May 29, 2013 | By Danny O'Brien

Why the HTML5 Standard Fight Matters

Today, EFF announced that it was making a formal objection to including consideration of digital rights management (DRM) in the First Public Working Draft from the HTML working group of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).  This is part of EFF's long-running involvement in standards processes, fighting the entertainment companies and DRM vendors that want permanent control over disruptive technologies.

In this case, EFF's concerns focus on the proposed Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) document.  Despite its innocuous name, EME only exists to hard-wire the requirements of DRM vendors onto the emerging web standard.  So last week, EFF increased its involvement in the W3C from being a regular participant and invited expert to a full member, to challenge DRM in the group's future work.  We feel that this is the best way to broaden the discussion within the W3C of the consequences of accepting DRM-based proposals like EME for the future of the Web and the W3C as a whole.

EFF is not the only group concerned here.  When EME was finally ultimately declared in-scope for the HTML working group, the decision was made by W3C’s executive team, despite discontent among key standards developers and the subsequent protest of more than twenty thousand technologists and groups, including EFF.  While disappointment at that decision outside the W3C has been widespread, the debate on the problems of DRM for that the web platform within the consortium has been muted. Its strategic advisory committee of W3C members has until now not spoken on the decision, despite many of that community having privately expressed concern.

EFF has a lot of experience working within these kinds of standards processes in an attempt to combat the effects of DRM.  In 2002, we joined the activities of Broadcast Protection Discussion Group to highlight the dangers of its proposed digital TV DRM standard, which briefly became the government-mandated Broadcast Flag before being struck down in the courts.  Subsequently we participated in Europe’s Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) project, as they considered implementing imposing similar controls on European consumers.  This new W3C standard comes from exactly same roots: Hollywood's desire to supress innovation and quash othe wishes of individual computer owners.

The entertainment industry's threats to impose control remain the same: if you don’t do as we say, you won’t get our premium content, and your technology will be rendered irrelevant. As we’ve seen with both music, and digital TV, the threat is empty. Commercial content goes where the users are. And users go where their rights and desires are best respected. We think that the guardian of those rights on the Web should be the W3C, and we’re happy to be help it ensure that remains the case.

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