My Open Letter to Sir Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web Consortium

[Suggested by “Tell the W3C “No DRM” this letter was first published on techDITZ then mirrorred on visual laurel. Future articles relating to the topic will be posted here.]
connectivity (cc by laurelruswurm)

Dear Sir Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web Consortium:

Re: Keep DRM out of Web standards — Reject the Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) proposal

As a middle aged mother, I’ve been learning (and sharing what I’ve learned) about net neutrality, the importance of free software, free culture, nd an open Internet, ever since I began hand coding my own HTML web pages and participating on the Internet in 2009. As a creator from a creative family, as well as publishing my own content online, I run a blog for my eighty three year old father. I have come to consider myself a netizen.

One reason DRM is dangerous is that it can hide all manner of spyware and malware from users. Another is that most people don’t even know what it is, or if they do, how to recognize it. While governments have allowed large corporations and media conglomerates to cripple digital products with DRM, there is no requirement anywhere in the world to to inform customers or computer users of such application.

I have avoided DRM wherever possible, but even with the absurd extension of copyright laws, I have been certain that free culture will win out eventually. But that confidence presupposes a free market.

In Canada where I live, our new Copyright Act makes it illegal to circumvent DRM for any reason at all, even if the the circumvention is allowed under our “fair dealing” exemptions, or if the DRM is applied inappropriately. I consider the application of DRM to freely licensed or public domain creative works to be inappropriate.

This is a huge concern for me, both as a cultural consumer and as a self publishing author. Existing copyright law has prevented me from even seeing the finished production of one of my own works.

Independent creators and Internet users are already at a huge disadvantage, because the large media special interests have the wherewithal to successfully lobby governments around the world into maximizing copyright laws and the attendant copyright monopoly to their own great benefit, at our expense.

These large and powerful special interest groups have long had a seat at the W3C table. But where is there representation for Internet users?

Most of the public does not even know W3C exists, let alone how to comment on an issue such as this. Although I am passionately interested in the subject, until I read Harry Halpin’s Guardian article last week, I had no idea there was any way for Internet users or creators to express our dismay beyond signing the Defective By Design’s “Keep DRM out of Web standards — Reject the Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) proposal” Petition. But Mr. Halpin pretty much implies that petition wasn’t enough.

Although Canada has been a world leader in Internet adoption, most Canadians are still not online. For most of those who are, participation on Facebook signifies the height of technical prowess. Certainly most Canadians haven’t even heard of the Guardian, and so will not have even read the article.

Mr. Halpin essentially gave me the weekend to get the word out. This weekend, the social network of choice for a great many people who are aware of these issues, is undergoing a massive migration from a backend of StatusNet to software. Many users like myself have been consumed in setting up our own federated status net instances. As well, those of us with privacy concerns have been caught up in the NSA Prism news story. For myself, I’ve had two major family happenings this weekend in addition to those online issues.

Maybe a few people who understand the issue will have read the blog post I wrote, but a weekend is not much time. Especially considering that the special interests that want DRM written into the Web Standard have been at the table for so very much longer.

Until the W3C holds a widely publicized meaningful consultation process, that Free Software Petition must be given at least as much weight as the opinions of any other group of stakeholders. Perhaps more, since the inclusion of DRM in the standard panders to the direct benefit of a specific special interest lobby group. Internet Users are easily the largest group of stakeholders, and our exclusion from the process means that the W3C must look out for the public good.

Keeping even a whiff of DRM out of the Web Standard will not harm the corporate special interests who lobby so effectively for it. They can just continue on as they have been, locking their own content behind DRM. Allowing the DRM toehold EME provides will lead to DRM becoming the default.

DRM exists to break interoperability. If DRM is allowed into the W3C Standard, it will become the W3C Standard. If W3C supports this, it will sacrifice the free and open Internet, not just for us, but for generations to come.

Please don’t do this.

Laurel L. Russwurm


Tell the W3C “No DRM”

beta video cassette

I remember the days when everything did *not* work together… when a script written on an Apple computer could not be read on an IBM computer.

