The W3C, led by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, looks set to standardise DRM-enabling encrypted media extensions (EME) in browsers, a move that betrays the founding principles of the open web.
When Berners-Lee invented the web, he gave it away. His employer at the time, CERN, licensed the patents royalty-free for anyone to use. An open architecture that supported the free flow of information for all made it what it is today.
But that openness is under assault, and Berners-Lee’s support for standardising EME, a browser API that enables DRM (digital rights/restrictions management) for media playback, has provoked a raging battle within the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), the organisation that sets the standards for how browsers work.
The stakes could not be higher, to hear both sides tell it. On the one hand, Hollywood is terrified of online piracy, and studios insist that video streaming providers like Netflix use DRM to stop users from pirating movies. On the other hand, a long list of security experts argue that DRM breaks the web’s open architecture, and damages browser security, with cascading negative effects across the internet.
As the director of W3C, Berners-Lee shepherds the future of the web, and is under intense pressure from both camps. While the W3C has no governing power to mandate a solution—in fact, many browsers, including Chrome, ship with EME already—what the W3C does have is TimBL.
And both sides want his blessing…