Notification to ICT Standardisation Group at the European Commission: Post-pone DRM in HTML5

Today the European Commission is gathering its European Multi-Stakeholders Platform on ICT Standardisation to discuss issue on ICT and Standardisation issues in Europe. I have taken the opportunity to bring to the agenda the issue of DRM in HTML5, a currently much controversial issue which risks passing the standardisation procedures at W3C without further political scrutiny. I have had the help of my assistant Ulf Pettersson, who attends the event in my name as I have obligations in Strasbourg, and Martin Kliehm, a Piratenpartei member and well-acknowledged expert on public sector ICT use from Frankfurt.

Dear ICT experts and platform participants,

Unfortunately Ms Amelia Andersdotter, Member of the European Parliament, cannot be with us here today as she needs to remain in Strasbourg for important plenary votes. My name, however, is Ulf Pettersson and I work for Ms Andersdotter with matters of technology and intellectual property.

Amelia Andersdotter, who works with ICT issues in the Industry,  Energy and Research Committee in the European Parliament, is very happy to be part of this platform. Amelia believes careful, well informed and technically sound ICT standards are very important for a functioning society in which the citizens can trust. This is a perspective which necessarily touches upon the standards and architectures that we use, as citizens, to interface with different technologies around us, and one which is often overlooked both politically and technically. The choices we make for technology standards influences our daily lives by enabling, shaping or restricting the communications and interactions between citizens. The artist Carol Hanisch coined the famous phrase the “personal is political” – we believe the “technological is political”. Therefore, we need to make sure that human rights and human communication perspectives are taken into consideration at the level of standardization.

In this vein, Amelia Andersdotter would like this meeting to address the issue of DRM, Digital Rights Management, in HTML5. This is currently being decided on in the W3C under the name “Encrypted Media Extensions”. As decisions on this are being made now, more or less, it is important that well informed stakeholders, such as yourselves, act with expedience.

Amelia believes it would be wrong to standardize on Encrypted Media Extensions in HTML at this time. At the very least, more time is needed to properly reflect upon the consequences of such a standard choice for a very important technical infrastructure in contemporary society. There are many reasons why DRM in HTML is a bad idea, but we will limit this to two relevant legal obstacles. For the European Union, there are legislative reasons as to why DRM in HTML does not work out at this time.

Firstly, in practice, DRM sets up restrictions to the rights granted by copyright and freedom of expression laws. Thus, the standardization of DRM in HTML will pre-empt upcoming revisions to European Union copyright law. The Commission has announced its intention to reform the copyright legislation over the coming years. And as present efforts like the Licenses for Europe platform cannot achieve their targets – parts of it have already fallen apart – it becomes clear that legislative reforms will be necessary. Similarly, there are also rumors of an upcoming copyright reform in the United States.

It would be inappropriate for a standards consortium run by private actors to make decisions that could prevent or side-track political decisions in this area in the near future, before those decisions are made. We believe that democratic representatives need to make political decisions, and that these decisions should not be pre-empted by technical standards.

Secondly, in the EU, our legislative framework provides an additional challenge for the Encrypted Media Extensions as proposed by Netflix and Google. Netflix is a streaming company, and is as such interested in controlling re-transmissions of streams. However, European jurisprudence grants specific rights for users and consumers of broadcasts in cross-border trade between member states. These rights are codified in for example, the Premier League vs. Murphy cases on the retransmission of content. Any technical standard which implements obstacles to retransmission at the infrastructural level should at least take these rights into account.

When legally consolidated rights of users and consumers are compromised by technical standards decisions, it is a political issue. We believe that the distinction between the technical and the political is important to safe-guard, and we are hoping that you will agree with this. If the W3C makes a political decision that is not in line with EU law or upcoming reforms in the European Commission and Parliament there is the risk that HTML5 cannot be supported in the European Union.

In addition, Martin Kliehm adds this serious critique:

  • DRM in HTML is cementing closed ecosystems instead of promoting competition and innovation. Google, Microsoft, and Apple control the hardware, the operating system, the player (i.e. browser), and the app stores. They have absolute control over their ecosystems. As content distributors they can exert leverage on content suppliers for exclusive contracts. Open source developers will be locked out.
  • Like the EFF point out, video and audio content is just the beginning. Content includes books, games, 3D content, even web pages. Accepting EME could lead to other rightsholders demanding the same privileges as Hollywood, leading to a Web where images and pages cannot be saved or searched, ads cannot be blocked, innovative new browsers cannot compete without permission from big content companies.
  • DRM is against the principle of the Open Web. It will create a fragmented landscape of content that is restricted to certain areas, contradicting the principles of a European Digital Single Market.
  • Property rights of end-users will be violated by installing software on their computers that seize control of their personal computers. This encrypted black box of executable software cannot be accessed or scanned by anti-virus programs, leaving strong security and privacy concerns.
  • DRM constricts fair use of purchased content. It could ignore exceptions from copyright for people with vision impairments, schools, and libraries. Other features of HTML5 like local storage for reading offline could be broken.
  • Once DRM is implemented, it will be really hard to remove it.
  • The key issue is not content protection, but how a content owner or producer can sell its content online. DRM cannot solve this issue. Political decisions should be made by democratic, political bodies, not by standardization organizations.

It's important to remember that the European Union has not had any discussions at all on Digital Rights Management Technologies almost at all since 2004, when the IPRED directive was first addressed by the European Commission and later adopted in a quick procedure of less than 6 months political work. This should be sufficient cause for the European Commission and the other political institutions to reflect.


5 kommentarer

I just made a shorter version of this statement a few minutes ago. Our intervention was very different from the others at the meeting - they are are all completely technical-administrative. Very interesting reactions. Clearly this issue was seen as highly controversial, the platform participants seemed to think our language was very strong and were not expecting this. :) Several people in various policy positions confided that they have received thousands of e-mails complaining about DRM in HTML.

The representative of the W3C responded basically defending the W3C. He maintained that the current EME proposal is just a first draft and and that exceptions and limitations etc may be added to it, also he said the proposal only specifies an API for DRM not the DRM itself.

I just want to say that I think you are doing a great job in a serious matter.

Unfortunately, the W3C organization has been corrupted by the Hollywood
mafia as of late. I don't think the naive geeks at the W3C really
understand who they are in bed with. The ultimate goal of EME/CDM is to
install spyware on every personal computer in the world.

Ultimately this is a political issue, and so politically the European Commission would have to find it justified for itself to defend its role as policy initiator in the European Union. With responsible policy makers that clearly understand where their powers begin and end, it shouldn't be a problem - it's a test of faith. I have full confidence that the European Commission and its standard group will land on the right side of this issue.

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