EFFing heck warns against DRM in HTML

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is fighting a new move by Big Content to install DRM into the HTML 5 web standard.

The World Wide Web Consortium’s HTML5 Working Group is looking at an idea to allow Encrypted Media Extensions, or EME into the core of web standards.

While the Working Group claims that EME does not add DRM to the HTML5 specification the EFF claims that this is like saying “we’re not vampires, but we are going to invite them into your house”.

According to EFF spokesperson Peter Eckersley,  for the last 20 years there has been an ongoing struggle between two views of how web technology should work.

One philosophy has been that the beb needs to be a universal ecosystem that is based on open standards and fully implementable on equal terms by anyone, anywhere, without permission or negotiation. It was this philosophy which gave us HTML and HTTP which lead to wikis, search engines, blogs, webmail, applications written in JavaScript, repurposable online maps and other goodies.

Then there is another view pushed by corporations that have tried to seize control of the web with their own proprietary extensions, Eckersley said.

These are the likes of Adobe’sFlash, Microsoft’s Silverlight, Apple, phone companies, and others who want more restrictive platforms which are intended to be available from a single source or to require permission for new ideas.

Eckersley added that that whenever these technologies have become popular, they have inflicted damage on the open ecosystems around them. Websites using Flash or Silverlight can’t be linked, indexed, translated by machine, accessed by users with disabilities, and might not work on some devices.

“The EME proposal suffers from many of these problems because it explicitly abdicates responsibilty on compatibility issues and let web sites require specific proprietary third-party software or even special hardware and particular operating systems,” Eckersley said.

The EME’s authors calle these “content decryption modules”, or CDMs. EME’s authors keep saying that what CDMs are, and do, and where they come from is totally outside of the scope of EME. They claim that EME can’t be thought of as DRM because not all CDMs are DRM systems.

But if the client can’t prove it’s running the particular proprietary thing the site demands, it will not render the site’s content.

Eckersley said that this is against what the World Wide Web Consortium is supposed to do, that is, creating comprehensible, publicly-implementable standards that guarantee interoperability.

The EFF’s view is that the WWW Consortium was not supposed to be on hand to bring about an explosion of new mutually-incompatible software and of sites and services that can only be accessed by particular devices or applications.

While there are claims that EME is not itself a DRM scheme, specification author Mark Watson admitted that in most cases it was and that implementations would inherently require secrets outside the specification’s scope.

According to Eckersley, the DRM proposals at the W3C exist in an attempt to appease Hollywood, which has been angry about the internet and wants it switched off by next Tuesday.

It has always demanded that it be given elaborate technical infrastructure to control how its audience’s computers function so that it can allow movies onto the web with its own DRM restrictions.

“Movie studios have used DRM to enforce arbitrary restrictions on products, including preventing fast-forwarding and imposing regional playback controls, and created complicated and expensive “compliance” regimes for compliant technology companies that give small consortiums of media and big tech companies a veto right on innovation,” Eckersley warned.

The EFF said that allowing DRM to exit undermines the reasons for which HTML5 exists. It was supposed to build an open ecosystem alternative to all the functionality that is missing in previous web standards, without the problems of device limitations, platform incompatibility, and non-transparency that were created by platforms like Flash.

HTML5 was supposed to be better than Flash, and excluding DRM is exactly what would make it better, Eckersley added.