October 14, 2013

Internet Freedom Advocates Issue Warnings Against Digital Rights Management in HTML5

HTML5, which will be the latest iteration of the markup language at the heart of structuring and presenting content for the Web, may be about to get a lot more controversial. Increasingly, content providers such as Netflix, Google, Microsoft (News Alert) and the BBC have been lobbying hard for the inclusion of something called “Encrypted Media Extensions” in HTML5. What they are, essentially, is a form of digital rights management (DRM) that will help preserve the copyrights of content owners. Despite strong opposition, notably from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in late September, the W3C (NewsAlert) HTML Working Group (the “gatekeeper” of the standard) decided that the addition of EME in HTML5 was "in scope" and will potentially be included in the HTML 5.1 standard.

Glyn Moody of Computerworld UK has written extensively about the topic, and noted earlier this year that the move “exposes once more the fundamental tension between the free and open Internet and copyright.” Moody says one or the other can exist, but they cannot coexist together. Moody noted that he was particularly offended by the BBC’s support of EME in HTML5.

“That the companies behind this extraordinary idea of adding DRM to HTML — Google (News Alert), Microsoft and Netflix — are more interested in their control than your freedom will come as no surprise; after all, they are profit-based concerns, and money talks,” wrote Moody. “But the last organization I would have expected — or, perhaps, hoped — to see adding its support to this fundamental perversion of the open Web would be dear old Auntie – the BBC.”

Since then, the BBC has strengthened its support for the inclusion of digital rights management in HTML5, which may limit the way people can watch videos on the Web. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the biggest foes of the move, including DRM in HTML5 will have a ripple effect across the World Wide Web:

“A Web where you cannot cut and paste text; where your browser can’t ‘Save As…’ an image; where the ‘allowed’ uses of saved files are monitored beyond the browser; where JavaScript is sealed away in opaque tombs; and maybe even where we can no longer effectively ‘View Source’ (NewsAlert) on some sites, is a very different Web from the one we have today,” wrote the EFF’s Danny O’Brien in a blog post last week. “It’s a Web where user agents—browsers—must navigate a nest of enforced duties every time they visit a page. It’s a place where the next Tim Berners-Lee [head of BBC] or Mozilla (NewsAlert), if they were building a new browser from scratch, couldn’t just look up the details of all the ‘Web’ technologies. They’d have to negotiate and sign compliance agreements with a raft of DRM providers just to be fully standards-compliant and interoperable.”

The EFF notes that, should DRM in the form of EME be allowed into HTML5, it wouldn’t stop there. Since EME is only to control video, it’s likely that other types of rights holders would push for more controls on how their content is consumed.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey


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