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Web's gatekeepers embrace DRM for next HTML5 standard

Ian Paul | Oct. 7, 2013
Universal content protection methods make sense, but the EFF argues that embracing DRM goes against the philosophy of the open Web.

The EFF doesn't necessarily think all of these usage nightmares will become a reality, but the group does wonder how the W3C can refuse other DRM schemes now that the proverbial barn door has been opened.

Don't forget the silly
Digital dystopias aside, if you're on the side of the EFF and hate the idea of copy protection, there are a few things to keep in mind. The W3C is not a standards body in the traditional sense. The group has no actual power to enforce its decisions on Websites and browser makers.

Generally, it's wise to play along with the W3C's guidelines since everybody else is (at least these days), but Web purists are free to disregard any of the group's recommendations. In fact, there is already a grassroots push to try and get Mozilla to categorically state it won't include the EME specification in Firefox.

Given that Apple, Google, and Microsoft—all of whom sell video services themselves—are sure to include EME in their browsers, however, it seems unlikely Mozilla would hold out for long even if it did take a stand.

Beyond the true power of the W3C, there is a more important thing to realize: DRM is silly. It simply doesn't work. The biggest problem, as author and activist Cory Doctorow has pointed out on many occasions, is that for DRM to work you have to give both the encrypted content and the power to decrypt that content to your potential attacker.

You can't watch Netflix videos or a Blu-ray disc, after all, without the ability to get past that DRM. And once you've given someone the keys to your digital kingdom, it's only a matter of time until a determined hacker figures out how to crack your copy protections.

Don't believe it? Type "unlock Kindle books" into your favorite search engine. As long as you know how to click a mouse you'll have unfettered ePub versions of all your copy-protected ebooks within an afternoon.

Netflix isn't immune from foiled copy protections either. The company's exclusive DRM-laden, online-only content including Arrested Development, House of Cards, and Orange is the New Black all appeared on torrent sites within hours of going live on Netflix. Even if hackers didn't actually crack Netflix's copy protections and only used screen recording software, it proves there's always a way to get around nearly any copy protection scheme.

As the EFF notes "DRM is a pain to design, does little to prevent piracy, and is by its nature, user-unfriendly."

So take heart, friends of the open Web: It's highly likely there will always be a way around any potential anti-copying measures built into the fabric of HTML.

As for the inclusion of EME, well, as long as copy protections stop at premium video services, it seems unlikely that many people will mind or even notice.

Whether that's a good or a bad thing, I'll leave to you.


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