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article imageDigital rights management leads EFF to resign from W3C

By James Walker     Sep 20, 2017 in Technology
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has announced it's resigning from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the standards body responsible for deciding what gets added to web browsers, after the organisation decided to standardise DRM controls.
Digital rights management (DRM) is one of the most contentious issues to arise out of the open Internet. The phrase describes technology that's intended to protect copyrighted content, such as videos, games and articles, from being stolen during digital distribution. Entertainment companies are naturally in favour of DRM. Proponents of the open web are not.
Over the past four years, the W3C has been considering the standardisation of "Encrypted Media Extensions" (EME). This API standardises DRM controls in browsers, giving publishers the ability to ensure their copyrighted content is protected from piracy and theft. It allows DRM-protected content to be decoded without using plugins by utilising decryption components instead. This week, it progressed from a proposal to an accepted Recommendation at the W3C.
The EFF has staunchly resisted the introduction of EME. Along with others like the Free Software Foundation, the organisation has repeatedly voiced concerns about the introduction of closed code into web browsers.
There are also fears that publishers could use EME to aggressively pursue people who attempt to bypass DRM, which is illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In many cases, bypassing DRM can help the user though, such as in the case of browser extensions which make videos more accessible.
The bulk of the EFF's criticism is focused on decisions by the W3C leadership, which the EFF alleges wilfully ignored the opinions of its members. The compromise solution put forward by the EFF, which would have made it more difficult to use DRM laws to enforce EME, was rejected by senior leadership figures of the W3C, including Director and creator of the Internet Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
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The compromise would have granted publishers every legal right they have to protect their content. It would also have restricted their ability to use EME to shut down "legitimate" activities, like the bypassing of DRM controls for accessibility or research purposes. Supporters of the idea considered it the best way to protect the open web while addressing the problems of online piracy and theft.
In its blog post responding to EME's standardisation, the EFF accused the W3C of bowing to "abuse" from external companies and rejecting the values of the technologists that founded it. It said it would continue to take up the fight against the "toxic" DRM environment it claims the W3C has signalled endorsement of. Effective today, it has resigned from the W3C as an act of protest.
"Today, the W3C bequeaths a 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," said the EFF. "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 pressure."
In its own announcement, W3C CEO Jeff Jaffe acknowledged "many people" aren't happy with the decision. In a veiled attack on the EFF, he also called for the involved parties to "recognize the value of the W3C community" and claimed that the W3C's consensus-based process "played itself out properly." The fallout from this debate may have only just got started though, with attacks now centred on the W3C itself as well as the real issues around DRM.
More about Eff, W3c, Websites, Web browsers, Internet
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