July 22, 2013

DRM in HTML5 Part of Drive to Boycott Netflix

Chances are many Netflix subscribers haven’t noticed, nor even found out about a recent push to change the way Netflix gets video to subscribers. But the plan is on at Netflix to move its online streaming technology from its current source—Microsoft’s (News Alert) Silverlight—to HTML5. But with this move comes a host of side issues that’s prompting some concern, a little outrage, and even some calls for boycotting Netflix.

One of the biggest issues, at least in the field of HTML5, relates to a familiar and often reviled technology known as Digital Rights Management (DRM). Netflix’s plans to bring in HTML5 largely require the inclusion of DRM, because as things stand, there’s not much in the way of protection for HTML5 streaming, and the content providers aren’t eager to have content going up on Netflix without that protection. Google (News Alert), Microsoft, Netflix and others are working on a program called Encrypted Media Extensions—also called “Web Cryptography”—to offer the protection content providers want.

But including DRM in HTML5 is raising plenty of heckles, especially from those of the open-source community. Opponents to the move to add DRM to HTML5 suggest that it’s not just going to provide protection for copyrighted materials, and could have a chilling effect on the larger Web as a whole. The Free Software Foundation describes it, essentially, as the first step in a future where software increasingly finds itself loaded with DRM, making free software increasingly difficult to find and to use. The Foundation further goes on to describe “a growing dark zone inaccessible to free software users” in a future where DRM is allowed into HTML5.

The issue is a complex one, with both sides having sound logic. Piracy is still a major problem for studios, though how much of that problem is of the studios’ own making via a host of different policy decisions is anyone’s guess. Studios need that protection included in HTML5 so as to give the studios a chance to air material honestly and turn a profit on it. Yet at the same time, many users have horror stories of faulty, clunky DRM that won’t allow users to access material purchased outright, and that kind of thing showing up on a regular basis—the growth of HTML5 overall has been pretty pronounced—is the kind of thing no one wants to consider.

Netflix could use the jump to HTML5. Given that YouTube (NewsAlert) has been testing HTML5 for a little over a year, and Microsoft is poised to end Silverlight 5 by 2021, a replacement both needs to be found and seems to be working well. A Netflix that works as smoothly as a YouTube is an exciting idea, but by like token, it has to work as smoothly as YouTube to be a success. The results of trying to get DRM in HTML5 will take some time to be fully realized, but the end results may well mean more content on Netflix or a disaster in the making, often depending on who’s asked.

Edited by Alisen Downey


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