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

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.

TOPICS: Web development

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."

Topic: Web development


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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  • Here's an odd thought...

    Maybe parts of the web *should* be walled off? Exchanging online freedom for the ability to watch "Honey Boo Boo" over an http connection isn't exactly a fair trade, yanno?
    • It would be walled off anyways

      Imagine trying to watch a DRMed show on an Android tablet and it pops up and says: "Please install the *blah* DRM component for Win7/8, IE 11 to continue."

      The DRM module standard being proposed is just hooks. The actual DRM decoding is going to be a binary blob that will be CPU and/or OS specific.

      But, say they make a reasonable effort to at least have the module(s) available for most platforms? Say, like Flash was? Well, if it goes anything like Flash, it will make non-Windows users suffer with a buggy, incomplete, security hole ridden mess. It also certainly isn't going to do anything to improve battery life or video quality.
  • Absolutely false and misleading

    I found this comment to be insultingly deceptive, and Jaffe needs to be censured or fired for such a blatant shill for the media cartels. This move ENCOURAGES content providers of all sorts to use DRM, and it puts new burdens on end-users that would end up killing off usage of the web, not making more content available. The "walled gardens" comment is especially galling, because that is EXACTLY what he is proposing to embed in the standard, only on a much larger scale.

    terry flores
  • Here's a thought for the pro-DRM industry:

    If it's a picture or a movie and it can be looked at with eyes, it can be copied no matter how much DRM you put on it. Someone can set their PC to record whatever is on the screen. If you take away that capability, then they can turn a video camera on to the screen. Your efforts to control it are pretty futile. The only way to prevent movie piracy is to not release your movies or pictures in any form that is viewable.

    If it's a game or some other executable in which people have to actively participate, then copying it or getting around the DRM is harder, but not impossible.
    Jacob VanWagoner
  • I'll take the risk

    If I want copyrighted content, I'll buy it separately rather than allowing third parties to decide what I can and cannot do with my computer.
    John L. Ries
    • I agree. One more reason not to let the cloud take over.

      All the media companies are doing right now are trying to come up with stop gap measures to have something that provides them with some protection between now, and what they hope is the not too distant future of complete cloud computing.

      The media companies are just dying to see complete cloud computing take over. They of course look forward to the day where they just work with a software company that produces cloud based OS's, and between them it will be a real snap as to what can and cannot be done with your not so personal, PC. For you and I and everyone else just about the only way you could get a copy of any protected material would be to hold your iPhone version whatever up to the screen and take video, and even that will not work if Apple makes it so iOS version whatever will see onscreen coding in some form of DRM that prevents that from working.

      Push push push to the cloud. One day they will get us all there and it will be exactly everything the way they want it from only choices they will provide. And it will be all there for you to rent from them.
  • Interesting word play

    It isn't about the bad things they want to do, it is about the good things you want to have!

    It isn't the end users who are walling themselves off, it's the big media companies. DRM doesn't work, but of course their conclusion is that it is better than nothing. Just say no.
  • Giant doubletalk

    Apparently embracing DRM and _ensuring_ walling off parts of the web is better, somehow.

    The good doctor is betraying everything W3C was supposed to stand for.
    Mikko Rauhala
  • Bug or Feature

    Yeah, that's a known feature of the net. It detects brokenness and routes around the problem. Why should DRM be any different? DRM Breaks open access, so the net should route around it. Let 'em build their paywalls, and let them languish in a train station that nobody visits. Why is this a bad thing?
  • It's The Connectivity, Stupid!

    What drives the Internet is not content, but connectivity. There were other online networks before the Internet--anybody remember Compuserve, Prodigy, the original AOL? Their selling point was their exclusive content, which you couldn't get on the Internet. Yet they were all swept aside, simply because the Internet offered better connectivity between people.

    The Internet doesn't need content providers. It is content providers that need the Internet.
  • Someone hand the author a lifevest. The story is a failboat.

    At first I intended to write a reply directed to the W3C CEO's lunatic argument that he wants to start walling up the internet in order to save us from the internet being walled up. Then I read the replies... and noticed that exactly 100% of them already raging with the same general points I was going to make.

    So instead I'll address the the author directly. Yo, Nick, do you think maybe you blew it a bit here? Maybe you didn't intend to write an advocacy piece, but that's how it came out.... this story is virtually nothing but direct quotes from advocates and minimal paraphrases of advocate arguments. And thus far all indications are that your (tech-savvy) readership are almost unanimously opposed. Seriously, we have to wall up the internet to save it from being walled up? I don't know whether to categorize that argument (and the arguments in general) as "flagrantly dishonest" or "completely loony". Several close runner-up classifications for it are "outrageous", "dangerous", "wrong", and "utterly stupid".

    Perhaps the story could have used a bit less copy-paste and a bit more independent intelligent reporting. If independent intelligent informative writing takes too long and you want to stick with copy-paste and minimal paraphrases-of-quotes, then how about some slight semblance of balance with at least ONE decently selected copy-paste from the other side? The story as-written contains nothing more than a pair of very forgettable half-sentences indicating the existence of people think the HTML-DRM scheme is a bad idea, without a single word why. I actually had to carefully read the story a second time to catch that there were TWO content-free mentions of opposition. Yeah there's a link, but the body of the story is fail in itself.
    beau parisi
  • Carl Saga's Baloney Detection Kit still works

    Basically this is an argument of negative consequences, so it isn't a proper argument at all. He's just threatening us so we'll do what he wants. So no. I'd rather have no access to DRM crap than have DRM everywhere. I had some DRM protected stuff years ago, so long as I kept paying I could watch it, so effectively I had rented a very very expensive movie channel. Sorry, I don't want to rent things, I want to buy things and have the right to use them fairly. I can take my DVD to my friend's house so we can watch the movie, I should be able to do that with digital versions too. If I can't then I have lost capability. I am not paying more for less. I am not becoming a revenue stream. I'd rather read paper books than that.