Reject DRM and you risk walling off parts of the web, says W3C chief

Summary:The web would be in danger of losing content if it were to turn its back on DRM-protected media, said Dr Jeff Jaffe, CEO of the web standards body W3C.

Web technologies need to support DRM-protected media to reduce the risk of parts of the web being walled off, according to the chief executive of the web standards body W3C.

Proposals to provide a hook for DRM-protected media within HTML are necessary to help prevent scenarios such as movie studios removing films from the web in a bid to protect them from piracy, said Dr Jeff Jaffe, CEO of the World Wide Web Consortium.

Fail to do so, he said, and there is a danger that such media will only be available via native apps, rather than the browser.

Earlier this year the Free Software Foundation was one of 27 organisations strongly criticising proposals for Encrypted Media Extensions, a W3C draft specification for a set of APIs to allow HTML and JavaScript to interact with DRM systems, specifically with Content Decryption Modules (CDMs). This would allow the delivery of DRM-protected media through the browser without the use of plugins such as Flash or Silverlight.

The editors who drafted the initial EME spec are employees of Microsoft, Google and Netflix, and critics argue it is an attempt to elevate their business interests over the greater good of an open web where information can be shared freely.

Ultimately, Jaffe believes it is in the interest of everybody that protected content remains available on the web, and that EME is a compromise that will make this possible.

"The concern that we have is the premium content that owners are protecting using DRM will end up being forever severed from the web," Jaffe told ZDNet at the Cloud World Forum in London.

"We would like the web platform to be a universal platform. We don't think it's good when content finds its way into walled gardens or into closed apps.

"We're not going to standardise proprietary DRM systems, but on the other hand we don't want it to be excluded from the web platform. The compromise is a set of open APIs that give a standard framework to bring in this content via plug-in, but where we don't standardise the plug-in."

A wider range of interests can be represented by developing these DRM hooks within W3C, Jaffe argues, than if a similar spec to EME were developed by a consortium of companies externally.

EME is not the final word on web support for content protection, Jaffe said, stressing the specification is only a working draft rather than an approved web standard.

"We haven't standardised EME, all that we've done to date is we've accepted the fact that content protection is a valid requirement and a valid use case the web platform community should be concerned with," he said.

"That's been taken up by the HTML Working Group and right now EME is merely the current proposal. But lots of people have talked about different solutions to content protection — [for instance] watermarking — and from the point of view of the consortium if the web community were to reach a consensus that there's a better way to protect the content that's OK."

Topics: Web development

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Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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