Australian media accessibility group raises red flag about DRM in web standards

Media Access Australia is the only Australian nonprofit that advocates for making media accessible to people with disabilities — and they're also a member of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an open standards body that disappointed its supporters when it bowed to the big entertainment and browser companies and agreed to make a DRM system for online video.

This system, Encrypted Media Extension, marks the first time that a W3C standard could be covered by the world's anti-circumvention rules, such as section 1201 of the DMCA and Australia's Copyright Amendment Act 2006 (which was passed at the insistence of the US Trade Representative as part of the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement). These laws impose liability on people and organisations that bypass DRM, even for legal purposes (such as adding accessibility features to media).

Though EME makes many concessions to accessibility, it isn't — and can't be — exhaustive in its accessibility features. There are already some accessibility use-cases that EME can't support, and there will be more in the future (for example, piping the video through a machine-learning system that automatically adds subtitles or descriptive tracks to videos).

EFF has proposed that the W3C extend its existing policies to cover DRM: right now, anyone who joins the W3C has to make a legally binding promise not to use their patents to attack people who implement W3C standards. We've asked them to extend this to EME, so members would not be allowed to sue over bypassing DRM for legal purposes, such as adapting video for people with disabilities.

The proposal has widespread support, including support from other accessibility organisations that belong to the W3C, like the UK's Royal National Institute for Blind People and the USA's Benetech. Other W3C members that support this include many of the world's leading research institutions, like Oxford University, King's College London, and the University of Eindhoven.

In addition, there's a very, very long list of security researchers from all over the world who've signed onto these principles, including W3C invited outside experts like Bruce Schneier and senior W3C staffers, as well the top researchers at MIT, the W3C's host institution.

I'm grateful to Media Access Australia for its public support on this important matter.

Last year the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a global civil liberties organisation based in San Francisco, proposed that future W3C development of EME be contingent on W3C members making a legally-binding promise not to invoke anti-circumvention law against parties who bypass it to make otherwise legal changes to browsers, or against security researchers who come forward with reports of defects in EME implementations.

From a disability perspective, the request would allow for assistive technologies and researchers to bypass the EME without penalties. While this has not been approved to date, it is supported by organisations such as the Royal National Institute for Blind People, Benetech, and leading research universities such as Oxford University and King's College London.

Concerns raised for assistive technology development as W3C debates encrypted media extensions
[Media Access Australia]