Signs from a demonstration at Cambridge, MA city hall last week.
The inventor of the Web is considering allowing corporate interests to change its underlying technology, extending their ability to control users' computers with DRM (Digital Restrictions Management), undermining Internet freedom, and exposing people to surveillance and criminal threats online.
As Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee considers this decision, people around the world are placing hundreds of phone calls urging him not to allow the change. Now a small artist-led group called Ethics in Tech is taking it to the next level—this Saturday, they will march to Berners-Lee's office in Cambridge, MA, to demand he heed the call of human rights groups, tens of thousands of Web users, and his fellow Web pioneers: reject DRM in Web standards and stand up for the free, fair Web that everyone except a handful of big companies wants.
Perzanowski (far right) answers skeptical comments from industry representatives.
When people buy an ebook, do they expect to be able to read it for the rest of their lives? How about the ability to make a backup copy of a movie before their hard drive breaks? For most digital media purchases, these reasonable activities are prevented by DRM (Digital Restrictions Management), but it appears the vast majority of customers don't know it.
Since the beginning of the Web—the age of dial-up Internet connections—the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) has kept the Web's technical standards tuned in a careful balance that enables innovation while respecting users' rights.
We have fought the practice of Digital Restrictions
(DRM) for almost two decades. This year, we made breakthroughs in
two important DRM battlegrounds: the US Copyright Office and the
World Wide Web Consortium. We are gaining ground against the
offenses of DRM: malware and spyware foisted on users, remote
deletion of cultural works, good-faith security researchers muzzled,
and more. Now we need to push the advantage.
Defective by Design is supported by memberships and donations to our
parent organization, the Free Software Foundation. On Monday,
the Foundation launched its yearly fundraiser with the goal of
welcoming 500 new members and raising $450,000 before December
31st. If you have the resources, please support our work against DRM:
make a donation or join as a member today.
Twenty-five years ago, Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. Back then timbl -- as he's known online -- declined opportunities to lock down his creation and established himself as an advocate for a freedom-affirming, interoperable, and universally accessible World Wide Web. Now he's considering turning his back on this vision to make Netflix, Google, Apple, and Microsoft happy.
This week, the chief arbiter of Web standards, Tim Berners-Lee,
decided not to exercise his power to extend the development timeline
for the Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) Web technology
standard. The EME standardization effort, sponsored by streaming
giants like Google and Netflix, aims to make it cheaper and more
efficient to impose Digital Restrictions Management (DRM)
systems on Web users. The streaming companies' representatives within
the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) were unable to finish EME
within the time allotted by the W3C, and had asked Berners-Lee
for an extension through next year.
Next week, demonstrators will gather at a meeting of the World Wide
Web Consortium (W3C) in Lisbon, Portugal. They will make the same
demand that we made at the last major W3C meeting in March: stop
streaming companies from inserting Digital Restrictions Management
(DRM) into the HTML standard on which the Web is based.
Microsoft made the news last week when it announced that its Edge Web
browser could deliver a better Netflix streaming experience than the
other three most popular browsers. On Windows 10, Edge is the only one
that can play Netflix's video streams — which are encumbered with Digital
Restrictions Management (DRM) — in 1080p high definition. A
PCWorld article confirmed the claim, but no one writing online
has been able to give a clear explanation for the discrepancy.
Following the tone of Microsoft's announcement, most writers seem
content to imply that Edge's "edge" in Netflix playback on Windows
derives from technical superiority, and that intelligent Netflix
users should switch to Edge.
Despite dedicated resistance by tens of thousands of Web users and
civil society groups, Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee has allowed
Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) to move to the next phase of
development within the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Digital Restrictions Management (DRM), the software that comes
bolted to your digital media and computerized devices and tries to
police your behavior. The major media companies are its masters, and
they justify it as a necessary evil to prevent filesharing, calling it
Digital Rights Management. But it does more than that, and worse than
that. Giving its owners power over our cars, medical devices, phones,
computers, and more, it opens a deep crack in our digital rights and
Just a quick reminder that the International Day Against DRM is
coming up this Tuesday, May 3rd. This is the tenth anniversary of the
Day, and we're burning the candle at both ends, winding for up for a
momentous day of action.