That was a problem due to technical limitations, similar to the way a video tape recorded in Canada couldn’t play on UK machines. The video tape problem was because television networks in different geographic regions used different versions of the broadcast technology. PAL video was the format needed for British televisions, which had more scan lines than North American television sets (NTSC format). Switching from analog to digital video resolved the video issue with technological progress. With digital video it doesn’t matter whether it was made in Canada or the UK… a digital recording can be read by any DVD player anywhere in the world.

Or at least it could be, but for DRM.

The big media companies agreed to digitally restrict the technology in an attempt to maximize profit.  They divided the world up into regions, and added digital restrictions that deliberately impair DVD players, preventing people from watching DVDs manufactured for other regions. The public accepted this because we didn’t realize our devices have been deliberately sabotaged by manufacturer collusion.  If we thought about it at all, we accepted region encoding as a natural restriction like the NTSC/PAL video tape incompatability.  This is just one example of DRM.


DRM is increasingly present in digital devices and media, yet for the most part, people don’t even know about it. Manufacturers don’t tell us they’ve degraded the technology they sell us. There are no warning labels. Governments fail to protect us from this.  The newsmedia doesn’t even tell us about it (no doubt because the news media is owned by the same giant congomerates that are responsible for DRM).

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international community where Member organizations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop Web standards. Led by Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and CEO Jeffrey Jaffe, W3C’s mission is to lead the Web to its full potential.”

About W3C

The reason for defining a web standard is to ensure interoperability: to make sure that everything works together.

The reason for DRM is to prevent media and devices from working properly.

Right now, the W3C is considering including Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) ~ the road to DRM ~ into the Web Standard.  This is an incredibly bad idea.

The Free Software Foundation warns that a DRMed Internet would “harm interoperability, enshrine nonfree software in W3C standards and  perpetuate oppressive business models. It would fly in the face of the principles that the W3C cites as key to its mission and it would cause an array of serious problems for the billions of people who use the Web.”   It could also be used to lock down public domain works, and exclude independent creators from distributing their work online.

More than 27,000 people signed the Defective By Design digital petition to opposing DRM in the new HTML5 standard.  Although I care very much about maintaing a free and open web, I had no idea that ordinary people could have a direct say in this until yesterday, when I read Dr Harry Halpin’s Guardian article DRM and HTML5: it’s now or never for the Open Web.

It is great to know that Intert users can speak directly to the W3C.  Still, Dr. Halpin’s suggestion users should make our wishes known at the 11th hour is hardly equivalent to the say accorded the large corporate entities that have been lobbying hard for DRM inclusion in the W3C standard. These powerful corporate stakeholders want W3C to include DRM, not because it will facilitate a free and open Internet, but for their own financial gain.  More notice would have been nice.

The reality is that Internet users have *not* been properly informed nor consulted on this very important issue. Although W3C can easily discount the 27,000 names on a petition, it is an incredible response that ought to be accorded a great deal of weight, as it comes from the public, an important stakeholder yet rarely consulted.  The only legitimate counterbalance to these 27,000 Internet users opposed to the inclusion of DRM would be a submission in support of DRM from an equivalent number of Internet users unaffiliated with corporate special interests. Absent other representation from ordinary Internet users, it is only reasonable to accept the submitted petition as speaking on behalf of all unaffiliated Internet users.

no DRM on the internetIf W3C does away with EME, and denies DRM the toehold being sought by self interested media companies, corporate special interests will not be prevented from choosing to implement DRM.

On the other hand, if W3C does allow HTML5 to start down the path into DRM, it will disadvantage Internet users. Once DRM becomes an acceptable part of the standard, Internet users will no longer have the ability to vote with our feet, because the Internet will be locked down where ever we go.

You can sign up for an account and get involved with any of the W3C groups working on the HTML5 standard.

Or you can Tell the W3C to keep DRM away from HTML5.

Really, all you need to do to contribute a comment to W3C’s public list is to send an email It doesn’t have to be an essay, just tell Sir Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web Consortium to keep DRM out of the Standard.  For all our sakes.

Before Monday.

Further Reading:

DRM and HTML5: it’s now or never for the Open Web

The Internet Is Mine

Map of the Internet – photo by the Opte Project released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 1.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 1.0) License
used in the No DRM symbol incorporating the Opte Project Internet Map, are released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) License