Internet Archive: "DRM for the Web is a Bad Idea"

Brewster Kahle, who invented the first two search engines and went on to found and run the Internet Archive has published an open letter describing the problems that the W3C's move to standardize DRM for the web without protecting otherwise legal acts, like archiving, will hurt the open web.

The W3C voted last week on whether or not to publish its DRM standard, and many members said that they would not support publication unless accompanied by a protective covenant to safeguard those who bypass DRM for legitimate purposes, such as archiving, security disclosures, accessibility and innovation.

There was some work done on this protective covenant in 2016, but it terminated when the DRM advocates at the W3C voted to walk away from the table, and now more than a year has gone by with no progress on this front.

As a result, there is nothing like consensus at the W3C over publishing its DRM standard, leaving the organization in uncharted territory.

At your request we have assessed what the possible effects of the Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) as a W3C recommendation would be.

We believe it will be dangerous to the open web unless protections are put in place for those who engage in activities, such as archiving, that are threatened by the legal regime governing the standard.

One major issue is that people who bypass EME, even for legitimate reasons, have reason to fear retaliation under section 1201 of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and laws like it around the world, such as Article 6 of the European Union Copyright Directive, which indiscriminately bar circumvention even for lawful purposes. Locking up standards-defined video streams with DRM could put our archiving activities at serious risk. Moreover, EME opens the possibility that DRM could spread to non-video content such as typography or images, which poses an even more existential threat. Web archiving and the Wayback Machine would suffer.

DRM for the Web is a Bad Idea
[Brewster Kahle/Internet Archive]