Today, the W3C announced that it would publish its DRM standard with no protections and no compromises at all, stating that W3C Director Tim Berners-Lee had concluded that the objections raised "had already been addressed" or that they were "overruled."
In its statement, the W3C said that publishing a DRM standard without protections for core open web activities was better than not doing so, because its DRM had better support for privacy, accessibility, and competition than a non-W3C version of DRM would have.
We disagree. Even by the W3C's own measures, EME represents no improvement upon a non-standards approach, and in some important ways, the W3C's DRM is worse than an ad-hoc, industry approach.
At root is the way that DRM interacts with the law. Take security: the W3C's specification says that users' computers should be protected from privacy-invading activities by DRM vendors, but without a covenant, it's impossible to check whether this is happening. Recall that Netflix, one of the principal advocates for DRM at W3C, categorically rejected the narrowest of covenants, one that would protect solely the activity of revealing DRM flaws that compromised user privacy.
On the question of accessibility, the W3C has simply ignored the substantial formal and informal objections raised by its members, including members with deep expertise in accessibility, such as Vision Australia, Media Access Australia, Benetech, and the RNIB. These organizations pointed out that having a place for assistive data was nice, but to make video accessible, it was necessary to use computers to generate that data.
At EFF, we've spent decades defending people engaged in legitimate activities that companies or governments disliked: researchers who go public with defects in products whose users are blithely unaware of them; new entrants to monopolized markets who offer better products with features the cozy old guard don't like; public spirited archivists and accessibility workers who want to preserve digital culture and make sure everyone gets to use it.
We're dismayed to see the W3C literally overrule the concerns of its public interest members, security experts, accessibility members and innovative startup members, putting the institution's thumb on the scales for the large incumbents that dominate the web, ensuring that dominance lasts forever.
This will break people, companies, and projects, and it will be technologists and their lawyers, including the EFF, who will be the ones who'll have to pick up the pieces. We've seen what happens when people and small startups face the wrath of giant corporations whose ire they've aroused. We've seen those people bankrupted, jailed, and personally destroyed.
That's why we fought so hard at the W3C, and it's why we're fighting so hard to fix laws like Section 1201 of the DMCA. We've been suing the US government over the constitutionality of DMCA 1201; in the coming months, we'll be back at the US Copyright Office, arguing to maintain and extend the exemptions to 1201 we won in 2015.
As for the W3C... we're working on it. There is an appeals process for Tim Berners-Lee's decisions at the W3C, which has never been successfully triggered. The entire project of designing technology to control web users, rather than empowering them, has taken the W3C into uncharted waters, and this is the most unfamiliar of them all. We're looking into this, counting noses, and assessing our options. We'll keep you informed.