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World Web Consortium warms HTML bed for forced DRM snuggle

Web fragmentation argument beaten by web fragmentation defence

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The World Web Consortium (W3C) is pressing ahead with plans to standardise Digital Rights Management (DRM) in HTML, despite opposition to the proposal.

The W3C's chief executive Jeff Jaffe announced imminent publication of a first draft of the specification for Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) on Thursday.

The draft is now here and open to public discussion.

Jaffe blogged: "While we welcome and value input from all parties, we intend to continue to work on content protection, and publish this draft."

Critics of EME have rallied against the proposed standard as "disastrous" and argued that it is being added to web specs purely to suit the interests of media companies that own content.

EME is being co-edited by representatives from Google, Microsoft and Netflix.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Free Software Foundation are leading the protest against EME. In an open letter to web daddy and W3C director Tim Berners-Lee in April, the two groups together with other signatories said adding DRM to HTML flew in the face of the W3C's principles.

"Ratifying EME would be an abdication of responsibility; it would harm interoperability, enshrine nonfree software in W3C standards and perpetuate oppressive business models," the letter read.

They also delivered a petition against EME to the W3C containing 22,500 signatures as part of an International Day Against DRM on 3 May.

Jaffe fired back that some form of content protection is needed to ensure the continued broad interoperability of the web and to prevent fragmentation. Without a standard you'd get a two-tier web: one for content that's available for free and another for paid content served to devices - which would be locked down using company-specific DRM technologies.

"It is W3C's overwhelming responsibility to pursue broad interoperability, so that people can share information, whether content is protected or available at no charge. A situation where premium content is relegated to applications inaccessible to the Open Web or completely locked down devices would be far worse for all," Jaffe wrote.

He argued that the W3C is not standardising the content decryption modules (CDMs), but rather the APIs that the CDMs would talk to. Also, he noted, the proposed APIs would not be proprietary and would work as well with non-proprietary as proprietary CDMs. The final standards will be implemented in a royalty-free basis, Jaffe assured users.

The EME draft would allow code in Javascript to call a DRM mechanism that's capable of using a range of licences and keys on devices without client-side modification.

It was in April that Netflix blogged about the continued need for DRM online, whether it is for film or TV played using HTML5 or through a browser plug-in.

At the time, Netflix revealed it was coming off of Microsoft's dying Silverlight browser plug-in media player and adopting HTML5 for streaming video.

Microsoft built Silverlight as a deliberately content-provider-friendly player, giving them the freedom to control who consumed what using DRM. Adobe did exactly the same with Flash Player, which Microsoft had been trying to topple from its leading position as the internet's most popular browser-based media player.

The lack of DRM control in HTML was one of the main reasons Windows devs and supporters of Microsoft gave for using Silverlight at the time. ®

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