of investing our time, money and effort to achieve something; and ended up unable to, because someone trusted us so little that they overly and unnecessarily enforced restrictions on what we were allowed to do.


The music is open source and I can compile the song? lol

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Technically, a FOSS C program generating a WAV, OGG or any other audio file that plays a “song” when read by an audio player does fit your description, and isn’t all that unrealistic. :stuck_out_tongue:

Thanks for the example, but I don’t need to be convinced not to like DRM, and I think the pay-to-unlock-already-existing-features is too similar.

The car example isn’t the greatest because most (all?) controls software on cars is proprietary from the start. But making it more like phones and assuming there is a otherwise FLOSS “car loaner” application running on top of the proprietary car controller blobs… Did you not read the full “agreement” when you started the car, before you clicked “OK, let’s go”?

Do you feel better about it if it offers to remove restrictions for a fee?

Other things it may do - As you mash the pedal to accelerate away from point A, it pops up a screen saying in loaner mode you’re restricted to 50% of maximum acceleration by default; for 5 local currency credits you can remove that restriction for 30 minutes (but exceeding red-line RPM is not available at any price, and is enforced by one of the proprietary blobs anyway). As you reach 5 local speed units below the speed limit, it pops up a screen saying you’ll need to pay 5 more credits to go the full speed limit, and another 5 credits more to exceed by 5 units, for 30 minutes.

After you’ve sat nearly motionless for 10 minutes because of the accident, it pops up a reminder you won’t be able to reach B and return the car to A by the agreed time if you don’t get going soon; for 5 credits you can extend by an hour.

Another popup offers a route deviation option, for 5 more credits.

But, you’re near a (more or less arbitrary) map boundary, and your “friend” has already maxed out their OSMAnd maps free downloads, so downloading another map to re-route will take another 5 credits.

Tasks app pops up a reminder you scheduled a stop to visit someone on the way. You hit “remind me again in 10 minutes” but it responds - “delays are a premium feature, for 5 credits. Unlock?” (I don’t know which features are actually premium on play store, and it’s unlocked on f-droid, so this is completely hypothetical.)

Re: “music,” I’d bet @hans has fed all kinds of data files through a “music” player to see and hear what you get.

I fear you completely missed the point of my example, and the position of every actor.

I thought I was clear, but lemme explicit things as much as I can:

  • The driver (who borrows the car) is the user.
  • The original owner of the car (the friend) is the software publisher.
  • The car computer is any machine the user uses to run software.
  • The car software is the DRM, sold by a DRM provider such as “denuvo”.

And so, when the user got the car, it did not have a choice in whether or not there would be DRM involved, and the user did not ‘click “Ok, let’s go”’. They could have asked his friend, and they could then have “refused to borrow” the car. But all this is beside the point.

The point is that the DRM was not supposed to prevent them from doing what they wanted, and yet it did. The point is that the DRM would not prevent someone ill intended from abusing or stealing the car, because that bad actor would be prepared and have a way to go around it. The point is that the DRM does not prevent bad actors from damaging anything, but too often it prevents good actors from using the product as intended.

Now, at large, your misunderstanding is rooted in your confusion of “limitation” and “restriction”. I fear this confusion stems in something deeper than your expression. I fear you grew up in an environment that cultivates you confusing the two.

So I will now attempt to explicit the difference between the two:

limitation is when, no matter the reason, one is unable to experience or attain growth. It is when one is limited to their current situation.

restriction is when, no matter the reason, one is thrown back to a previously attained situation.

To illustrate this, take the example of an athlete: as they progress, they get closer to their limit, and eventually reach a “plateau” in their performances. They are then limited. But if they suffer an injury, or are imposed a handicap, they become restricted.

Now, finally, paying to remove limitations is exactly like having a free demo and a paid product. This exists for as long as programs exist. It has been known forever as “shareware”. On the other hand, DRMs are fundamentally different. They are meant to be permanent (no sensible amount of money - multiple millions might, if you negociate the rights to the entire software - will get them removed) and restrict the user from doing what they can do effortlessly outside of that program.

P.S.: I have personally piped many data streams (including, but not limited to, the output of dmesg) to aplay for personal amusement and curiosity. You seem to imply that doing so is ridiculous, but I assure you, curiosity is a symptom of intelligence :slight_smile:

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Some long-winded answers there, hehe. DRM is basically the blanket term for whatever protection mechanism is put in place. Usually, it’s invasive and it can be desruptive - and a pain all-around. :slight_smile:


DRM is incompatible with FOSS because DRM is by definition a copy-protection mechanism, while FOSS implies ability to freely copy.

Since DRM makers don’t want users who may want to circumvent the DRM to inspect its code, DRM code is basically always closed-source, obfuscated and runs in a high-privilege mode, making it a big security hole in your system. It can also intentionally violate your privacy.

Example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sony_BMG_CD_copy_prevention_scandal


Well, the source of the music would be the sheet notation, but that’s a whole another can of worms :smiley:

@7heo , IMO, It would be better to discuss more concrete/real examples, such as netflix videos, book or music data files, or games; and specific software that attempts to have both “for pay” in play store and free/unlocked versions in f-droid, like Tasks and OSMAnd.

