DRM sinks its fangs into HTML5, with help from Netflix, Google, and Microsoft

Backed by new allies, content cartel revives specter of digital rights management in a battle over emerging HTML5 standards

Remember the battle over DRM? It's back with a vengeance. And this time the battleground isn't Napster or iTunes or the courts -- it's the emerging HTML5 standard.

Earlier this year, the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) standards body published a working draft of HTML5 that would allow Encrypted Media Extensions (EMEs) -- codecs deploying some form of rights management -- to become a part of the new standard. It was a move heavily supported by major content providers like Netflix over the anguished cries of Web purists and DRM opponents across the InterTubes.

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A group calling itself DefectiveByDesign, an offshoot of the Free Software Foundation, has launched a war of words against "Hollyweb," declaring International Day Against DRM on May 3 (yeah, I missed it too). Yesterday it delivered a petition with 22,500 signatures protesting against EME to the W3C. I'll let Free Software Foundation executive director John Sullivan take it from here:

In adopting the doublespeak of the Hollyweb, the W3C is betraying the interests Web users have in experiencing the amazing universe of human culture enabled by the Internet. Instead, they are backing the desire of Netflix, Google, and Microsoft to capture those users in media silos with walls enforced by proprietary software and criminal law like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (and similar laws around the world).

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also has its knickers in a knot over EME, which doesn't actually add DRM to the HTML5 standard but allows content providers to plug in their own. Per the EFF:

Because it's clear that the open standards community is extremely suspicious of DRM and its interoperability consequences, the proposal from Google, Microsoft and Netflix claims that "[n]o 'DRM' is added to the HTML5 specification" by EME. This is like saying, "we're not vampires, but we are going to invite them into your house."

Especially those annoying vampire teens from the "Twilight" series. You definitely don't want them anywhere near your house.

The W3C's fangless reply

W3C CEO Jim Jaffe responded to these charges in typical W3C fashion -- cautiously, rich with acronyms, and with no references to George Orwell or mythical beings:

Principled arguments for content protection begin by pointing out that the Web should be capable of hosting all kinds of content and that it must be possible to compensate creative work. Without content protection, owners of premium video content -- driven by both their economic goals and their responsibilities to others -- will simply deprive the Open Web of key content. Therefore, while the actual DRM schemes are clearly not open, the Open Web must accommodate them as best possible, as long as we don't cross the boundary of standards with patent encumbrances; or standards that cannot be implemented in open source.

OK, let's all step back, remove the garlands of garlic from around our necks, and take a deep breath.

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