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Thursday, October 30 2014 @ 08:42 AM CDT

The W3C's Soul at Stake

Lib Tech

The World Wide Web consortium is considering a proposal to specify standards for HTML extensions to implement Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). The proposal is supported by Netflix, Microsoft, Google and the BBC.

The W3C's Soul at Stake

by Richard M. Stallman
Free Software Foundation
May 2, 2013

HTML was initially designed to describe the semantics of text and give control to the browser over how to present it. Since it became common for companies to have web sites, they have steered the development of HTML towards precise control over what the user sees and the behavior of the page -- arguably going in the wrong direction, but not an injustice ... until now.

Of course, the W3C cannot prevent companies from grafting DRM onto HTML. They do this through nonfree plug-ins such as Flash, and with nonfree Javascript code, thus showing that we need control over the Javascript code we run and over the C code we run.

However, where the W3C stands is tremendously important for the battle to eliminate DRM. On a practical level, standardizing DRM would make it more convenient, in a very shallow sense. This could influence people who think only of short-term convenience to think of DRM as acceptable, which could in turn encourage more sites to use DRM.

On the political level, making room for DRM in the specifications of the World Wide Web would constitute an endorsement in principle of DRM by the W3C. Standardization by the W3C could facilitate DRM that is harder for users to break than DRM implemented in Javascript code. If the DRM is implemented in the operating system, this could result in distribution of works that can't be played at all on a free operating system such as GNU/Linux.

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