World wide web creator rules DRM support should be baked into web tech

Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the world wide web and director of the web standards body W3C, has rejected calls not to bake support for DRM into the web mark-up language HTML.
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

The creator of the world wide web and director of the web standards body W3C, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has backed measures to embed support for copy protected media in HTML5.

Proposals to add Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) to the next specification for HTML — the mark-up language used to create web pages — have prompted letters of protest from multiple digital rights groups and activists.

EME would provide a hook for DRM-protected audio, video and other content within HTML but notable free software advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Free Software Foundation, have called the proposals "disastrous".

They argue it is an attempt to elevate the business interests of movie studios and tech giants — employees of Microsoft, Google and Netflix drafted the specification — over the greater good of an open web where information can be shared freely, and would place unacceptable restrictions on how individuals use computers.

In a letter to the W3C earlier this year a consortium of 27 groups opposing EME wrote the specification would "harm interoperability, enshrine non-free software in W3C standards and perpetuate oppressive business models".

This week opponents of EME suffered a further setback, as it was revealed Berners-Lee had rejected calls for W3C to renounce its support for embedding "playback of protected content" in HTML, a goal set out in the proposed W3C HTML Working Group Charter.

"While we remain sensitive to the issues raised related to DRM and usage control, the director reconfirmed his earlier decision that the ongoing work is in scope," a W3C posting said earlier this week.

Speaking to ZDNet earlier this year, W3C CEO Dr Jeff Jaffe said that it is necessary to provide support for DRM within HTML to avoid scenarios where the movie studios remove films from the web to stop them being pirated.

"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," he said at the time

The EME specification defines an API that would interact with a DRM or simple encryption system when the media was played, and has been published by the HTML working group as an editor's draft but that is yet to be endorsed by the W3C.

Reacting to Berners-Lee's latest decision, the EFF said it was "deeply disappointed".

"That breaks a — perhaps until now unspoken — assurance about who has the final say in your web experience, and indeed who has ultimate control over your computing device," it wrote.

Further reading about Encrypted Media Extensions

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