November 11, 2013

Controversy Flares Over Proposed DRM Adoption in HTML5

There continues to be controversy over Digital Rights Management (DRM). Simply put, DRM limits what users can do with media.

In a recent move that could have a major impact on DRM, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C (NewsAlert)) – which develops Web standards – endorsed DRM in HTML5. Looking at the big picture, there are reasons for and against the adoption of DRM in HTML5.

Among those opposing adopting DRM in HTML5 is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). In stating its case against DRM in HTML5, the foundation predicted in a recent blog post that there could be “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.”

It was also claimed in an article by that if Encrypted Media Extensions (EMEs) are adopted by digital content producers, “the Web as we know it will probably cease to exist…As of November 2013 we can still download, save, and watch online videos on our laptops and cell phones. EME seeks to stop these…and end unrestricted multimedia sharing and viewing.”

There are other drawbacks with DRM. For instance, DRM leads to higher costs for consumers. They also lead to higher production costs and thus more expensive products.

In addition, using EME and DRM cannot prevent illegal downloading or sharing of files over peer-to-peer torrenting networks, news reports said. “All EME does is wrap a thin layer of security around content. And all it takes is one person to crack the code and redistribute for the masses, Robin Hood-style,” predicted in the article.

A letter to the W3C noted how several organizations opposed to DRM called it a “disastrous proposal” that “would change HTML.” 

“EME is sponsored by a handful of powerful companies who are W3C members, like Microsoft (News Alert) and Netflix. These companies have been promoting DRM both for their own reasons and as part of their close relationships to major media companies. DRM restricts the public’s freedom, even beyond what overzealous copyright law requires, to the perceived benefit of this privileged, powerful few,” the letter adds. “Ratifying EME would represent the narrow interests of entrenched software firms with strong ties to the entertainment industry.”

On the other hand, there are some advantages to allowing DRM for HTML5. It is likely that increasing use of smart devices and increasingly lower prices for apps will lead to more mobile devices.

“A failure to ratify DRM into HTML5 would lead to big content producers simply taking their business elsewhere: off the web and into app stores,” predicts. “Think of a Web in which Netflix was every single company. You wouldn’t be able to watch anything or even read anything – unless you paid…This is the defective scenario we could face us if DRM for HTML5 isn’t adopted by the mainstream.”

In addition, if W3C stopped EME development, large tech companies, such as Google (News Alert), Microsoft and Netflix, are working on its development and they will come up with “a common platform,” Ars Technica reported. “The only difference is whether it happens under the W3C umbrella or merely as a de facto standard assembled by all the interested parties.”

The controversy is likely to continue. The predicted end result depends which side of the argument someone falls. 

Edited by Alisen Downey


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