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Librarians Call on W3C to Rethink its Support for DRM

DEEPLINKS BLOG
July 18, 2017
DRM

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) has called on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to reconsider its decision to incorporate digital locks into official HTML standards. Last week, W3C announced its decision to publish Encrypted Media Extensions (EME)—a standard for applying locks to web video—in its HTML specifications.

IFLA urges W3C to consider the impact that EME will have on the work of libraries and archives:

While recognising both the potential for technological protection measures to hinder infringing uses, as well as the additional simplicity offered by this solution, IFLA is concerned that it will become easier to apply such measures to digital content without also making it easier for libraries and their users to remove measures that prevent legitimate uses of works.

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Technological protection measures […] do not always stop at preventing illicit activities, and can often serve to stop libraries and their users from making fair uses of works. This can affect activities such as preservation, or inter-library document supply. To make it easier to apply TPMs, regardless of the nature of activities they are preventing, is to risk unbalancing copyright itself.

IFLA’s concerns are an excellent example of the dangers of digital locks (sometimes referred to as digital rights management or simply DRM): under the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and similar copyright laws in many other countries, it’s illegal to circumvent those locks or to provide others with the means of doing so. That provision puts librarians in legal danger when they come across DRM in the course of their work—not to mention educators, historians, security researchers, journalists, and any number of other people who work with copyrighted material in completely lawful ways.

Of course, as IFLA’s statement notes, W3C doesn’t have the authority to change copyright law, but it should consider the implications of copyright law in its policy decisions: “While clearly it may not be in the purview of the W3C to change the laws and regulations regulating copyright around the world, they must take account of the implications of their decisions on the rights of the users of copyright works.”

EFF is in the process of appealing W3C’s controversial decision, and we’re urging the standards body to adopt a covenant protecting security researchers from anti-circumvention laws.

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