Mozilla has somewhat belatedly announced it’s going to add Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) to its Firefox browser to facilitate Digital Rights Management (DRM), even though the technology goes against its principle of a free and open Internet.
The decision was taken because the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recently caved in to pressure from companies like Google, Microsoft and Netflix to add EME to its HTML5 specifications. The founder of the Internet, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, supported that move, while Mozilla at first objected saying it was technically unnecessary. But with everyone else jumping on board and threatening to make Firefox “irrelevant”, Mozilla has decided to comply.
Mozilla argues that it has to adopt DRM even though it despises the technology. It’s scared that if it doesn’t adopt it (like Google Chrome and Internet Explorer have done) it risks losing market share. If Firefox doesn’t have DRM, people can’t watch Netflix, and that could cause its users to change browsers.
A ‘safer’ implementation of DRM
To appease people, Mozilla has at least tried to implement EME in a way that’s more secure and open than other browsers have done, as it explains in this lengthy blog post. Basically, the W3C spec requires the use of proprietary Content Decryption Modules, which is one of Mozilla’s big objections to the system. Mozilla’s Chief Technology Officer Andreas Gal said in a blog post that it would reluctantly use Adobe’s CDM system, but it would have to be software that users download and it won’t be built into Firefox directly.
For added user protection, Firefox will run Adobe’s CDM in a sandbox, so that the software will only send the minimal amount of data on a user’s machine back to the content provider and ensure it has no access to either the user’s hard drive or network.
The sandboxing technology Mozilla develops will be open source, and Gall said Adobe and content providers are welcome to audit it and make sure the code is up to specification. If developers want to build their own sandboxes for Adobe’s CDM, Gall said, Mozilla is fine with that.
In addition, Mozilla is also making it so that people need to opt-in in order to activate DRM. It also deserves credit for not – unlike the W3C – pretending that EME isn’t really DRM (EME is code that activates DRM). The organization is quite upfront when it admits this is DRM (to all intents and purposes, anyway), and explains it’s very uncomfortable with it. As Gal notes, “we would much prefer a world and a web without DRM…”
Unfortunately, Mozilla has (like the W3C) subscribed to the foolish belief that the Internet needs Hollywood more than Hollywood needs the Internet, when this is obviously not the case. The truth is, the Internet wasn’t built to be the next broadcast medium for big Hollywood blockbusters. It was built as a computing and communications platform. That’s what made it special and it’s why so many people have flocked to it. And it’s because everyone now uses the Internet that Hollywood now wants to control it so badly. Admittedly, people would like to have access to Hollywood movies, but that’s not the main reason they go online, it’s just an added bonus. You could delete every movie that’s ever been posted online and most people would still use the Internet anyway.
We’ve see this game played out before. For years, the music industry demanded DRM from online music stores, and the likes of Apple were happy to provide it. Only later, the record lables realized imposing DRM was a complete waste of time and money for no real benefit – if anything, it just helped give Apple more power over the music industry. Finally, record labels did away with DRM and it had virtually no impact on their ability to make money.
The book industry is now demanding the same thing, and basically giving all the power to Amazon which is happy to provide DRM. And so it’s astounding that Hollywood also wants DRM so badly, even though it’s inevitably cracked and broken within hours of a new DVD or movie download coming available. The truth is that no one – not Hollywood or anyone else – needs DRM. It just isn’t very effective, but now the entire Internet has caved into its demands it’s going to be a while before Hollywood realizes that for itself.