Nokia to W3C: Ogg is proprietary, we need DRM on the Web

Nokia has filed a submission with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) objecting to the use of Ogg Theora as the baseline video standard for the Web. Ogg is an open encoding scheme (On2, the company that developed it, gave it and a free, perpetual unlimited license to its patents to the nonprofit Xiph foundation), but Nokia called it "proprietary" and argued for the inclusion of standards that can be used in conjunction with DRM, because "from our viewpoint, any DRM-incompatible video related mechanism is a non-starter with the content industry (Hollywood). There is in our opinion no need to make DRM support mandatory, though."

DRM -- Digital Rights Management, or Digital Restrictions Management -- is technology that prevents you from using some files by taking over part of your computer so that it won't obey your requests. DRM is always proprietary. Before a DRM is released, it is infected with "Hook IP" -- a patent or trade secret that is introduced to the technology so that the only way you can implement the DRM is by licensing the Hook IP. Anyone who licenses the Hook IP is forced to promise to make their DRM behave as intended, preventing uses and taking over computers and devices. Without Hook IP, a company could implement the DRM but leave out the restrictions, shipping products that allow all the uses their competitors' products deny. Hook IP gives the DRM maker something to sue over if this happens.

So DRM is by definition proprietary. If it's not proprietary, it can't be DRM.

And, of course, Ogg Theora is not proprietary. It does have some patents covering it, but those patents have been surrendered, to all intents and purposes.

Most importantly, the W3C is probably the purest anti-proprietary standards body on the planet, having already rejected any kind of licensing conditions or fees for its standards, setting the bar for anyone who wants to add to the Web: such additions have to be as free as the Web itself.

Nokia intervention here is nothing short of bizarre. Ogg is not proprietary, DRM is, and DRM-free may be a "non-starter" for Hollywood today, but that was true of music two years ago and today, most of the labels are lining up to release their catalogs without DRM. The Web, and Web-based video, are bigger than Hollywood. The Web is not a place for proprietary technology or systems that take over your computer. For Nokia (and Apple, who also lobbied hard for DRM inclusion) to get the Web this badly wrong, this many years into the game, is really sad: if you haven't figured out that the Web is open by 2007, you just haven't been paying attention.

Some Slashdot commenters have pointed out that they have technical problems with Ogg Theora. That's a valid discussion to have -- if the W3C is going to pick a video codec, its technical merits should be discussed. But remember, that's not what Nokia is objecting to: they are arguing that Ogg is proprietary (it isn't) and that DRM should be part of a Web standard (it shouldn't). PDF link to Nokia's W3C submission, Link to Slashdot comments


  1. Nokia has such a bizarre relationship with Open Source tech in general. Their internet tablets are great (I own the N800), and they’ve done a reasonably good job in fostering a vibrant and productive community around Maemo.

    On the other side of the coin their S60 handsets aren’t open source (obviously, since they are running Symbian), and have been in fact MORE locked down over the last couple of years (in the name of ‘security’ with their Symbian Signed crap).

    I think what we see with things like the Ogg oddity is that, like every large corporation, the left hand often doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

    In Nokia you’ve got the S60 faction, the general handset (S40) faction, the web tablet guys, the content guys (working on Ovi, N-Gage, etc)… all of them are doing their own projects, and all of these projects are pretty good individually (with their share of flaws, of course), but they don’t seem to talk to each other much.

    It’s almost like watching a new version of IBM in the 80’s!


  2. The faction description of Nokia’s relationship with Open Source has been my experience as well. There certainly are people at Nokia who understand and are committed to open development, but their efforts are counter to established policy and culture.

    I’ve got a Nokia internet tablet too. And I note that while the base of the software stack is open source, and you can install anything you like, it doesn’t play Ogg files out of the box!

    On the complaint that Ogg doesn’t support DRM, I’ve long suggested facetiously that it does, but I’m starting to wish someone would actually implement that. After all, DRM is a feature of playback software, not data formats, and a simple “DRM=nocopy” in the metadata header is as effective a technological access control as any other.

    But I don’t know how to unpack statements like “any DRM-incompatible video related mechanism is a non-starter with the content industry”. I’ve heard the opinion expressed that “the content industry” has heard Open Source and DRM are incompatible and therefore they’d never allow their destributors to use a format developed by the open source community. (I understand they avoid having websites for similar reasons. :)

    Sun does have an Open Source DRM initiative. It’s tremendously vague on the technical details, perhaps to maintain the doublethink that’s necessary to think of DRM as a technology. But it might be a way forward with people who still believe they need the snake oil.

  3. The problem with DRM systems at the moment, I find, is that they ensure that the vendor (eg. Sony) can ‘trust’ the customer (eg. you) not to mess around with their stuff – but the customer can’t trust that the vendor can’t mess around with their stuff (steal information about you, mess about with your computer, etc).

    I’d love to see an open-source system with “mutual-trust”. Where you only give certain vendors certain rights to your machine, and you only give up certain rights (eg. emailing a certain mp3 to your friends) which you agree to. I don’t know if this is even possible, but I suppose it could work with hardware support and checksums of the kernel or something.

    The problem is – without this, I predict less and less software will work on open-source systems – because company’s want to have the freedom to choose how they sell their media. And because of open-source developer’s refusal to have anything to do with DRM, everyone will end up signing over every right to their computer, just to play the next generation of BioShock (or whatever).

  4. I’ve got a Nokia internet tablet. And I note that while the base of the software stack is open source, and you can install anything you like, it doesn’t play Ogg files out of the box!

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