An open letter to the W3C Director, CEO, team and membership : CORY DOCTOROW


An open letter to the W3C Director, CEO, team and
membership

W3C

 


CORY
DOCTOROW

SEPTEMBER
18, 2017

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/09/open-letter-w3c-director-ceo-team-and-membership

Dear
Jeff, Tim, and colleagues,


In
2013, EFF was disappointed to learn that the W3C had taken on the project of
standardizing “Encrypted Media Extensions,” an API whose sole function was to
provide a first-class role for DRM within the Web browser ecosystem. By doing
so, the organization offered the use of its patent pool, its staff support, and
its moral authority to the idea that browsers can and should be designed to cede
control over key aspects from users to remote parties.


When
it became clear, following our formal objection, that the W3C’s largest
corporate members and leadership were wedded to this project despite strong
discontent from within the W3C membership and staff, their most important
partners, and other supporters of the open Web, we proposed a compromise. We
agreed to stand down regarding the EME standard, provided that the W3C extend
its existing IPR policies to deter members from using DRM laws in connection
with the EME (such as Section 1201 of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act or
European national implementations of Article 6 of the EUCD) except in
combination with another cause of action.


This
covenant would allow the W3C’s large corporate members to enforce their
copyrights. Indeed, it kept intact every legal right to which entertainment
companies, DRM vendors, and their business partners can otherwise lay claim. The
compromise merely restricted their ability to use the W3C’s DRM to shut down
legitimate activities, like research and modifications, that required
circumvention of DRM. It would signal to the world that the W3C wanted to make a
difference in how DRM was enforced: that it would use its authority to draw a
line between the acceptability of DRM as an optional technology, as opposed to
an excuse to undermine legitimate research and innovation.


More
directly, such a covenant would have helped protect the key stakeholders,
present and future, who both depend on the openness of the Web, and who actively
work to protect its safety and universality. It would offer some legal clarity
for those who bypass DRM to engage in security research to find defects that
would endanger billions of web users; or who automate the creation of enhanced,
accessible video for people with disabilities; or who archive the Web for
posterity. It would help protect new market entrants intent on creating
competitive, innovative products, unimagined by the vendors locking down web
video.


Despite
the support of W3C members from many sectors, the leadership of the W3C rejected
this compromise. The W3C leadership countered with proposals – like the
chartering of a nonbinding discussion group on the policy questions that was not
scheduled to report in until long after the EME ship had sailed – that would
have still left researchers, governments, archives, security experts
unprotected.


The
W3C is a body that ostensibly operates on consensus. Nevertheless, as the
coalition in support of a DRM compromise grew and grew – and the large corporate
members continued to reject any meaningful compromise – the W3C leadership
persisted in treating EME as topic that could be decided by one side of the
debate.  In essence, a core of EME proponents was able to impose its will
on the Consortium, over the wishes of a sizeable group of objectors – and every
person who uses the web. The Director decided to personally override every
single objection raised by the members, articulating several benefits that EME
offered over the DRM that HTML5 had made impossible.


But
those very benefits (such as improvements to accessibility and privacy) depend
on the public being able to exercise rights they lose under DRM law – which
meant that without the compromise the Director was overriding, none of those
benefits could be realized, either. That rejection prompted the first appeal
against the Director in W3C history.


In
our campaigning on this issue, we have spoken to many, many members’
representatives who privately confided their belief that the EME was a terrible
idea (generally they used stronger language) and their sincere desire that their
employer wasn’t on the wrong side of this issue. This is unsurprising. You have
to search long and hard to find an independent technologist who believes that
DRM is possible, let alone a good idea. Yet, somewhere along the way, the
business values of those outside the web got important enough, and the values of
technologists who built it got disposable enough, that even the wise elders who
make our standards voted for something they know to be a fool’s
errand.


We
believe they will regret that choice. Today, the W3C bequeaths a legally
unauditable attack-surface to browsers used by billions of people. They give
media companies the power to sue or intimidate away those who might re-purpose
video for people with disabilities. They side against the archivists who are
scrambling to preserve the public record of our era. The W3C process has been
abused by companies that made their fortunes by upsetting the established order,
and now, thanks to EME, they’ll be able to ensure no one ever subjects them to
the same innovative pressures.


So
we’ll keep fighting to keep the web free and open. We’ll keep suing the US
government to overturn the laws that make DRM so toxic, and we’ll keep bringing
that fight to the world’s legislatures that are being misled by the US Trade
Representative to instigate local equivalents to America’s legal
mistakes.


We
will renew our work to battle the media companies that fail to adapt videos for
accessibility purposes, even though the W3C squandered the perfect moment to
exact a promise to protect those who are doing that work for them.


We
will defend those who are put in harm’s way for blowing the whistle on defects
in EME implementations.


It
is a tragedy that we will be doing that without our friends at the W3C, and with
the world believing that the pioneers and creators of the web no longer care
about these matters.


Effective
today, EFF is resigning from the W3C.


Thank
you,


Cory
Doctorow

Advisory Committee Representative to the W3C for the
Electronic Frontier Foundation


About Rob Sanders

IT Professional and TOGAF 9 certified architect with nearly two decades of industry experience, 18 years in commercial software development and 11 years in IT consulting. Check out the "About Rob" page for more information.

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