Against EME in HTML5: The panel debate

Having in mind that W3C will decide about the future of EME in the new HTML5 standard in a very short time, we decided to set up a panel debate that can help to raise awareness about this topic in general. 

Setting up the event was a great deal of work; it took pretty much the whole week and as the deadline was approaching, the more challenging it was to do everything absolutely neccessary in order to have it ready. Having deadlines in days is ok, but having deadlines in hours and minutes can be lethal. In the end we were given a very nice room inside of the PHS building (sorry for eurojargon - it is this building). 39 people made it to our panel session, mostly people from the EU institutions (both Parliament and the Commission) as well as other guests, journalists, or IT evangelists and other interested ones. We were also streaming our event online - and we had to overcome a lot of difficulties in order to do that. Various non-profit organizations and institutions as well as the Pirates in Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic were informed. 

Amelia's article published several days ago explains the problem with EME in general. Our debate made the maint topic much broader - and brought some interesting views.

There were three main speakers - Martin Kliehm from Germany, Jonas Smenegaard from Denmark and Glyn Moody from the Great Britain. They presented their statements about the possible introduction of EME in the standard in the beginning (shortly after Amelia's opening word). 

I would choose some of the topic or perhaps a person that link all these people together, it should be Tim Berners-Lee. He was mentioned by the majority of the panelists. They debated about the way how he see the internet, how he envisioned the World Wide Web in 1991 and how his original ideas might get changed in foreseaable future thanks to the introduction of EME. One of the interesting facts is that Tim Berners-Lee actually decided to support the introduction of EME in HTML5. Yes, it is a better idea to have the encrypted contend clearly defined and regulated by a specification than just having a "black box" attached to the website - however, having a encrypted limiting content is still bad in general. Indeed that the movie studios want to have their content protected from unauthorized copying. But as the work with digital media evolves from file downloading and sharing towards providing an access to streaming services - one question remains. Will the DRM be applied only by movie industry? The answer is simple: no.

But the bigger problem is hidden somewhere else. As it was also pointed out in the debate, DRM will exist anyway, regardless on the decision of W3C. Using encrypted content is simply a common practice through the Internet these days and even now pretty much of the services of many providers are encrypted and unavailable before obtaining a decrypting app/interface. But this brings us back to the topic of the panel debate. Should this behavior become the standard? Or - Should this become the law? 

The possible consequences of what could happen were outlined by Glyn Moody, the third panelist - a British IT journalist and writer, deeply interested in this issue. He see the introduction of EME as a poisoning of the waters of the Open Web. Web was once created open; thanks to open collaboration projects like the Genome project, Linux or Wikipedia it proved to be a successful technological concept. But once the Open Web is poisoned it is polluted. If EME is allowed, DRM can reach pretty much all topics and all areas on the internet (not only music or video, but also text or web-page source codes). Having DRM simple to use will result in everyone using it. User might have to think with a lawyer behind himself before clicking. The idea of free information interchange, as well as copying and sharing can be totally undermined. 

Jonas Smedegaard, Danish hacker from the Debian community described EME as a thing capable of doing only one thing: Harming the internet. It can be and will be used for only one purpose, ie. to harm the original principle of World Wide Web. The progress of internet was that documents exchange was free from a need to have/obtain/buy specific or unique programs or apps. Right now this is being changed. The author offering his work will restrict the user. The user will be able only to consume the work - and he will do so only in a very specific way described by the autor. 

Is this the web we want

The discussion that followed focused much more on technical technical stuff (ie. should we introduce the DRM or not and what can we eventually do; how the introduction would look like and what would be the results). When it comes to the legal analysis - not a lot of issues were pointed out and not a lot of conclusions were made.

One might say that the panel was unbalanced and some criteria were underestimated. In weeks prior to the debate, the efforts to invite various representatives from various sides were made - me and my colleagues in Amelia's office contacted Google, Microsoft, Bussiness Software Alliance. It was interesting to see how the industry representatives simply do not want to come to the Parliament to present their issue. Either they were on a short leave to a conference in the USA, or noone was available at the office right that time... The fact that most of the speakers in the beginning advocated against the introduction of DRM actually did provoke several of the speakers with different opinions and started the whole discussion.

And for me it was a good feeling that we organized an event, that made it to the people and that addressed the topic the way it should. 


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