Berners-Lee and W3C approve HTML5 video DRM additions

EFF and others are irked by the decision to include video content-control extensions as part of the HTML5 spec proposed by Google, Microsoft, and Netflix

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The EFF believes the W3C is undermining its own authority as a protector of Internet freedom. "By discarding the principle that users should be in charge of user agents," the EFF writes, "as well as the principle that all the information needed to interoperate with a standard should be open to all prospective implementers, they've opened the door for the many rightsholders who would like the same control for themselves."

The EFF is also worried about a slippery-slope effect, where allowing one form of content protection to be sanctioned by the W3C will lead to a great many other kinds of content protection measures, such as for the source code of Web pages or images.

The group has not resigned from the W3C, though, and understands the W3C was caught in a difficult position between content providers and end-users. It still plans to do its best to "fight off the worse consequences of accepting DRM." But "it's not easy to defend a king who has already invited its attackers across his moat," the EFF writes.

Cory Doctorow, who has long campaigned against DRM, was equally acid in his criticism. "Tim Berners-Lee himself ... seems to have bought into the lie that Hollywood will abandon the Web and move somewhere else (AOL?) if they don't get to redesign the open Internet to suit their latest profit-maximization scheme," Doctorow writes.

Not everyone considers the EME specification a bad idea. Peter Bright, writing for Ars Technica, pointed out, "It's difficult to imagine that any content distributors that are currently distributing unprotected media are going to start using DRM merely because there's a W3C-approved framework for doing so."

In Bright's view, "EME will keep content out of apps and on the Web, and it creates a stepping stone to a DRM-free world [by encouraging feedback from users to switch content providers to DRM-free distribution]. That's not hurting the open Web -- it's working to ensure its continued usefulness and relevance."

W3C standards have long held the status of strong recommendations. There is, strictly speaking, no real penalty for noncompliance with a W3C standard, although a Web browser that doesn't implement a particular standard runs the risk of losing out with users generally. Hence the race by Microsoft to add bleeding-edge HTML5 features to Internet Explorer in the event one or more of them becomes a widely adopted cornerstone for the Web.

If Mozilla, for instance, chose not to implement EME -- which is possible, given Mozilla's general stance on content protection -- it could theoretically be added in later by way of a third-party plug-in. Brendan Eich of Mozilla has also noted how alternate technology like ORBX.js, a downloadable HD codec written in JS and WebGL, "may be enough to eliminate the need for DRM."

What's clear is that at least two browsers -- Internet Explorer and Chrome -- are set to implement EME as soon as it becomes more than just a proposal.

This story, "Berners-Lee and W3C approve HTML5 video DRM additions," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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