Will Proposed DRM Framework Keep the Web Relevant?

The World Wide Web Consortium published a working draft last week for Encrypted Media Extensions (EME), which is a proposed framework that enables delivery of DRM-protected media content via browsers without using plugins such as Flash or Silverlight. While the announcement has met with sharp criticism from groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Free Software Foundation, Ars Technica suggests the framework will help keep the Web relevant.

“EME does not specify any DRM scheme per se,” explains Ars Technica. “Rather, it defines a set of APIs that allow JavaScript and HTML to interact with decryption/protection modules. These modules will tend to be platform-specific in one way or another and will contain the core DRM technology.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Software Foundation and others signed an open letter in opposition of the spec.

“This disastrous proposal would change HTML, the underlying language of the Web, to make it accommodate and encourage Digital Restrictions Management,” reads the letter. “EME is sponsored by a handful of powerful companies who are W3C members, like Microsoft and Netflix. These companies have been promoting DRM both for their own reasons and as part of their close relationships to major media companies. DRM restricts the public’s freedom, even beyond what overzealous copyright law requires, to the perceived benefit of this privileged, powerful few.”

Ars believes the groups are opposed to DRM on principle: “The FSF brands systems that support DRM as ‘defective by design,’ and insofar as DRM can impede legally protected fair use of media, it has a point. There’s a tension between DRM (itself legally protected courtesy of the DMCA) and permissions granted by copyright law.”

“However, it’s not clear that EME does anything to exacerbate that situation. The users of EME — companies like Netflix — are today, right now, already streaming DRM-protected media. It’s difficult to imagine that any content distributors that are currently distributing unprotected media are going to start using DRM merely because there’s a W3C-approved framework for doing so.”

The article further suggests that EME could potentially “make it easier for content distributors to experiment with — and perhaps eventually switch to — DRM-free distribution.”

“With plugins and apps, there’s no meaningful transition to a DRM-free world,” it concludes. “There’s no good way for distributors to test the waters and see if unprotected distribution is viable. With EME, there is. EME will keep content out of apps and on the Web, and it creates a stepping stone to a DRM-free world. That’s not hurting the open Web — it’s working to ensure its continued usefulness and relevance.”