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22 March 2013, 12:04

DRM dispute around HTML5

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A plan by Google, Microsoft and Netflix to integrate an extension for playing back encrypted media content in HTML5 has caused dissatisfaction among US civil rights campaigners. The bone of contention is a proposal to integrate "Encrypted Media Extensions" (EME) that will serve as an interface for playing back DRM-protected content in the browser and which is currently being reviewed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The initiators of the proposal emphasise that this is not intended as a way of anchoring Digital Rights Management (DRM) facilities into the specification. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) translates this into: "We're not vampires, but we are going to invite them into your house."

The extension is designed to allow users to play back content that may be encrypted; for this purpose, the plan is to provide page developers with an API that can handle various encryption systems. The initiators of the proposal say that these don't necessarily have to be copyright protection systems. However, Mark Watson, who is responsible for EME at Netflix, has since admitted that DRM is the proposal's focus in terms of potential fields of use.

Google employee Ian Hickson, who is one of the main HTML5 contributors, has also commented. The purpose of DRM is not to prevent copyright violations, he said, adding that, in his view, its purpose is to give content providers leverage against the creators of playback devices. Hickson explained that this is the reason why DRM systems are working "really well" in the video and book area despite the fact that they can all be bypassed, and that their encryption methods have all been broken.

To the EFF, the initiative is an attempt to cater to the US movie industry's need to have better control over new technologies. "Movie studios have used DRM to enforce arbitrary restrictions on products including preventing fast-forwarding and imposing regional playback controls", said the civil rights campaigners. According to the EFF, what's at stake is the future of the language of the web, which has always stood for openness, interoperability and general availability. Introducing EME would mean that the W3C turns away from all its former principles and deprives itself of its reason to exist, the EFF added.

(Stefan Krempl / fab)

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