W3C support of DRM will hurt Web experience, critics say

The World Wide Web Consortium has bowed to pressure from content providers calling for more copyright protection in the HTML 5.1 spec, a move critics say could lead to a user-unfriendly web.

[Google gets kudos for tossing older Chrome plug-in API]

Earlier this week, W3C Director Tim Berners-Lee decided the major standards body would continue its work on building the Encrypted Media Extension (EME) into the HTML5.1 standard. While the W3C was "sensitive" to the controversy around EME, it believed the technology had a place in the spec.

EME would enable copyright owners to embed within a web page video wrapped with the digital rights management technology of their choosing. Netflix, Google and Microsoft devised EME as a standardized mechanism for applying restrictions on the use of content.

In moving ahead with EME, the W3C said its reasoning today was the same as in May, when the HTML Working Group published its "perspectives" on EME.

"Different publishers use the Web differently, some choosing to make content available free of charge, others preferring to control access," Jeff Jaffe, chief executive of the W3C, wrote in the organization's blog.

"Most people would agree that individuals and institutions in general should have the right to limit access to proprietary information, or charge for access to content they own."

Content providers can protect their property today using proprietary technology, such as Microsoft Silverlight and Adobe Flash. By standardizing the process, the W3C is opening the door to far more than just the protection of video in the future, critics say.

Among the most vocal is the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which argues that what starts with fencing off video could lead to others doing the same with images and text, which people are use to saving and copying and pasting, respectively. Even code could be locked away, so Web applications could be executed, but not examined online.

"A Web where you cannot cut and paste text; where your browser can't 'Save As...' an image; where the 'allowed' uses of saved files are monitored beyond the browser; where JavaScript is sealed away in opaque tombs; and maybe even where we can no longer effectively 'View Source' on some sites, is a very different Web from the one we have today," Danny O'Brien, international director for the EFF, said on the group's blog.

Other vocal critics have included the Free Software Foundation and blogger and author Cory Doctorow, a DRM opponent who wrote that the W3C and Berners-Lee have "bought into the lie that Hollywood will abandon the Web and move somewhere else (AOL?), if they don't get to redesign the open Internet to suit their latest profit-maximization scheme."

In general, critics of DRM have argued that the technology makes it difficult for people to enjoy content, while doing little to prevent piracy. On the other side, the movie industry has been stepping up efforts to battle copyright infringement.

Last month, the Motion Picture Association of America released a study it claimed showed that search engines, such as Google, were playing a "significant role" in taking people to pirated movies and TV shows online. Hollywood is lobbying Congress to pressure search engines into not directing users to illegitimate content.

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