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EFF files objections with W3C decrying addition of DRM to HTML5

Will Microsoft, Google, and Netflix have their way?

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has upgraded to full member status of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and as its first act has registered a formal objection to the proposed addition of DRM to the HTML5 specifications.

Its objection stems from the Encrypted Media Extension (EME) which was advanced to first draft earlier this month by W3C. The EFF contends that the purpose of the extension is nothing more than enforcing DRM, and says that existing web standards are capable of doing the job.

"This proposal stands apart from all other aspects of HTML standardization: it defines a new 'black box' for the entertainment industry, fenced off from control by the browser and end-user," said EFF international director Danny O'Brien.

"While this plan might soothe Hollywood content providers who are scared of technological evolution, it could also create serious impediments to interoperability and access for all," he argued.

The EME system proposed by Microsoft, Google, and Netflix adds a JavaScript system to allow a variety of DRM licenses, and the proposals have been dismissed by some as unethical. While the EFF acknowledges the code is technically as sound as can be expected, it says the system takes HTML in an unhealthy direction.

"The W3C needs to develop a policy regarding DRM and similar proposals, or risk having its own work and the future of the Web become buried in the demands of businesses that would rather it never existed in the first place," said EFF Senior Staff Technologist Seth Schoen.

"The EME proposal needs to be seen for what it is: a creation that will shut out open source developers and competition, throw away interoperability, and lock in legacy business models," Schoen said. "This is the opposite of the fair use model that gave birth to the Web."

It's a tricky situation. With Silverlight and Flash both looking long in the tooth, it's clear that HTML5 is the future – but whether or not that future needs to include DRM is up in the air. Netflix has said it won't switch without it (since DRM is essential to its business model), and Google wants similar controls for YouTube.

The W3C's chief executive Jeff Jaffe has defended EME's inclusion, and says it is needed to ensure that access to certain comment isn't limited to a variety of proprietary plug-ins. The result would be a dysfunctional two-tier web.

"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," Jaffe argues. "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." ®

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