In corner offices around the world, those who profit from Digital
Restrictions Management are writing their speeches for this
Tuesday, "World Intellectual Property Day."1 This global
but decidedly not grassroots event is a project of the World
Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Yes, those are the same
wise folks who convinced governments around the world to make it a
crime to circumvent DRM even for legal purposes, undercutting digital
freedom, security research, and access for those with disabilities.
Last week, we asked you to show the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that you wouldn't allow Digital Restrictions Management in the Web's technical standards, and you answered. From around the world, you sent in protest selfies against the proposed restriction standards championed by Netflix, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Hollywood. With you at our backs, we're organizing a major demonstration this Sunday, outside the building where the W3C will be meeting to discuss DRM. A parallel demonstration is planned outside the W3C office in Amsterdam. Our activism is working -- the campaign has drawn renewed attention to this once low-profile issue and more people are learning that DRM standards would be a major regression for user freedom on the Web.
Join these activists and take your own photo at a W3C office near you.
For years, Defective by Design and the anti-DRM movement have been fighting Hollywood and proprietary software companies who want to weave Digital Restrictions Management into the HTML standard that undergirds the Web. Winning this is a top priority for us -- the DRM proposal, known as EME (Encrypted Media Extensions), would make it cheaper and more politically acceptable to impose restrictions on Web users, opening the floodgates to a new wave of DRM throughout the Internet. We've been calling this awful possibility the Hollyweb -- a network riddled with restrictions that serves Hollywood, not its users.
What is the central goal of the Defective by Design campaign?
It is to shine a light on the abuses of
Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) -- to expose it as digital
handcuffs, and motivate people to break free. We may not always notice
the handcuffs, but we feel them chafe when DRM installs malware and
spyware on our computers, when its owners remotely delete ebooks
without warning, and when DRM laws are used to intimidate good-faith
security researchers working to hold corporations accountable.
In the flurry of holiday advertising that happens at the end of the
year, many people are swept into buying electronics gifts that are
rotten with Digital Restrictions Management, and restrict their
users in other ways as well. Our Giving Guide is designed to make
it easy for you to choose tech gifts that respect recipients' rights
and avoid those that don't. But to have the greatest possible impact,
we also need you to spread the word about ethical tech this season.
Electronics are popular gifts for the holidays, but people often
overlook the restrictions that manufacturers slip under the wrapping
paper. From remote deletion of files to harsh rules about copying and
sharing, some gifts take more than they give. The problems include DRM
but go beyond it -- any device running proprietary software, instead
of freely licensed software, is a locked box its users can't control
Ten years ago today, Sony was caught red-handed in a flashpoint that galvanized popular resistance to Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). A security researcher named Mark Russinovich published a description of surveillance malware (in this case a technically sophisticated rootkit) that was secretly installed on users' computers by the DRM on Sony music CDs.
Last week's International Day Against DRM was the biggest ever, with fifteen actions from Guatemala to Bangladesh, endorsement from major ebook publishers, and a chorus of support on social media. Community members shared diverse perspectives on DRM in community blog posts and helped bring new people in to our movement. Together we sent a strong message to the DRM and publishing industries: we will not tolerate digital restrictions.
Protestors at the New York City Apple store were evicted by uncomfortable security guards. Principled cooks in Italy created painfully spicy -- but tasty-looking -- DRM-themed snacks to illustrate the bait-and-switch deception of DRM-encumbered media. And a solitary activist took on the entire University of Illinois at Chicago campus with nothing but a few hundred flyers and an unflappable attitude. As of the time of this writing, we've heard about three times as many organized events as last year, a total of fifteen. Great job, anti-DRM community!
Everyone knows how to recognize cartoon villains. They twirl their mustaches as they kick puppies, delivering speeches about world domination for personal gain, and often let their arrogance lead to their undoing. People recognize this kind of evil immediately and rise up in protest, banding together to resist. In the real world, most evils are much harder to see coming: they look reasonable at first, perhaps taking just a little bit from many people to get to some unexpected end. Once the effect is widespread enough that most people notice, you have a systemic problem that's hard to get rid of. The evil that's easy to identify is easy to fight. The one that initially looks like something good can betray you, and that's why when we recognize it, we need to speak out against it.