HTML5 steps closer to baked-in DRM support

The first draft of a specification that would provide a hook for DRM systems to interact with HTML5 has been published by the web standards body W3C.
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

The web standards body W3C has taken the next step towards baking support for DRM (digital rights management) into HTML.

W3C last Friday announced the publication of the first draft of the Encrypted Media Extensions specification, which would provide a hook for DRM-systems to interact with HTML5.

The draft specification would apply to video, audio or interactive content marked with HTML5 media element tags. The specification defines an API that would provide access to content decryption modules (CDMs), part of DRM systems, when that media was played.

Earlier this year, 27 organisations — including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Free Software Foundation — described the proposed specification as "disastrous" and claimed it would change HTML to encourage the use of DRM. The W3C should reject the proposal, they said, on the grounds that DRM restricts access to content and contradicts W3C's stated goal of making the benefits of the web available to "all people".

Explaining the decision to publish the first draft of the EME spec W3C, chief executive Jeff Jaffe wrote: "While we welcome and value input from all parties, we intend to continue to work on content protection, and publish this draft."

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.

But while opponents of the specification see it as encouraging the use of DRM and closing off parts of the web, Jaffe argued that failing to support content protection in HTML could result in wider access to premium content being lost altogether.

"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," he wrote.

"It is W3C's overwhelming responsibility to pursue broad interoperability, so that people can share information, whether content is protected or available at no charge. A situation where premium content is relegated to applications inaccessible to the Open Web or completely locked down devices would be far worse for all."

Jaffe also countered the argument that EME encourages the spread of proprietary, closed software in the form of CDMs, arguing that the API defined under EME would work with both proprietary and non-proprietary CDMs.

The EME proposal states that "implementation of Digital Rights Management is not required for compliance with" the specification. It says that sites that don't wish to protect content with DRM needn't do so, and can instead rely on the ability of the browser, or other user agent, to provide an unencrypted key to play the media.

The EME spec is an early draft not a final recommendation and will be subject to further revisions and consultation.

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