May 20, 2014

Mozilla Ruffles Open Source Advocates with Support of HTML5 EME

Bowing to industry pressure, Mozilla (NewsAlert) announced last week that it will support Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) for HTML5 digital rights management (DRM) in its Firefox browser.

The news was met with much grumbling from open source advocates across the Internet. The nonprofit organization is held in high regard among developers for its dedication to open standards and open source.

But while many felt betrayed, others suggested Mozilla’s stance isn’t quite what it seems.

“What Mozilla is implementing isn’t fundamentally any different than the way it handles plug-ins like Flash, Silverlight or Java,” explained Lee Matthews in a post for “Stumble across a webpage with Firefox when you don’t have one of them installed, and it’ll prompt you. What it won’t do, though, is automatically install that plug-in. That choice is yours.”

Pressure for DRM technology in HTML5 is coming from big media companies, most notably Netflix. Media companies want the protection that EME provides when users play video content over the Internet.

EME has already won the support of other big technology developers like Google (News Alert), Microsoft and Apple — which means competing browsers Chrome, Internet Explorer and Safari will support EME.  However, the technology is controversial for Mozilla because the organization believes it restricts fair use access to copyrighted content.

While Mozilla pushed back, the pressure finally mounted to the point where the organization’s best interest — increasing the use of its Firefox browser — was in jeopardy.

“Mozilla has pushed watermarking as a superior alternative to DRM, but this approach seems to have done little to interest content owners,” wrote Peter Bright, technology editor for Ars Technica. “Without some large user-driven pushback against DRM, it's hard to see this situation changing.”

Mozilla reportedly is partnering with Adobe (NewsAlert) to add EME to its Firefox browser. According to the company, Mozilla will provide the hooks and APIs in Firefox to enable Web content to manipulate DRM-protected content. Adobe will provide a closed source Content Decryption Module (CDM) to handle the decryption needs.

Edited by Alisen Downey


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