January 31, 2013

DRM for HTML5 Already on Netflix, Google and Microsoft’s Mind

The changing of the guard from Flash to HTML5 has been, not surprisingly, something of a gradual experience. But with the changing in the way we consume video online, among other things, has come a call to protect that new form of media. The charge is being led by some major media providers and Web content companies–Google (News Alert), Microsoft, and Netflix–and they have recently begun efforts designed to get digital rights management (DRM) incorporated into HTML5.

The coalition of companies took their proposal all the way up to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C (NewsAlert)), and offered up said collaboration for consideration, trying to get DRM in-built into HTML5. Their proposal, meanwhile, outlines the need for a plug-in that would have to be installed in a currently operational browser, or included with the new installation of a browser, which was approximately how Silverlight got into the mix in the first place.

It’s perfectly rational that they pursue some kind of protection measure–they have quite a bit of content they want protected, especially from the ever-present scourge of piracy–and they certainly, like a lot of other Web developers, like the thought of using HTML5. Netflix’s use of Silverlight as a protection method has garnered it not just a little unhappiness from users, especially when considering that Microsoft (News Alert) isn’t developing for Silverlight anymore.

With Google having plans on the table to bring out subscription services, it needs a way to keep that content safe more than ever. If it becomes possible to take that content behind a paywall, rip it, convert it to a file and re-upload it elsewhere for free, then what is the point of a subscription paywall?

But there’s a problem in all this: DRM hasn’t been exactly shown as a bulwark when it comes to repelling piracy. Take a look at any torrent site; a large amount of material is right there, out in the open. When it comes to programming in general, it’s easy to forget that what one programmer can make, another can unmake. Someone can create a DRM program, even refine it, but then, there will be plenty of people out there with the skills and the spare time to break that DRM open and offer up the content like a man particularly skilled with a hammer wandering around a walnut grove.

The wider reaction, meanwhile, seems to suggest that this is a waste of time, mainly for the reasons listed above. The DRM in HTML5 will likely get in users’ way, keeping them from doing things that should be allowed but aren’t in a bid to fend off pirates. Meanwhile, the pirates themselves will work to find a new way around the DRM, and the whole process will be rendered moot from the word go. Worse, requiring a new plug-in would break up the uniform experience that HTML5 was supposed to represent, and was its biggest potential for change in the mobile device world as well as the standard Web.

Proposing a method that will likely make for worse experiences while at the same time not protecting content from piracy in any significant way doesn’t sound like a recipe for a good user experience. It sounds a lot more like desperation, desperation of the kind that has significant potential to hurt an entire industry. Hopefully a better solution can be found soon, soon enough to keep the flow of content going online while also allowing users to be able to work with that content in the fullest sense.

Edited by Brooke Neuman


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