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Mozilla agrees to add DRM support to Firefox – under protest

'We don’t like it, but we have to use it'

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Mozilla has announced that it will add Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) for digital rights management into a future build of Firefox, even if the organization disagrees with the technology on principle.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is to add EME into the specifications for HTML5 at the behest of Microsoft, Google, and Netflix. Sir Tim Berners-Lee supports the move, but Mozilla had been objecting to the plans as technically unnecessary. However, it has decided to cave.

"We have come to the point where Mozilla not implementing the W3C EME specification means that Firefox users have to switch to other browsers to watch content restricted by DRM ," said Chief Technology Officer Andreas Gal.

"This makes it difficult for Mozilla to ignore the ongoing changes in the DRM landscape. Firefox should help users get access to the content they want to enjoy, even if Mozilla philosophically opposes the restrictions certain content owners attach to their content."

The W3C spec requires the use of proprietary Content Decryption Modules, which is one of Mozilla's big objections to the system. Gal said that Mozilla would reluctantly use Adobe's CDM system, but it would have to be software that users download and it won't be built into Firefox directly.

For added user protection, Firefox will run Adobe's CDM in a sandbox, so that the software will only send the minimal amount of data on a user's machine back to the content provider and ensure it has no access to either the user's hard drive or network.

The sandboxing technology Mozilla develops will be open source, and Gall said Adobe and content providers are welcome to audit it and make sure the code is up to specification. If developers want to build their own sandboxes for Adobe's CDM, Gall said, Mozilla is fine with that.

This isn't a permanent solution, Gal said. Mozilla would like to see content move onto a watermarking system, which tags users on a per-stream basis, but the organization recognizes that such technology may be some way off.

It's a tough call for Mozilla, but not one in which the organization had a great deal of choice. Google and Microsoft make up a huge chunk of the browser market, and if Firefox doesn't support EME then it risks becoming marginalized.

"This is a difficult and uncomfortable step for us given our vision of a completely open Web, but it also gives us the opportunity to actually shape the DRM space and be an advocate for our users and their rights in this debate," Gall said.

"The existing W3C EME systems Google and Microsoft are shipping are not open source and lack transparency for the user, two traits which we believe are essential to creating a trustworthy Web." ®

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