W3C's DRM for HTML5 sets the stage for jailing programmers, gets nothing in return

An excellent editorial by Simon St. Laurent on O'Reilly Programming asks what the open Web has gained from the World Wide Web Consortium's terrible decision to add DRM to Web-standards. As St Laurent points out, the decision means that programmers are now under threat of fines or imprisonment for making and improving Web-browsers in ways that displease Hollywood -- and in return, the W3C has extracted exactly zero promises of a better Web for users or programmers.

After acknowledging that, however, he goes on to define an open web as a marketplace, something that is “universal in that it can contain anything”, rather than being universal in that its content can be read by anyone. It seems painfully clear in his discussion of user priorities that the users who matter most in this universal marketplace are the ones who “like to watch big-budget movies at home”. The rest of us – including those who worry about “the danger that programmers will be jailed” are extremely welcome to “weigh into the discussion thoughtfully and with consideration”.

The saddest part of that discussion, however, is the question. What are we users – and what is the W3C – getting from building the risk of programmers being jailed into the core infrastructure of the Web? I have no doubt that browser vendors eager to cut deals will incorporate DRM into their offerings. Does that make it a good idea for the W3C to offer its name, its facilities, its intellectual property agreements, and its umbrella from antitrust prosecution to such a project? Why not leave the companies to pursue their own directions, and take on the risk of legal action themselves?

I’m left, however, with Berners-Lee’s failure to answer his own question, and his strange expectation that users can “ask” for something in return and hope to see it. I have too many memories of decade-old conversations with Microsoft employees after they had, for a time, won the Browser Wars. It was clear that the users I cared about, whether developers or individuals who just couldn’t make things work, were not the users they cared about. Our roles was just to create an ecosystem in which Microsoft could make a lot of money. (Microsoft is far from alone in that view – I only single them out for that past history.)

What do we get for that DRM? (via /.)

Notable Replies

  1. Coyote says:

    EME is just an API. You might as well criticize Linux for allowing kernel modules that handle DRM to be loaded.

  2. Is there any requirement that you use these HTML5 features, rather than continuing to use previous mechanisms?

  3. What absolute bullshit. "the danger that programmers will be jailed". How?? What will programmers be jailed for?? Oh right, there's nothing in this proposal that makes any kind of programming illegal.

    Literally all this is is a specific plugin API for protected media content. It's literally no worse than the current situation of using the proprietary Flash plugin through the browser's general plugin API.

    Now, while I don't personally see how it's any better either Tim Berners-Lee does think this will make it easier to have more portable protected video content. It's either that or we continue to use proprietary DRM plugins anyway.

  4. lafave says:

    You might have overlooked the quotation marks. He was responding to a sentence in TBL's milquetoast blog post.

    Many of these arguments involve comparing very different types of
    things — the smoothness of a user interface and the danger that
    programmers will be jailed

Continue the discussion bbs.boingboing.net

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