Part 1 Controversial Browser Copy Protection to Become Standard
On 18 September 2017, following years of discussions and fierce resistance from non-commercial internet organisations, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) decided by a narrow majority to reject an objection from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, whereby the EME copy protection algorithm is to become the standard in all web browsers. This decision will lead to a massive change in the distribution of films on the internet as we have known it to date.
Since the development of HTML5 and the foreseeable end of Flash, media companies and film providers have been working on new control mechanisms that are installed directly in the browser architecture. Leading browser manufacturers, such as Google, Microsoft and Apple, have already started the implementation of the algorithm, and even the non-commercial Mozilla Organisation (Firefox) has now caved in.
The decision taken by W3C under the direction of its founder, the internet guru Tim Berners-Lee (CERN, Geneva), caused an uproar. For the first time ever in the history of the consortium, which had been characterised until then by its consensual policymaking, a deep rupture arose between representatives from the industry and proponents of open standards for an open internet. The consequence of which was that the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which advocates citizens’ rights in the digital world and, among others, is also known for providing useful cost-free data protection programs (Privacy Badger, HTTPS Everywhere), has now resigned from the consortium.
In an open letter to the W3C, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) representative in the W3C, Cory Doctorow, denounced the – in his opinion – devastating consequences for the open web. Among others, this decision “bequeaths a legally unauditable attack-surface to browsers used by billions of people”. It would give the media corporations the power to sue or intimidate anyone who reuses videos for other cultural and socially beneficial purposes.
The decision taken by the W3C was decisively influenced by corporations such as Google, Microsoft and Netflix, as well as by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). This cinema association first joined the internet consortium over the course of the EME discussions.
While Doctorow specifically articulated the impediments this will cause to the socially beneficial circumvention of copyrights – such as for instance accessible videos for people with disabilities, or public archives – internet activists have been clearer in their criticisms and denounced the colonisation of the internet by big business. Several organisations intend to take legal action against the measures before the courts.
Even if the harmonisation of copy protection via the new standard does have positive aspects, to the extent that it is more user-friendly than any of the propriety mechanisms provided by Netflix and the rest, it also has technical drawbacks. Among others, the CPUs in the consumers’ end devices and the connection bandwidths available will be more heavily loaded, meaning that quite a few people will become decoupled from the internet, because they are either not able to afford this state-of-the-art technology or decide against it. Apart from this ‘collateral damage’, the availability of films in the educational sector will become severely restricted. This would also mean the end of cultural and social practices such as mashups, re-mixes and memes, should the criminal prosecution options provided under the EME be exploited to the full.
The next part considers the discussion about a new EU directive intended to oblige all providers of online videos to install an upload filter against copyright protected material. And to legally permit the content ID database from YouTube, which is ultimately a kind of in-house Google copyright law.