Why Call It The Swindle?

I go out of my way to call nasty things by names that criticize them. I call Apple's user-subjugating computers the “iThings,” and Amazon's abusive e-reader the “Swindle.” Sometimes I refer to Microsoft's operating system as “Losedows”; I referred to Microsoft's first operating system as “MS-Dog.”[1] Of course, I do this to vent my feelings and have fun. But this fun is more than personal; it serves an important purpose. Mocking our enemies recruits the power of humor into our cause.

Twisting a name is disrespectful. If we respected the makers of these products, we would use the names that they chose … and that's exactly the point. These noxious products deserve our contempt, not our respect. Every proprietary program subjects its users to some entity's power, but nowadays most widely used ones go beyond that to spy on users, restrict them and even push them around: the trend is for products to get nastier. These products deserve to be wiped out. Those with DRM ought to be illegal.

When we mention them, we should show that we condemn them, and what easier way than by twisting their names? If we don't do that, it is all too easy to mention them and fail to present the condemnation. When the product comes up in the middle of some other topic, for instance, explaining at greater length that the product is bad might seem like a long digression.

To mention these products by name and fail to condemn them has the effect of legitimizing them, which is the opposite of what they call for.

Companies choose names for products as part of a marketing plan. They choose names they think people will be likely to repeat, then invest millions of dollars in marketing campaigns to make people repeat and think about those names. Usually these marketing campaigns are intended to convince people to admire the products based on their superficial attractions and overlook the harm they do.

Every time we call these products by the names the companies use, we contribute to their marketing campaigns. Repeating those names is active support for the products; twisting them denies the products our support.

Other terminology besides product names can raise a similar issue. For instance, DRM refers to building technology products to restrict their users for the benefit of someone else. This inexcusable practice deserves our burning hatred until we wipe it out. Naturally, those responsible gave it a name that frames the issue from their point of view: “Digital Rights Management.” This name is the basis of a public relations campaign that aims to win support from entities ranging from governments to the W3C.[2]

To use their term is to take their side. If that's not the side you're on, why give it your implicit support?

We take the users' side, and from the users' point of view, what these malfeatures manage are not rights but restrictions. So we call them “Digital Restrictions Management.”

Neither of those terms is neutral: choose a term, and you choose a side. Please choose the users' side and please let it show.

Once, a man in the audience at my speech claimed that the name “Digital Rights Management” was the official name of “DRM,” the only possible correct name, because it was the first name. He argued that as a consequence it was wrong for us to say “Digital Restrictions Management.”

Those who make a product or carry out a business practice typically choose a name for it before we even know it exists. If their temporal precedence obligated us to use their name, they would have an additional automatic advantage, on top of their money, their media influence and their technological position. We would have to fight them with our mouths tied behind our backs.

Some people feel a distaste for twisting names and say it sounds “juvenile” or “unprofessional.” What they mean is, it doesn't sound humorless and stodgy—and that's a good thing, because we would not have laughter on our side if we tried to sound “professional.” Fighting oppression is far more serious than professional work, so we've got to add comic relief. It calls for real maturity, which includes some childishness, not “acting like an adult.”

If you don't like our choice of name parodies, you can invent your own. The more, the merrier. Of course, there are other ways to express condemnation. If you want to sound “professional,” you can show it in other ways. They can get the point across, but they require more time and effort, especially if you don't make use of mockery. Take care this does not lead you to skimp; don't let the pressure against such “digression” push you into insufficiently criticizing the nasty things you mention, because that would have the effect of legitimizing them.


  1. Take action against these products: u.fsf.org/ithings, u.fsf.org/swindle, u.fsf.org/ebookslist, upgradefromwindows.org
  2. u.fsf.org/drm