from the disappointing dept
This is not a huge surprise, but it’s still disappointing to find out that the W3C has officially approved putting DRM into HTML 5 in the form of Encrypted Media Extensions (EME). Some will insist that EME is not technically DRM, but it is the standardizing of how DRM will work in HTML going forward. As we’ve covered for years, there was significant concern over this plan, but when it was made clear that the MPAA (a relatively new W3C member) required DRM in HTML, and Netflix backed it up strongly, the W3C made it fairly clear that there was no real debate to be had on the issue. Recognizing that DRM was unavoidable, EFF proposed a fairly straightforward covenant, that those participating agree not to use the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA (DMCA 1201) to go after security researchers, who cracked DRM in EME. The W3C already has similar covenants regarding patents, so this didn’t seem like a heavy lift. Unfortunately, this proposal was more or less dismissed by the pro-DRM crowd as being an attempt to relitigate the question of DRM itself (which was not true).
Earlier this year, Tim Berners-Lee, who had the final say on things, officially put his stamp of approval on EME without a covenant, leading the EFF to appeal the decision. That appeal has now failed. Unfortunately, the votes on this were kept entirely secret:
So much for transparency.
In Bryan Lunduke’s article about this at Network World, he notes that despite the W3C saying that it had asked members if they wanted their votes to be public, with all declining, Cory Doctorow (representing EFF) says that actually EFF was slapped on the wrist for asking W3C members if they would record their votes publicly:
?The W3C did not, to my knowledge as [Advisory Committee] rep, ask members whether they would be OK with having their votes disclosed in this latest poll, and if they had, EFF would certainly have been happy to have its vote in the public record. We feel that this is a minimal step towards transparency in the standards-setting that affects billions of users and will redound for decades to come.?
?By default, all W3C Advisory Committee votes are ?member-confidential.? Previously, EFF has secured permission from members to disclose their votes. We have also been censured by the W3C leadership for disclosing even vague sense of a vote (for example, approximate proportions).?
It was eventually revealed that out of 185 members participating in the vote, 108 voted for DRM, 57 voted against, and 20 abstained.
And while the W3C insisted it couldn’t reveal who voted for or against the proposal… it had no problem posting “testimonials” from the MPAA, the RIAA, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Microsoft and a few others talking about just how awesome DRM in HTML will be. Incredibly, Netflix even forgot the bullshit talking point that “EME is not DRM” and directly emphasized how “integration of DRM into web browsers delivers improved performance, battery life, reliability, security and privacy.” Right, but during this debate we kept getting yelled at by people who said EME is not DRM. So nice of you to admit that was all a lie.
In response to all of this, Cory Doctorow has authored a scathing letter, having the EFF resign from the W3C. It’s worth reading.
The W3C is a body that ostensibly operates on consensus. Nevertheless, as the coalition in support of a DRM compromise grew and grew ? and the large corporate members continued to reject any meaningful compromise ? the W3C leadership persisted in treating EME as topic that could be decided by one side of the debate. In essence, a core of EME proponents was able to impose its will on the Consortium, over the wishes of a sizeable group of objectors ? and every person who uses the web. The Director decided to personally override every single objection raised by the members, articulating several benefits that EME offered over the DRM that HTML5 had made impossible.
But those very benefits (such as improvements to accessibility and privacy) depend on the public being able to exercise rights they lose under DRM law ? which meant that without the compromise the Director was overriding, none of those benefits could be realized, either. That rejection prompted the first appeal against the Director in W3C history.
In our campaigning on this issue, we have spoken to many, many members’ representatives who privately confided their belief that the EME was a terrible idea (generally they used stronger language) and their sincere desire that their employer wasn’t on the wrong side of this issue. This is unsurprising. You have to search long and hard to find an independent technologist who believes that DRM is possible, let alone a good idea. Yet, somewhere along the way, the business values of those outside the web got important enough, and the values of technologists who built it got disposable enough, that even the wise elders who make our standards voted for something they know to be a fool’s errand.
We believe they will regret that choice. Today, the W3C bequeaths an legally unauditable attack-surface to browsers used by billions of people. They give media companies the power to sue or intimidate away those who might re-purpose video for people with disabilities. They side against the archivists who are scrambling to preserve the public record of our era. The W3C process has been abused by companies that made their fortunes by upsetting the established order, and now, thanks to EME, they?ll be able to ensure no one ever subjects them to the same innovative pressures.
This is a disappointing day for the web, and a black mark on Tim Berners-Lee’s reputation and legacy of stewardship over it.