The debate continues over the W3C decision to move forward with the inclusion of encrypted media extensions (EME) in its HTML Working Group Charter. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released a formal objection, critics claim it will hurt the web experience and Tim Berners Lee weighed in. Here are three opinions on the matter.
Will the decision by W3C to include encrypted media extensions into the HTML5.1 standard have a positive or negative effect on web experiences?
Irina Guseva: Real Story Group
Irina Guseva is a senior analyst and advisor with Real Story Group where she leads the Web CMS research stream, and regularly contributes to DAM, MAM and Digital Marketing evaluation reports, analyzing pros and cons of various systems. Guseva also advises her clients on enterprise software selection, implementation best practices and information management/customer experience management strategy. She has more than 15 years of experience in content technologies. Guseva started her career as a journalist working in print, TV, radio and online. Prior to joining The Real Story Group in 2011, she worked as a CMS practitioner, consultant and industry watcher. She can be reached via Twitter @irina_guseva or email: irina (at) realstorygroup.com.
When speaking of HTML 5.1, we should start with the point that this specification is still not stable. What that means in practical terms is that vendors and implementers should really carefully evaluate and implement the spec, given its changing nature. When your vendor says they are “HTML 5-friendly,” you really have to ask them what they mean by that, as the definition and depth of adherence to the standard can vary.
In regards to extensions in general, again a word of caution. As with any standard, proprietary and vendor-specific extensions are discouraged because they defy the whole purpose of the specification, which is interoperability and accessibility.
Speaking specifically of the encrypted media extensions, organizations should realize that this addition is not likely to act as a Digital Rights Management (DRM) system for their assets (note that one of the editors of the latest spec draft is a Netflix employee). Historically, digital asset management tools were rarely able to provide DRM capabilities, and this was often an integration point with specific niche tools that can do digital rights management. But what you get with this spec is a common API that provides the ability to speak to encryption and rights management systems.
It doesn’t though appear that this extension spec will have a large impact on web experiences, as (first and foremost), in my opinion, this spec is designed to protect content distributed by media vendors. Which is nothing but a simple and logical business rationale for organizations that monetize their digital and media assets, as one of major streams of revenue. Realistically, whether customers will appreciate any additions inspired by this spec to their experience or not, is probably not as important. It is not the first time video and audio files are being protected by some sort of a mechanism to prevent unauthorized distribution or replication.
Arjé Cahn: Hippo
Arjé Cahn is CTO and co-founder of Hippo (Amsterdam, Boston), and runs the Hippo CMS development team. In 2010, he was named Top Five CMS Executive under 35 by CMSWire. He is a frequent speaker at international conferences on content management, open source and information management, including Gilbane and CMS Day. He has written for both technical and business publications, and shares his thoughts on content management and open source on his blog and on Twitter.
I believe the impact will ultimately be a positive one which will improve digital experiences, and increase the quality of content available on the web.
A few years ago, when publishing was in crisis, devices like the iPad and Kindle managed to save the industry by offering a new means for creators of original content to control — and improve — the quality of its distribution. Consumers embraced the development, a testament to their willingness to pay for content of a high caliber that was available to them digitally. I see a similar opportunity for video.
With the exception of perhaps Netflix, the video industry has not been particularly successful in bridging into the digital world. The inclusion of EME in the HTML5.1 standard takes the video industry out of the sidelines of the web, allowing it to participate much more actively in the creation of high quality, original web experiences. As the world digitalizes, the quality expected of web experiences on the ever-multiplying devices available is rising. HTML5.1 is crucial to offering a cross-device experience — it allows video content creators to safely distribute content on various devices, and allows consumers to access that content in a streamlined manner without cumbersome plugins.
There is, unsurprisingly, an impassioned debate surrounding the inclusion of Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) in the HTML5.1 standard. Opponents see this as a blow to the integrity of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and by extension, web freedom. Others argue that it’s a victory for the open web, preventing the migration of video to proprietary apps. Tim Berners-Lee himself has come out in support of the decision. In this debate, the responses of multiple actors with multiple interests naturally span the spectrum.
The W3C is a diverse group, but one that’s dedicated to protecting the Open Web. It’s encouraging to see this debate happening publicly. Public debate and collaboration as central to W3C standards, and open standards generally.
It’s important to emphasize that the EME debate is not about pitting HTML5 against piracy. It’s about setting a DRM standard which simplifies web experiences for customers. A standard guarantees cross device portability for content -- something customers demand in this day and age.
Furthermore, a standard guarantees vendor neutrality, which is in the interest of consumers, allowing them to experience content on the device of their choosing. The inclusion of EME into the HTML5.1 standard will raise the bar for quality of content produced by creating the space for innovation. By extension, it will provide consumers with greater flexibility and control over how they access that content.
Roy Schestowitz: Schestowitz.com
Roy Schestowitz is a software engineer, interdisciplinary researcher and an advocate of fair competition. He holds a doctoral degree in medical biophysics. During the day, he works for a company where he looks after free/libre software and performs novel research for one of the world's top computer science departments.
Web experiences are not the sole factor to consider here. Several years ago, Microsoft used such arguments to promote Silverlight and Adobe had promoted Adobe Flash Player by saying it would enhance web experiences. This overlooks a lot of the attributes of the Web, including search/indexing, navigation by standard link structure, universal access, etc. But there are bigger issues here.
In order to effectively tackle the question we need to lay bear what DRM in HTML 5.x would mean. DRM is a mechanism that prevents access to information. It is designed to facilitate a particular business model of particular parties, which are only some of many. DRM denies the majority of people -- or bots -- the ability to obtain data. This in itself is against the raison d'etre or the spirit of the World Wide Web. If the Web was motivated by sharing, then it would best serve society by encouraging business models of abundance, not artificial scarcity.
The step taken by the W3C sought to make it easier for conglomerates that advocate DRM to advance their agenda which they had long lobbied for. We already know, based on experience, that many companies embraced a model of open access or open data, only to yield benefits to all sides, maximizing access.
To pose this as a problem of "web experiences" is to present a loaded question. Everyone wants a good web experience, but the issue at stake is inherently one of power and control. Do we want to emancipate Web users or further empower the copyright monopoly? Whose interests are we promoting?