W3C insider explains what's wrong with cramming DRM into HTML5 - and what you can do about it

I've written before here about the move to get the World Wide Web consortium (W3C) to cram digital rights management (DRM) into the next version of HTML, called HTML5. This week, EFF filed a formal objection with the group, setting out some of the risks to the open Web from standardizing DRM in the Web's core technical specs. Now, writing in the Guardian, W3C staffer Dr Harry Halpin makes an important, well-thought-through case for keeping DRM out of the HTML5 standard. Haplin's got an invaluable insider view of the "crisis of representation" that let a few giant companies shift the most open, most vital standards body involved with the Web into the position of standardizing ways to have your computer and browser take control away from you, and to set the stage for a ban on free and open source software in Web browsers and computers.

The most important part is what you can do to help shift the direction of the W3C back towards the open Web:

The Advisory Committee of the W3C is composed of companies as well as universities and non-profits. If your employer is a W3C member, now is the time to open the discussion internally with your management. Questions over whether DRM should be part of the HTML Working Group or part of another Working Group - or outside of W3C entirely! - are dealt with in the review of charters by Advisory Committee representatives. It's at this level that the EFF objected to EME in HTML. If your organisation is not a member, your organisation can join the W3C. W3C membership fees have been adapted to organisations large and small, for-profit and non-profit, start-ups, and for organisations in developing countries.

If you work for a W3C member, now is the time to join the HTML Working Group. The HTML Working Group are working through the technical details of Encrypted Media Extensions in the HTML Working Group Media Task Force. Also, the HTML WG has a very liberal Invited Expert policy to allow participation by those domain experts who don't work for W3C member organisations. Questions and objections that go beyond the technical content and charter are generally considered out of scope.

Questions that go beyond technically working on EME should be aimed at the Restricted Media Community Group, which anyone can join. Unlike Working Groups, W3C Community Groups provide a forum for discussion but do not themselves publish standards. Disappointingly, so far the discussion has been pretty weak, but this Community Group is monitored by many people deeply involved in the DRM debates.

Also, W3C Working Groups such as the HTML Working Group take technical comments from anyone on the entire web. Public comments can be made by ordinary users; the Working Group must formally address these comments if the comment is within the scope of the charter and done before the standard is complete. That means you can in public comment on EME or any other standard like the cryptographic primitives as pursued by the Web Cryptography Working Group, which can be used to exchange private messages between human rights activists as well as be part of Netflix's plan to switch to HTML5.

DRM and HTML5: it's now or never for the Open Web


  1. What is the response to the DRM advocates’ argument that not including it will deter adoption by the likes of Netflix, Hulu, et al., thereby letting proprietary formats (Flash, Silverlight) maintain enough of a presence that it’s safe to assume that your audience has them installed, thus deterring adoption in the wider market because “Why bother migrating, everybody’s got Flash?”

    that sentence was not very well constructed but you get the gist

    1.  The proper response is: boo frickin’ hoo.

      We need to realize that Hollywood needs the web more than the web needs Hollywood.  If the W3C ultimately rejects DRM for HTML5 like they should, what is Hollywood going to do?  Come up with their own ridiculous, laughably restricted standards that no one will use?  No, they will either go with whatever proprietary software vendor will build them a plugin with the false promise of unbreakable DRM or just continue being the belligerent, adversarial assholes that they are.  Neither way will deter piracy (nor will DRM embedded in HTML5).

      The difference between integrating DRM in HTML5 and implementing it using plugins like Flash or Silverlight is that you have the *choice* not to install the plugins.  If this Hollywood coup of HTML5 succeeds, that choice will no longer exist.  Either the open, fundamental infrastructure of the web will need to integrate DRM — the absolute antithesis of open source — or forgo having official HTML5 support and be relegated to irrelevance.

      What I don’t understand is why W3C is even vaguely entertaining this idea.  WE HOLD ALL THE CARDS and are entirely justified in telling Hollywood to SCREW OFF.

  2. Please sir, it is Digital RESTRICTIONS Management, not Digital Rights
    Management.  They changed the acronym from the original to help frame
    the debate as being about their rights.  Everyone needs to go back to
    Digital Restrictions Management to make sure that everyone knows that
    this is about their restricting you from using your own equipment as you
    want to.  This has nothing whatsoever to do with their “rights” in
    regards to the dissemination of their content.  It is all about
    controlling the market, keeping new people out, restricting our choices
    and destroying innovation that might challenge them. 

    So please
    use the original meaning of the acronym.  Let;s keep what this is really
    about up front; we the people having convenient access to content, and
    the big boys wanting to keep things the way they were.

  3. Arguing with the W3C is utterly futile. They’re a bunch of crooks and special interest industry pushovers. They’re corrupted to the core, with the W3C CEO too afraid to declare it out of scope, and with the proponents supressing any dissenting opinion.

    The W3C is toast. Gone, the way of the dodo. They should no longer have any authority to “standardize” the web. It’s broken, we need a new one. A real standards body, with strong guiding principles and strict adherence to these. 

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