Posted on May 14, 2009 in DRM by Brian RoweView Comments

Late last month I made my first official comment to the copyright office.  This comment was in opposition to DRM and took a very personal look at how DRM harms people with dyslexia.  This comment gives a lot of insight into why I founded Freedom for IP a little over four years ago.  Access to knowledge should be a basic human right.  Restrictions on knowledge like DRM always have a negative impact on those who have the least power or economic might in a society.

Here is the full comment to the copyright office:

I am writing to inform the Copyright Office and the World Intellectual Property Organization of the negative impact that extremely ridged copyright law has on my life as a law student and as a father.  I have lived my whole life with dyslexia, a learning disability that severely effects the way I read and write. My form of dyslexia changes the way I read. I must learn each word twice – once for written text and again for spoken language. I am unable to sound words out beyond a first grade level, and have difficulty expressing my ideas in a written format.  By contrast I am very well spoken and can engage in complex discourse over legal and technical problems in an oral format.  My dyslexia went hidden for most of my life, I nearly failed high school and dropped out of undergrad more then once.  Before the dyslexia was diagnosed, I would interview professors and only take classes that were graded heavily on spoken presentations or class projects like debate or computer programing classes, while avoiding written tests like the plague.

It was not until I started taking classes at the University of Washington in my junior year of college that I was directed to an educational psychologist who diagnosed the dyslexia.  This changed my academic experience and my direction in life, I was allowed accommodations that often include oral exams and alternative requirement for grammar or spelling intensive classes like foreign languages.  My grade point average moved from a mid C to a solid A minus.  After turning my academic career around and earning a Bachelors of Science in Informatics and a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science with minors in philosophy and human rights, I decided to pursue a law degree focusing on intellectual property law.

Reasonable accommodations and technology have enabled me to succeed both professionally and in law school.  As a legal professional it is very important that I understand each word written.  I use text-to-speech software to read statutes, case law, law review articles, memos, and legal books.  Text-to-speech software is an important tool for my legal research and understanding of texts. Without text-to-speech software, my understand of text can be limited.  If text-to-speech software is not available on a work that I need to reference I often have to go to outside help, having a friend or associate confirm the words written which can be time consuming or difficult.  Locking a copyrighted work behind digital rights management (DRM) that does not allow text-to-speech functionality severely reduces my ability to understand the full meaning of the text.

I also use many technical features to improve my use of software.  One example is spell suggest in search options. As a dyslexic it is often be difficult to search sites due to an inability to spell the key terms. Spell suggest allows me to use the search option as if I were not dyslexic.  Copyright right law including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) prevents me from improving or adding features that make my software more accessible.  An improved version of a piece of software may be considered an infringing derivative work, while tinkering with the program directly is often prevented by DRM.  The anti-circumvention criminal penalties in the DMCA mean that I risk serious legal repercussions for trying to customized a work I own to be accessible.  The criminal penalties of the DMCA also discourage professionals with more technical knowledge from helping me make works accessible.  I am a law student and legal scholar. Limited exceptions to the DMCA that allow me to create personal work-around will not solve these problems, as I do not posses the skills to make all work accessible by myself.  I need the support of a community of computer professionals to help create open innovative solutions to gain access to knowledge locked in print formats.

I am also the father of a seven-year-old girl who is learning to read.  As a parent I understand how important it is to her development to read with her and help her on homework.  Fortunately she appears not to have dyslexia – reading for her is a much easier task then it was for me as a child. Teaching her to read is a challenge for a dyslexic parent, she can already sound out words that I can only memorize.  I can not help her sound out many words.  Text-to-speech software can be very helpful in reading with her, it enables me to check the pronunciation of words and help her learn to read.  Text-to-speech software can also be used as a tool for my daughter to check her own reading.  Without technology that enables disabled parents to teach their children, there is a a real threat that these children will not learn the basic skills they need.

In the future please allow for comments to be submitted in an audio or video formats.  For many people with dyslexia it is a real challenge to put thoughts and ideas in a written format.  More people with print based disabilities are likely to comment if you enable comments in alternative formats.  This letter was written and edited with the assistance of an editor, many people with dyslexia do not have access to a personal editor.  Please feel free to contact me for future comments on this issue.


Brian Rowe
3L Seattle University Law – Graduating May 2009
Founder – Freedom for IP
Washington State Access to Justice Technology Committee Member

Posted on January 28, 2009 in DRM, IP by Brian RoweComments Off

My favorite AntiDRM books for children (and possibly only AntiDRM book for children) has just been re-released, I have even read it to Gwen, in a new version:


The new version has only minor changes including a new cover and is designed to make the book a little more mass consumable. For example, “He nearly peed his pants” becomes “He nearly danced like an orang-utan”.  All new words have been 6-year-old approved as being stupidly funny. ( I hope I still have a copy for the original version on my last laptop.  If i do I will post a link to it)

The Pig and the Box is available at 1889 Books, in DRM-free PDF format.  (Note the work is under a CC-BY-SA License which means if fans translate or digitize them they can share them)

Physical copies are avalible at Amazon or Powell’s I am ordering a few for the upcoming Seattle FTC hearing on DRM. The first person to ask me for a copy at the Seattle event can have one for free.

Posted on December 31, 2008 in DRM by Brian RoweComments Off

from /. :

“There are multiple reports springing up all over the internet of a mass suicide of Microsoft 30GB Zune players globally. Check Zune forums, Gizmodo, or other such sites; the reports are spreading rapidly, except apparently to the Microsoft official Zune site.”

At this point the cause of the failure is not clear, it is tough to find the issue and resolve it with a closed system. All users are at the mercy of Microsoft, if the platform was open source we could look at it and try to solve the problem. Why should computers with DRM be different from watches or cars that allow anyone to open them up and fix problems?

I think Copyfight puts it well with:

This should be a clarion warning that using proprietary hardware or software (DRM) to restrict peoples’ ability to manage their legally owned content is a bad plan. We are all at the mercy of whatever bugs and bad business plans lie behind these locks.

PS: From the Zune Release 2006 Don’t get ZUNED:

In honor of Freedom for IP’s partnership with Defective by Design to crash tomorrow’s Zune release party in Seattle, I’ve composed a little consumer warning to hand out to all the eager music fans who clearly haven’t been warned about getting zuned….


Remember the 8-track? Neither does anyone else under 30….

Posted on December 1, 2008 in DRM, IP, XKCD by Brian RoweComments Off

Click on the image to go to XKCD’s website and read the mouse over text.

Posted on October 13, 2008 in DMCA, DRM, IP by Brian RoweComments Off

Another amazing comic by xkcd:

I spent more time trying to get an audio book playing than it took to listen to the book.  I have lost every other piece of DRM-locked music I have paid for.

I spent more time trying to get an audio book playing than it took to listen to the book. I have lost every other piece of DRM-locked music I have paid for.

I fully agree with this comic. Fighting with DRM is a nightmare. I gave up on itunes for this very reason and I am unlikely to go back until the remove all DRM and starts using public licenses.

Note: James legal point xkcd Understates the Case for Piracy

Garden-variety downloading opens you up to civil liability, but it doesn’t make you a criminal. You’re only a criminal if you (a) infringe for profit, (b) infringe more than $1,000 worth over a 6-month period, or (c) put a pre-release copy online.

The same is basically true of the DMCA (

Question: What are the penalties for violating the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions?

Answer: The DMCA allows for both civil remedies and criminal penalties for violations under the anti-circumvention provisions. If the violations are determined to be willful and for commercial purposes or private financial gain, the court can order significant fines and/or imprisonment.

Creative Commons License

This work (the xkcd comic) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.