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10/3/2013
06:41 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Keep The Web DRM-Free

The World Wide Web Consortium is moving ahead with support for digital locks for content in the HTML specification. Pray the group reconsiders.

The primary Web standards organization, the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, has approved a new charter that could fundamentally change the nature of the Web.

The standards body this week said that its director, Tim Berners-Lee, affirmed that content protection technology, in the form of the Encrypted Media Extension (EME) proposal, could continue to be part of the W3C HTML Working Group's new charter.

Assuming content protection remains part of the HTML specification and survives objections, technological content locks -- often referred to as digital restriction management, or DRM -- could become part of the HTML5.1 standard.

If that happens, it will be the beginning of the end of the open Web.

[ What is Google up to? Read Google's Flutter Buy: Big Gesture?. ]

The Electronic Frontier Foundation characterized the move as a dangerous step that will lead DRM vendors, providers of high-value content and browser vendors to support W3C-compliant content protection for Web video.

"By approving this idea, the W3C has ceded control of the 'user agent' [the term for a Web browser in W3C parlance] to a third-party, the content distributor," the EFF said in a blog post on Thursday. "That breaks a -- perhaps until now unspoken -- assurance about who has the final say in your Web experience, and indeed who has ultimate control over your computing device."

Consumer control of media has been under siege since home taping and video cassette recorders began altering the content industry's revenue model. The shift to digital technology in the 1980s stoked industry fears, leading to futile efforts to keep digital audio recording out of the hands of consumers, to software protected by hardware dongles and other copy protection schemes, like the video industry's CSS. None of that really worked.

In 2009, when Apple formally abandoned DRM in iTunes, Creative Strategies' Tim Bajarin declared, "I think the writing was on the wall, both for Apple and the labels, that basically consumers were not going to put up with DRM anymore."

But the content industry sees the writing on the wall as graffiti and keeps painting it over in whitewash. DRM, the fundamentally futile concept of trying to protect that which must at some point exist in a copyable form to be consumed, just will not die. The EFF is too charitable in suggesting that user control online is only now being challenged. It has been under siege since Martin Luther, if not before.

Lately, the tech industry has learned that most consumers will trade control for convenience. Apple's iOS offered consumers usability, commerce and security without the burden and benefit of control that traditional computer users expect. The shift toward streaming media and cloud services has pushed content consumption and software usage away from ownership toward a rental model.

More recently, Google began offering Chrome Apps, Web apps that come packaged with a browser runtime so they operate as if they were desktop apps, outside of the user's Web browser. But there's a price: The inability to easily view the HTML and Javascript source code of the app and the inability to alter client-side content with an extension, like AdBlock Plus or Greasemonkey. It's the Web, but made for TV.

The Web gives users the power to alter Web content and presentation. That may not last much longer. The EFF argues that with standardized DRM, it may not be long before Web sites disable the ability to save images locally, to view source code, to copy and paste Web page text, to access fonts, or perform other useful computing functions. The Web would become like a PDF file, locked down and parceled out by permission.

In a blog post, W3C CEO Jeff Jaffe defended Web DRM back in May. "Without content protection, owners of premium video content -- driven by both their economic goals and their responsibilities to others -- will simply deprive the Open Web of key content," he wrote. "Therefore, while the actual DRM schemes are clearly not open, the Open Web must accommodate them as best possible."

But you can't have it both ways. Either the Web is open or it is closed. Either the user has control or the user is controlled. There's no middle ground. You cannot serve two masters in this context, as much as Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft might wish otherwise.

To the content industry, I say, "Please deprive us of your precious content. Begone!" There's always cable TV, Blu-Ray discs and HDMI for those who have to have Hollywood. The Web thrived in the mid-90s before you arrived and will survive your absence, for as long as you can afford to hide behind your DRM and your pay walls. Judging by the dwindling demand for DRM platforms like Microsoft Silverlight, that won't be very long.

