Like many of you, I was disappointed to learn of Tim Berners-Lee's capitulation to the copyright industry and his unwillingness to object to Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) being standardized in HTML5 by the World Wide Web Consortium (Rogoff, 2017). I jest. This is probably an esoteric issue for most of you. This will be the first time digital rights management (DRM) will be an intrinsic part of the structure of the internet. As librarians, you may recognize DRM as the thing that makes our digital services so difficult to use. You may recognize DRM as the thing which forces our patrons to install insecure, buggy, privacy violating apps in order to access casual entertainment. In the words of the American Library Association, “unbalanced DRM controls present some significant challenges to a library's ability to disseminate information to citizens.” (American Library Association, 2006). I would argue that Digital Millennium Copyright Act exceptions which make circumvention of DRM legal in certain cases are so narrow that all DRM is “unbalanced.” I'm not sure which is worse: teaching a non tech-savvy person how to check out a Kindle-format e-book, or teaching a moderately tech savvy person how to checkout an e-book and turning red-faced with embarrassment at the clunkiness of the process. Thanks, DRM.
If you've read this far, you might be saying that EME will help with interoperability between platforms and therefore help ease the difficulty created by DRM. As a long time GNU/Linux proponent, I deeply appreciate platform neutral interoperability. I would also point out that we are already there in regard to EME. At the time of writing, Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari have implemented EME. Translation: I can watch Netflix on my Linux laptop if I am willing to install non-free, insecure software on my laptop. Hoopla still does not work though, because of arbitrary DRM restrictions. Correction: The decision that free / libre / open source software is forbidden is not an arbitrary decision, but an ideological one. The argument whether EME should be included in HTML5 standards is an ideological one as well. It is strange that Berners-Lee is unwilling to take an ideological stance against it considering he is willing to do so definitively in favor of net neutrality (Berners-Lee, 2015) and online privacy (Berners-Lee, 2017). EME in HTML5 standards is a capitulation to media conglomerates that steer copyright policy in favor of profits over users. This is the same lobby that often argues that it stands for the rights of artists when managing to somehow pay artists even less than it did during the era of compact discs (Dredge, 2015). The same lobby that insists that they are hurt by piracy though they continue to achieve record breaking profits year after year (Andy, 2016). The same lobby whose expansion of copyright law has created a proportional black hole in public domain works (Masnick, 2015). The advent of digital content should not have heralded a stripping of consumer rights and a shrinking of the public commons. Standards should encourage openness.
All of this to make sure you don't see Captain America: Civil War without paying full market value. That movie was so vapid it made me ashamed to live in the country that produced it. Soon after Captain America premiered, Donald Trump was elected President. Soon after that, the Federal Trade Commission (FCC) revoked the Lifeline Broadband Provider designation, therefore eliminating affordable internet access for those who need it most (Hines, 2017). Attend one TLA conference and you will learn the essential nature of that program. This is just pregame for stripping of privacy regulations (Neibeg, 2017) and net neutrality protections previously enacted by the FCC (Brodkin, 2016). One argument why your privacy should be forfeited: to ensure that stream of Captain America: Civil War you are voiding your mind with was not from a pirated source. Of course, without net neutrality protections you may be forced to seek a pirated stream of your favorite mental bubblegum if it is produced by a media conglomerate different from your internet service provider. While I anxiously await the June release of Wonder Woman and her Lasso of Truth, I encourage librarians everywhere to oppose DRM and continue to advocate for copyright reform.
American Library Association. (2006, October 11). Digital rights management (DRM) & libraries. Retrieved March 6, 2017, from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/copyright/digitalrights
Andy. (2016, April 13). Piracy fails to prevent another box office record. Retrieved from https://torrentfreak.com/piracy-fails-to-prevent-box-office-record-160413/
Berners-Lee, T. (2015, October 26) Net neutrality in Europe: A statement from Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Retrieved March 10, 2017, from http://webfoundation.org/2015/10/net-neutrality-in-europe-a-statement-from-sir-tim-berners-lee/
Berners-Lee, T. (2017, March 12) Three challenges for the web, according to its inventor. Retrieved March 13, 2017, from http://webfoundation.org/2017/03/web-turns-28-letter/
Brodkin, J. (2016, December 8). FCC’s Ajit Pai says net neutrality’s “days are numbered” under Trump. Retrieved March 6, 2017, from https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/12/fccs-ajit-pai-says-net-neutralitys-days-are-numbered-under-trump/
Dredge, S. (2015, April 3). How much do musicians really make from Spotify, iTunes and YouTube? The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/apr/03/how-much-musicians-make-spotify-itunes-youtube
Hines, S. (2017, February 6). ALA denounces recent FCC Lifeline revocations, report retractions. Retrieved March 6, 2017, from http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2017/02/ala-denounces-recent-fcc-lifeline-revocations-report-retractions
Masnick, M. (2015, November 17) More Evidence Of How Copyright Makes Culture Disappear In A Giant Black Hole. Retrieved March 6, 2017, from https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20151116/17303032828/more-evidence-how-copyright-makes-culture-disappear-giant-black-hole.shtml
Neibeg, H. (2017, February 21). GOP sets sights on internet privacy rules. Retrieved March 6, 2017, from http://thehill.com/policy/technology/320196-gop-sets-sights-on-internet-privacy-rules
Rogoff, Z. (2017, February) Response to Tim Berners-Lee’s defeatist post about DRM in Web standards. Retrieved March 6, 2017, from https://defectivebydesign.org/blog/response_tim_bernerslees_defeatist_post_about_drm_web_standards