Monday, June 01, 2009

Okular, PDF and file permissions

There seems to be some controversy about how Okular handles file permissions (sometimes called DRM) in PDF files. I will put here my personal opinions (weird i have to say this since this is *my* blog so when i write here it's always *my* personal opinion).

As a note for those that don't know me much, i was KPDF maintainer from 2004 or so till it's death, mentored the SoC project that created Okular, a regular Okular developer and i'm also the maintainer of poppler since a few time ago, so well, i think we'll agree i know what i'm talking about ;-)

Let's analize the bug-reporter sentence:

"So what I want to know is: why are people putting code into Debian
that limits our freedom? Why are people putting such code into KDE?"

So he wants to KNOW why *we* did this, yet he mails Debian bug tracker. First weird thing man, we have the okular irc channel, the okular mailing list and the kde bug tracker, all this are MUCH BETTER places for knowing.

First question:
"why are people putting code into Debian that limits our freedom?"
is very similar to
"why is people coding in GPL that that limits our freedom?" from the BSD fanboys. It all boils down to your freedom ends where other people freedom starts. And someone freely decided he doesn't want you to copy his PDF, you may hate him for that, but it is his freedom, *his* license, and we all like people respecting our license (GPL) so we should respect others, or are we just going to respect licenses we like?

Second question:
"Why are people putting such code into KDE?"
because it's what the PDF specification says and we want to have a PDF reader, don't we?

Now, there's even a LWN article talking about it (sorry folks, you have to pay them to read that unresearched article), but i'll quote here a small part (under the fair quotation law i hope)

Applications which do implement this "feature" tend to disable it by default.

he means evince has it disabled by default and okular enabled by default? I don't see a "tend to" here

Perhaps this behavior is result of the relative newness of this application; as it accumulates more users, the pressure for more user-friendly behavior is likely to grow.

KPDF had the exact very same behaviour since 2005. And well, if Okular is not called KPDF in KDE 4 it's just because we decided to support more formats but for the rest it's the same program.

Linux, at all levels, has felt free to ignore standards when following them makes no sense.

Repeat with me Okular is not Linux, Okular is KDE, Okular runs in Linux, Okular runs in Solaris, Okular runs in FreeBSD, Okular runs in Windows, Okular runs in Mac OS X.

And now my final words. I hate DRM, i don't buy DRM enabled things (or try as hard as i can not to) BUT KDE is not the place to protest about that. The place to protest against that is with your wallet (don't buy DRM'ed things), with your vote (don't vote politicians that pass pro-DRM laws) or even in the streets in demonstrations.


Ivan Čukić said...

I agree with your stance regarding the /following the specs/ part.

On the other hand (not your fault, obviously) the specs are the problem - it is not the point of software to force users to obey the license, but law.

Cheers, and keep poppling :)

Stu said...

So does Okular still have that little check box in the configuration settings to ignore DRM? You're just talking about the defaults? If so I see no problem. However, if Okular removed the option to ignore DRM then I imagine people that are bothered about it will patch it back in pretty quickly.

Albert Astals Cid said...

@Stu: Yes, we still have the option in the configuration settings

jake said...

> (sorry folks, you have to pay them to
> read that unresearched article)

hmm, we are happy to have subscriber links made, so that folks can read 'that unresearched article'. Here's one.


vexorian said...

You can't expect the post to be very popular after you equated DRM with the GPL...

Anonymous said...

> You can't expect the
> post to be very popular
> after you equated DRM
> with the GPL...

Actually in that example the BSD license is similar to DRM.

GPL and removing DRM can restrict the freedoms of the creator, whereas BSD and DRM can restrict the freedoms of the user.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm less sure of the sides I put it on now.

Anyway, the point is that protecting one group's rights can potentially infringe on the rights of another group. It's the same for freedoms (which is basically synonymous with rights).

Anonymous said...

"Actually in that example the BSD license is similar to DRM.

GPL and removing DRM can restrict the freedoms of the creator, whereas BSD and DRM can restrict the freedoms of the user."

Well, when the product is the original one with BSD source code and the user can compile it and put it on his machine, the user has the same freedom as under GPL. But when it's a closed derivative or it's on a machine and the user can't change it (DRM), the user has less freedom (at the cost of some restrictions for the developer).

Anonymous said...

Don't listen to the bug report or the article. Some users will always complain (like students in a class room). Okular default behavior is reasonable.