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Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
10/4/2013 | 4:00:23 PM
re: Keep The Web DRM-Free
The PDF analogy is excellent. To many people outside tech, this is an abstraction - until suddenly they try to save a funny picture to post on Facebook and can't. It's all fun and games until someone loses a meme.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
10/4/2013 | 4:51:28 PM
re: Keep The Web DRM-Free
Why does DRM need to be an W3C standard? Seems like there are plenty of proprietary techs for that purpose.
Haroldwolf
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Haroldwolf,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/4/2013 | 4:55:22 PM
re: Keep The Web DRM-Free
DRM is what happens when you write legislation based on donor contributions. The legislation is almost exclusive in protecting the rights of the creator while ignoring the rights of a consumer who pays for the content.
midmachine
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midmachine,
User Rank: Strategist
10/4/2013 | 6:16:56 PM
re: Keep The Web DRM-Free
There is nothing wrong with content providers trying to monetize their content delivered on the web. That being said, the mechanism they are considering now is intrusive to all who use the web. I pay a subscription to Netflix so I can view the content. If I visit a news site (free) and stumble across a photo (which is more than likely available on hundreds of other news sites) and decide I want to save it/share it but can't due to DRM (which works horribly in every iteration I have come across) then the web will begin to whither like the music industry has. People won't put up with that, I know that I won't. If the content provider wants every inch of the page protected for monetizing purposes then charge a fee to view. Oh wait, that never worked. The web is a different animal from the local news stand. It empowers individuals to view/consume content their own way. If it doesn't work for your business model find something else, Don't force standards that break things simply because the platform you decide to use to make money (nothing wrong with making money) isn't meeting your needs.
midmachine
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midmachine,
User Rank: Strategist
10/4/2013 | 6:17:21 PM
re: Keep The Web DRM-Free
Absolutely correct
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
10/6/2013 | 6:13:54 PM
re: Keep The Web DRM-Free
This position is highly unrealistic. Content owners of video refuse to make that available without DRM. Most of that content is time sensitive, such as financial reports and interviews. Most of that is still being done in Flash, which is highly DRM'd.

Linux users have been complaining since the beginning that they can't get content. It's because Linux OS's, for the most part don't allow DRM to function.

We need to look at just how far this goes before condemning it completely. It's just not realistic to expect the web to host interesting content without some DRM. Look at YouTube. We see far more content there that is commercial because of the advertising Google has added., along with the DRM. That allows them to put copyrighted content into YouTube that couldn't have gotten there otherwise.

While some DRM can be a pain, to be sure, without it, we will be disappointed at the lack of content. That content will only be available in the owner's own web sites.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
10/6/2013 | 6:49:36 PM
re: Keep The Web DRM-Free
The point is that what doesn't work, and what does work will become apparent. Companies are interested in maximizing sales and profits. If something doesn't work, they will try something else. If they DRM everything, and they lose customers, they will back down to the point at which the customers come back.

As far as the music industry goes, you are wrong. People did put up with it very happily. It isn't DRM per se that people see as a problem, but rather how content owners take advantage of their customers because they can do so.

Before Apple made a deal with the music industry, and released songs for $0.99, songs were being sold for $2.50 to $3.75 apiece. Customers wouldn't buy into those prices. And so piracy blossomed. But they did buy into the 99 cents a song, and turned Apple into the biggest music vendor in the world. This was with DRM. But Apple's DRM allowed people to do far more with their music than the older schemes, and that made a big difference as well.

B music is much easier to pirate because the file sized are vastly smaller. Most people still don't pirate movies and Tv shows because of the hassle.
asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
10/6/2013 | 9:34:11 PM
re: Keep The Web DRM-Free
DRM will kill the web in the same manner it kills everything else. The web thrives exactly because it's **not** preprogrammed/nannified like cable TV. People consume content on their own terms. To attempt to micromanage that equals the death of the internet and all manner of digital innovation.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
10/7/2013 | 3:28:18 PM
re: Keep The Web DRM-Free
The web has been full of DRM since the beginning. Tis will change nothing other than to make it easier, and cheaper for companies and institutions. It will make proprietary software such as flash unnecessary.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
10/8/2013 | 1:25:50 AM
re: Keep The Web DRM-Free
If there's an audience, the content will come, DRM or no. If companies want to lock their content in DRM, it's their prerogative to do so. But open Web standards should not be compromised for corporate convenience.
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