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


Who owns the tangible Internet?

[Seems my Buzz Machine: Clinton and the freedom to connect comment has gotten out of hand again. Thing is, it’s an incredibly important issue, so here are my further adventures in windmill tilting. ]

This is the Internet... click the image to visit the Opte Project and see what the Internet looked like on different days.

Intangible concepts are often the ones that matter most.

What is the Internet? It is not analogous to a house. But you folks want tangibles, so lets talk tangibles.

A house occupies a finite amount of space. A house anywhere in our world is most likely to fall under the specific jurisdiction and laws of the nation in which it stands. Under the laws of the land, it is usually straightforward to determine who holds title to the house. In most cases only the owner has the rights to alter or amend the structure of the house.

The Internet, on the other hand, spans the globe. This means that there are bits of infrastructure residing in many nations and under many different legal systems. And if Fred in Topeka sends an email to Mary in London, the email it is broken down into multiple packets which are sent independently — part of Fred’s email might go in a relatively straight line from sender to destination but part of it may be rerouted via Sri Lanka and another through Iceland.

The “infrastructure” is neither finite nor static, and many different people in many different places control many different bits of that infrastructure. There are Internet backbone peers, and Internet Service Providers and the satellites, wires, cables and routers connecting everything together in a multitude of different ways.

At the ends of the Internet are the users and content providers, who connect to the internet via their own bits of infrastructure. People connect and both upload and download content via devices that are only sometimes connected to The Internet, sometimes by wire and sometimes by WiFi. When my cell phone is turned on, I can connect to the Internet with it. When I turn it off, that’s no longer possible. Private individuals and companies can host their websites on their own computers– and they own that piece of Infrastructure. These network connections that make up the Internet fluctuate moment by moment.

You’ll have noticed that people have been referring to “information highways” and “pipes” for as long as we’ve been trying to understand the Internet, because, although the infrastructure is part of the Internet, it is not The Internet.

The Internet is a peer network that exists to share content. Unlike traditional television broadcasting networks, only rarely is Internet content provided by Internet Service Providers (with the exception of some jurisdictions that allow anti-competitive corporate conduct). An enormous amount of the content available on the Internet is not the property of the ISPs who own the Infrastructure, but is instead is freely put there by users. People and organizations are releasing extraordinary quantities of photographs and artwork and music and movies under creative commons licenses, and blogs, microblogging, self publishing and citizen journalism are on the rise. It would clearly be a tangible and grievous error to award ownership of this great human outpouring of creativity to those who own segments of Internet infrastructure.

Although there are tangibles, it is the intangibles of The internet that draw us in. If you really need an analogy, a house doesn’t do it. Try using a community.

We all own the Internet.

Image Credits: Map of the Internet – photo by the Opte Project