I love Okular and use it both under Linux and Windows.

I think Okular can benefit from static linking and stand alone installer under Windows.

Unknown said...

I agree with your assertion that the SW is not the place to protest. DRM protest belongs in other places. If you don't like DRM PDFs, don't but them. If you don't like formats that allow DRM, don't use them. You are free to choose against them.

suy said...

As long as Okular has a checkbox to disable DRM restrictions, I'm fine and happy (although, if I recall properly, I don't onw any DRMed file), and I will not complain about the situation, I promise.

But you forgot one little detail: the right of the users to read a book (and e.g. printing it is related to reading) is expansive, whereas the right of the author to limit people's wright on their work is the opposite.

I am not a lawyer, but from what I've read, this concept (that maybe only applies to Spain or other legislations, not universally) is created to protect a right that is more important than other.

Stu said...


Thanks for the clarification. I see no issue then - I've never come across a pdf file with DRM (and it's highly unlikely I'd knowingly download or buy one) but if I do then I have the option to either respect the DRM or not. That is fine.

The better way imho is for the author to put a copyright notice in the file stating what they allow you to copy or not, rather than use DRM, but that's a whole different debate.

maninalift said...

This is all rather odd. It is so easy to bypass the "rights management" of a PDF that it is nothing more than an indication of the authors wishes.

It seems fair to reflect those wishes at the expense of minor inconvenience for those who wish not to.

Rafael Fernández López said...

Well said Albert :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything said with just one exception. When the user finally gets that DRM'ed file, he might be just don't aware of that. He may simply don't know about that tiny checkbox and even about the whole DRM thing.

What about showing a note when opening DRM'ed file (just like when opening a file with attachments) and explaining that DRM might be turned off ?

Once I was in such situation myself: several years ago I've got DRM'ed PDF with specification of some HW device, and I was writing a driver for that device. I wanted to copy register names from it to my code (which, I believe, is a fair use). But at that time I was not even aware that DRM is possible in PDF so I decided that is some bug in the code that stops me from copying the text. I ended up retyping by hand.

Anonymous said...

Well, to compare DRM with GPL is daring, at least ... ;)

Other than that, if you made Okular to _always_ obey DRM restrictions, with no way around it, I could follow your argumentation (I'd hate it, though). However, as DRM can be disabled so easily (provided you actually find out about this option), what is the point to have it on by default at all?? In case it gets in my way, I can simply disable it, that's good. But why have it on by default? This only hits people who don't know about this option.

Oh, and you don't need to buy PDFs to get annoyed by restricted PDFs. I had it several times, where people obviously couldn't handle their Adobe software and only accidentally forbid e.g. printing...

Anonymous said...

As long as there is a checkbox overriding this i don't mind

Anonymous said...

...just the question whether your (girl)friend who's a novice computer user still thinks Linux/KDE/whatever is userfriendly if such an option is enabled by default. The lockdown would work equally well if the default was to ignore DRM.

Anonymous said... could be interesting...

Albert Astals Cid said...

@anonymous: my (girl)friend that is a computer novice probably "knows" Adobe that enforces this, so yeah, i don't see any loss here.

@otherAnonymous: i don't care about the gnome discussion, we discussed and settled this in KDE way before evince even existed

Anonymous said...

And someone freely decided he doesn't want you to copy his PDF [...] it is his freedom, *his* license

The issue at hand is not copiing the file, DRM does nothing to prevent copiing. What the author wants to take away from you is the right of printing or modifiing the file.

Those two rights are not given to you by the author's license, because the author never had this privilege in first place!

Copyright is first and foremost a compromise made (rightfully or not) for the public good, under the premise that publishers would be forced to operate at loss if they didn't have exclusive rights to their publications.

What we have here is an attempt to redefine the privileges given to publishers to something much broader in scope, which doesn't serve anybody's interest's other than the publishers' themselves. It's not legitimate for them to do this, and we shouldn't let them do it.

Anonymous said...

I can't fathom why any free software developer would ever implement DRM, but it's good that you at least make it optional.

Turning on the DRM option by default and limiting users' rights is obviously wrong, though.

Albert Astals Cid said...

@AnonymousFrom2013: You're free to make your own PDF viewer and do the obvious choices in it. Meanwhile I'll ignore a troll that has no other thing to do than go to a 4 year old blog and add a new comment adding no information whatsoever to the existing discussion