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Can digital rights management and the open web coexist?

Chris Minnick and Ed Tittel | May 29, 2014
The Netflix-backed Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) proposal, and recent revelations that requirements for DRM in HTML5 are confidential, have generated furor among advocates of the Open Web. Let's cut through the hyperbole.

In the music industry, for example, record labels initially pushed for (and got) DRM in Apple iTunes. However, after Amazon started releasing DRM-free MP3s, every record label eventually dropped DRM on iTunes in 2009. The inconvenience of recording streaming audio, compared with the relatively low price of purchasing music, may be largely what makes DRM-free music viable.

One example that indicates that people will pay for DRM-free video content is comedian Louis C.K.'s tremendous success with selling high-quality, DRM-free video downloads directly on his website. His " Live at the Beacon Theater" video netted more than $1 million from individual $5 downloads. Despite this success, the idea of DRM-free content for higher-value content that has been traditionally distributed using DVDs still worries motion picture studios.

One thing is for certain: The gears of the W3C turn slowly, and they seem to be turning exceptionally slowly for EME. Perhaps a lengthy standardization process can give both sides a chance to work out their differences and come to an agreement. That said, it's far more likely that a completely different solution will arise in the meantime.


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