Encrypted Video Standard Draws Praise, Rebuke

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By Alexis Kramer

The World Wide Web Consortium Sept. 18 issued a new technical standard for enabling internet users to watch encrypted videos in browsers, amid praise from companies including Microsoft Corp. and opposition from civil liberties activists.

The consortium (W3C), a global organization that develops web standards, published Encrypted Media Extensions, an application programming interface (API) that allows users to view protected content in web browsers without having to install plug-ins.

The W3C published the standard after a lengthy debate within the web community over whether to add a covenant shielding security researchers from provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that ban circumvention of digital access restrictions copyright owners place on their works. The published standard doesn’t include such a covenant.

“EME is already widely adopted as a direct result of broad collaboration in W3C among major organizations such as Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Mozilla, Apple, CableLabs, Adobe, and has significant implementation across Web browsers,” W3C Project Lead Philippe Le Hégaret said in a statement. “Compared to previous methods of viewing encrypted video on the Web, EME has the benefit that all interactions happen within the browser.”

Plug-ins are generally used when a feature is not available on a web browser. Moving video content interactions into browsers protects users from security vulnerabilities that are found in some plug-ins, according to a W3C press release.

Mixed Reactions

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital civil liberties group, said in a Sept. 18 statement that it resigned from the W3C in response to the standard’s publication.

The W3C declined to include a covenant that “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,” EFF Special Advisor Cory Doctorow said in the statement. The EFF proposed such a covenant, which, Doctorow said, would have given legal clarity to those who need to bypass digital access controls in order to find “defects that would endanger billions of web users,” or to create accessible video for people with disabilities.

Microsoft, Netflix Inc. and other companies and trade groups lauded the W3C’s announcement.

“Websites can count on browsers to deliver media without having to support 3rd party plugins,” Microsoft Director of Program Management Jason Weber said in a statement. “Users can be confident that their chosen media content is delivered in an accessible, secure and privacy-respecting way.”

Mark Watson, director of streaming standards at Netflix, said in a statement that the technology had been “greatly improved” at the W3C. “We can finally say goodbye to third-party plugins, making for a safer and more reliable web,” Watson said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alexis Kramer in Washington at aKramer@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

For More Information

The Encrypted Media Extensions standard is available at http://src.bna.com/sDw.

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