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Keep DRM Out of HTML5 Standards

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
10th May 2013


Danyl Strype:

“A group of companies, including Microsoft, Google, NetFlix and the BCC, are attempting to build what I call crippleware (“DRM” or “Digital Rights Management”) into HTML5 – the open standards which define the Web – with a proposal called EME (Encrypted Media Extensions). It’s very important that the W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium, who govern the HTML standards) hear strong opposition from everyone who cares about an “open and upcapturable internet” (to quote InternetNZ).

Having standards defined by a non-commercial public body like the W3C is what we mean by the phrase “open standards”. In contrast, “proprietary standards” exist when commercial products like Adobe Flash become de facto standards by doing something first, giving one company power to change the standard on a whim, in ways that privilege them and their commercial partners. One of the main goals of defining HTML5 was to replace de facto standards (like Flash and MS Silverlight) with open standards for multimedia on the web.

Peter Eckersley and Seth Schoen of the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

- “W3C is there to create comprehensible, publicly-implementable standards that will guarantee interoperability, not to facilitate an explosion of new mutually-incompatible software and of sites and services that can only be accessed by particular devices or applications. But EME is a proposal to bring exactly that dysfunctional dynamic into HTML5, even risking a return to the “bad old days, before the Web” of deliberately limited interoperability.”

The HTML standards (currently at version 5, thus HTML5) are what allow developers to be sure that web browsers and websites speak the same language. This is important for web developers, because they can make a website which supports the standards, confident that people will be able to to use it no matter which web browser they like to use. Also, programmers who work on web browsers can improve their software with confidence, knowing that as long as their browser supports the standards, it will work properly with any website. While it’s true that not all browsers or websites have full support for HTML5 yet, it’s in the best interests of everyone that the majority of developers continue to work towards that goal.

Broad support for HTML5 will make it hard for any one browser to monopolize the web, simply by being the only one whose proprietary standards all websites work with (yes, I’m looking at you MS Internet Explorer). It will make it hard for a handful of websites to dominate the web, simply by being the only ones that works well with all browsers (yes, I’m looking at you Google, and FaceBook too). Letting DRM crippleware requirements in through the back door, under the cover of EME, risks allowing a handful of giant companies to achieve monopoly power and dominance over the web anyway.

Let’s be clear, the EME proposal is not about privacy or security for users. There are plenty of open standards for making sure your email is private (eg OpenPGP), and your online banking is secure (eg SSL). This is about “encrypted media”, online music and video that audiences can’t enjoy unless they allow their computer to be compromised by EME-enabled crippleware. As Cory Doctorow points out, people have rejected such DRM crippleware at every opportunity, and its proponents must not be allowed to hijack public standards to force it on them.

Doctorow says:

“The W3C has a duty to send the DRM-peddlers packing, just as the US courts did in the case of digital TV. There is no market for DRM, no public purpose served by granting a veto to unaccountable, shortsighted media giants who dream of a world where your mouse rings a cash-register with every click and disruption is something that happens to other people, not them.”

Please the support Defective By Design, and help build a broad public campaign for a web infrastructure that serves the public good, and creates a level playing field amongst companies who work on the web.”

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