Please “forgive” me for not seeing your example was actually an analogy, in your mind. Have no “fear.” I “fear” I will anger you by pointing out you are trying to demand overly precise definitions of some words (limitation, restriction), while yourself using less precise definitions of other words (fear). Your definitions are not “bad”, but these may better (graphically) illustrate some nuances and overlaps of limitation and restriction:

(Also interesting re: Rights or Restrictions: https://www.freethesaurus.com/Rights)

You remind me of a DRM-related video I recently watched, when/how RMS commented after the ~40 minute 2017 LibrePlanet keynote speech by Cory Doctorow (42:15). He criticized the “shocking” confusion of terminology and (incorrect) optimistic view of Free software “winning.” Rather than thanking the speaker for a great, informative talk on DRM, including encouraging examples of progress.

Another interesting part of the QA was when the last questioner asked (~56:00) Q: Should we modify free software licenses to forbid DRM? and RMS answered: No. That would damage freedom zero too much. The disappearance of the speaker at the end was also priceless to see.

So, although we strongly dislike the restrictions or limitations of DRM, and say it is “inconsistent with” free software, it is not forbidden by the terms of free software licenses, which is interesting and confusing.


IIUC, shareware has traditionally been considered NOT free software because the source was not available.

You seem to imply

You are assuming, incorrectly. Like I assumed you really meant a car, not an analogy. Assuming or Assume… makes an Ass of U and Me. You missed my (not explained) points, which are along the lines of: “music” is in the ear, and sometimes eye or other senses, of the beholder. And any data (including software, binaries or sources) is just a bunch of bits, unless or until you can use it for something.

@nostromov , I agree. Thanks for a concise answer. And sorry for doing the opposite. But how is effective pay-for-features any different?

@Zolidor , These days the idea of musicians putting pencil to paper sheets to write music seems quaint. I expect many use “music processors” with a bunch of “productivity” tools, similar to word processors, or IDEs.

So the key thing that makes pay-for-features OK for “free software” is: it is usually done in a way that allows copying, and is weak, ineffective, easy to remove, and open-source?

At this point, you have posted enough that I am now sure you did not ask to get a genuine answer, but rather to create an argument to be part of.

You are not interested in the legitimate, constructed and illustrated answer(s) to the question you asked, you are interested in getting attention and being right.

You are not. Your logic does not make very much sense. Free demos and DRM riddled content are not equivalent. Period.

I am not interested in discussing this further. Find someone else to waste the time of.

Edit: @nostromov, @Zolidor, if I may offer a suggestion: save yourself, do not answer the question.

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Verbose. Trying to sound intelligent while using “explicit” as a verb. “Intelligent people do not try to sound smart. Rather, being intelligent they try not to sound dumb.” I think a PhD said that. Oh, it was me.

@7heo , I usually find what explanations I want on fsf org or gnu org, or associated spinoff sites like Defective by Design. Or on F-droid. But I haven’t found the usual long treatises and FAQs on “pay-for-features” as already found on DRM. You didn’t help by also contradicting some of what I already know (shareware), but thank you for your attempt, or sorry for pointing it out. I’m interested in correct answers and explanations. A link or two to something I missed would be great. I’m interested in discussion to clarify, if needed. I understand your frustration. By saying DRM and pay-for-features seem essentially the same, in context I meant they both seem not consistent with “free software.” Oops, I didn’t avoid writing FOSS. Nobody’s perfect.

Shareware is software which comes with permission for people to redistribute copies, but says that anyone who continues to use a copy is required to pay a license fee.

Shareware is not free software, or even semifree. There are two reasons it is not:
For most shareware, source code is not available; thus, you cannot modify the program at all.
Shareware does not come with permission to make a copy and install it without paying a license fee, not even for individuals engaging in nonprofit activity. (In practice, people often disregard the distribution terms and do this anyway, but the terms don’t permit it.)

PS. Just a gratis suggestion - get somebody to fix the cert’s.


I think my reply embarrassed him. He’s gone.

I tend to believe that DRM is any mechanism that restricts the function of software as intended.

So that means anything. Even a simple mechanism that makes sure you paid the developer some money to access a feature. That’s simple DRM. That’s an example of selectively licensing out the code. Yes it’s the developer’s right to do that; but that breaks the very definition of FREE. You can be Open Source and NON-FREE. (See Mozilla and the issues that arise from the proprietary blobs they must use to implement some features). You can literally cost the end user $0.00 and be NON-FREE if you are in the end engaging in FOR-PROFIT activities. Even if that’s only the bare minimum profit you need to stay afloat.

If the end user MUST PAY any money at all to any entity via any method; your software is; and I hate being pedantic, NON-FREE.

Let me clarify however: IT IS COMPLETELY OK TO BE NON-FREE. We all must make a living. I don’t deny that it is deserved or needed at times. It is NOT OK to claim to be FREE and not be free. The nature of truly FREE things implies there is no cost to you. Whatsoever. There isn’t anything being received by the developer at all, no data, no input, no profit, no nothing whatsoever. Free software must be FREE.

Open Source Software (OSS/Non-Free) has no such restriction. As long as you’re honest about how you’re NOT FREE; most people will accept it.

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