The chief technical officer of Mozilla says it has been forced to add DRM to the Firefox web browser in order to keep it relevant and functional for its users.
You might expect that as an open source browser, Firefox would be far removed from the ugly battlefields of digital rights management. Today, however, Mozilla CTO Andreas Gal announced that the browser will implement DRM in the form of the W3C Encrypted Media Extensions, which he said it was forced to do by the ongoing adoption of W3C EME by content providers.
"Mozilla would have preferred to see the content industry move away from locking content to a specific device (so called node-locking), and worked to provide alternatives," he wrote. "Instead, this approach has now been enshrined in the W3C EME specification. With Google and Microsoft shipping W3C EME and content providers moving over their content from plugins to W3C EME Firefox users are at risk of not being able to access DRM restricted content (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu)."
Because of that, and despite its "philosophical opposition" to DRM, Mozilla has decided to implement the W3C EME specification, beginning with the desktop version of Firefox. "This is a difficult and uncomfortable step for us given our vision of a completely open Web, but it also gives us the opportunity to actually shape the DRM space and be an advocate for our users and their rights in this debate," Gal wrote. "The existing W3C EME systems Google and Microsoft are shipping are not open source and lack transparency for the user, two traits which we believe are essential to creating a trustworthy Web."
It's sadly ironic that DRM has effectively become a feature that software makers feel they must implement in order to properly serve their audiences, but in an analysis for the Guardian explaining the meaning and potential impact of the change, Cory Doctorow questioned the assertion that the implementation of W3C EME is necessary at all. Gal stated that more than 30 percent of internet traffic today is generated by Netflix streams, but as Doctorow pointed out, video streams are the "bulkiest files to transfer," so it's unsurprising that they eat up a lot of data.
"When a charitable nonprofit like Mozilla makes a shift as substantial as this one - installing closed-source software designed to treat computer users as untrusted adversaries - you'd expect there to be a data-driven research story behind it, meticulously documenting the proposition that without DRM irrelevance is inevitable," he wrote. "The large number of bytes being shifted by Netflix is a poor proxy for that detailed picture."
Despite Mozilla's reluctance to implement the change, Gal said the adoption of the W3C EME standard does have a "silver lining," as it brings the web one step closer to ending its reliance on plugins. Furthermore, he claimed to see it as a transition rather than an end-state, writing, "While the W3C EME-based DRM world is likely to stay with us for a while, we believe that eventually better systems such as watermarking will prevail, because they offer more convenience for the user, which is good for the user, but in the end also good for business."
Gervase Markham of Mozilla noted in the follow-up comments that while the "exact user experience" is still being defined, the DRM will not activate and run without users "explicitly agreeing" to allow it to do so. He also said that a technical FAQ on the changes with be released within the next 48 hours.