NEWS

Firefox Under Threat from W3C

Firefox is an open source browser by the not-for-profit Mozilla Foundation. Unlike the other major browsers, including Google Chrome,  Microsoft Edge, and Apple Safari, Firefox is designed to serve its users rather than the interests of content providers who wish to control the internet viewing experience . Firefox, for example, was the first browser to block the pop-up ads that used to plague the internet, web publishers’ interests be damned!

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is a not-for-profit organisation that has historically championed open web standards. Thanks to W3C, HTML has been standardized, removing the perfusion of “Best with” logos designating that a website was optimised for a particular browser (and which in effect helped to channel content into the browser window).

WC3, however, is now moving in exactly the opposite direction, collaborating with the big browser companies and content producers to create a closed system that will allow content providers such as Netflix and the MPAA to dictate users’ viewing experience. It will also effectively lock out down the browser market to prevent any new innovation.

The existence of Firefox is seriously threatened by this move, which will also prevent any possibility of plucky and innovative outsiders disrupting the field (as Firefox once did).

Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) is a proprietary standardised way of playing back video content in browsers. As Cory Doctorow explains,

This is a way of restricting the playback of video in browsers, and for a given EME version to work, it has to have the blessing of the entertainment giants. EME is designed to allow publishers to invoke global copyright rules, such as the European Union Copyright Directive and the US’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which prohibits tampering with a digital lock, even for legal purposes. Thus, companies that try to receive EME-locked videos without permission face legal shutdown.

So in order to play content, a browser will need the permission of the content vendor, an almost dictionary perfect definition of the exact opposite of an open standard! It also means that under Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), any new browser that attempts to unlock protected videos will be immediately shut down, as the Act makes it illegal to remove any form of digital lock that has been put into place. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) notes,

Because of the design of EME, copyright holders will be able to use the law to shut down any new browser that tries to render the video without their permission… In other words, once a video is sent with EME, a new company that unlocks it for its users can be sued, even if the users do nothing illegal with that video.

Similar laws have been pushed onto almost all countries the United States does business with.

So why is W3C doing this?

The W3C didn’t have to do this. No copyright law says that making a video gives you the right to tell people who legally watch it how they must configure their equipment.”

So why is it? W3C says it’s because the web giants are going to create a DRM system anyway. By providing a forum where the tech companies can cooperate without triggering antitrust alarms, WC3 can at least soften the impact of the new DRM standard. Ho-hum.

The W3C executive has overruled its own members over a motion proposed by the EFF to demand that members promise not to use DRM to attack the open web. And to rub salt into the wound, the W3E executive has also decided not to require its members to protect security researchers who discover security flaws in the software.

The only recourse now available or those who oppose DRM in browsers is for users to make a lot of fuss over the issue, and to make as many people aware of it as possible,

“The W3C needs credibility with people who care about the open Web and innovation in order to be viable. They are sensitive to this kind of criticism… It needs to hear from you now. Please share this post, and spread the word. Help the W3C be the organization it is meant to be.


Douglas Crawford I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. Find me on Google+

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