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Weekly News Digest

June 20, 2013 — In addition to this week's NewsBreaks article and the monthly NewsLink Spotlight, Information Today, Inc. (ITI) offers Weekly News Digests that feature recent product news and company announcements. Watch for additional coverage to appear in the next print issue of Information Today. For other up-to-the-minute news, check out ITI’s Twitter account: @ITINewsBreaks.

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation Objects to W3C HTML5 Standards

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) proposed new HTML5 standards from its HTML working group, which drafted a report advocating digital rights management (DRM) on the open web. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit organization that defends the issues of free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights, replied to the proposal on its website, condemning the working group’s use of DRM as a way to prevent internet users from accessing important content.

The EFF explains that the working group’s proposal means end users will have their access controlled by the W3C’s decisions about DRM.

Its objection states that DRM “will (1) exclude an entire class of platform and user agents from full conformance with the HTML5 standard and the W3C’s vision of the Open Web; (2) encourage the reduction of the amount of content accessible to users via the Web; and (3) create serious future impediments to W3C’s core mission of promoting interoperability, voluntary standards compliance, and access for all.” The EFF dislikes the precedent that would be set by including such restrictions in new HTML5 standards.

The EFF intends to draw attention to the “unusual nature” of the standards, citing several examples of problems the foundation foresees:

  • Clarifying "content protection": access control vs. encryption versus usage control
  • Usage control poses insuperable challenges for implementation and interoperability
  • Usage control is not necessary for the provision of commercial content
  • Usage control restricts the user capabilities that created and sustain the web
  • Usage control could have statutory implications for standards-making and technologists
  • The mechanisms proposed here are likely to be a floor, not a ceiling

“Content protection” in this case means access control, content encryption, and DRM. The EFF cites previous standards such as HTTP, client certificates, and authentication standards as successes that are already in place. “All of these technologies define a notion of authorized and/or authenticated information to information, and provide mechanisms to enforce that notion,” but DRM and usage control “is a new step for W3C,” according to the report.

Usage control means that a device needs to restrict operation to conform to a given standard, and the device user cannot override it. The device allows a user access, not ownership. “End-user control is by definition impossible to implement on free/open source platforms where users are free to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software they use. As a consequence, standards for usage control by their nature will always exclude free/open source platforms.”

The EFF believes that usage control is not necessary and suggests using licensing arrangements that do not have third-party usage controls, getting rid of the need for DRM: paywalls, watermarks, advertisement sponsors, and subscriptions. It cites the examples of musicians, newspapers, and writers who successfully sell their work on the web using current standards.

The web was “built through the innovation and ingenuity of its users and creators,” according to the EFF report. Adding usage control negates some of the basic practices of the web: hyperlinking, archiving, “thumbnailing,” and “web-spidering.”

The EFF writes that since the law, especially copyright law, enforces proper behavior, additional DRM is an affront to freedom of expression. “The W3C could find itself being used as a channel for copyright controls that could become mandatory obligations for ISPs to monitor and interfere with web traffic.”

If usage control is applied to certain content, “it is hard to see why W3C should not widen the same capabilities to all Web content,” further restricting access on a haphazard basis. The EFF worries where the line will be drawn. “The web would turn from being an open environment for all, to a nest of incompatible pages,” and by allowing usage control to become the standard of the web, the W3C takes the risk of expanding DRM to “an even wider range of media.”

The EFF notes: “We’re aware that [this proposal has] … already been controversial and debated publicly and within the W3C community, including within the working group itself. The issues are complex. We hope we can bring our experience working with standards groups … to help illuminate best practices for conveniently providing support for commercial content while still preserving our rights.”

Source: The Electronic Frontier Foundation 

Send correspondence concerning the Weekly News Digest to NewsBreaks Editor Brandi Scardilli

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