It seems there’s quite a bit of news I missed during my year off the net, much of it good (lots of progress on free code Skype alternatives), but some of it spectacularly bad. Over a year ago I wrote a piece opposing the attempt by a cabal of media and tech corporations (notably Microsoft and Google) to shoehorn DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) into the HTML5 specification, under the name EME (Encrypted Media Extensions). The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) is the body charged with maintaining web standards (including HTML) in the public interest, the bad news is that they did accept EME into HTML5 in 2014, about the same time I went offline. This prompting the EFF to castigate them for lowering their standards, and reminded them of the WHATWG, who parted ways with the W3C over its support for XHTML, and seem set to do so again over EME.

In even worse news, the only browser company which is not a psychopath (or “for-profit corporation“), Firefox, owned by the not-for-profit Mozilla Foundation, decided to accept the proprietary blob that EME requires into their otherwise free code (or “open source”) browser. Mozilla’s excuses were laid out in a May 2014 post on the developer blog Mozilla Hacks entitled ‘Reconciling Mozilla’s Mission and W3C EME’, and as summed up in a  comment on the post by user ‘Wuzzy’, were pretty weak:

“1) If this does not get implemented, the user base would massively shrink.

2) If the user base shrinks, this would be bad.

3) It is not really Mozilla’s choice to go this route; Mozilla has basically been forced to do it.”

I agree with Wuzzy’s rebuttals, basically:

  1. There is no sensible reason to think users of a free code browser would leave in protest for lack of a proprietary DRM add-on
  2. Even if they did Mozilla’s mission is to support a free and open web, not maximize their user base
  3. This is just garbage. Mozilla could have agreed to support any version of EME which required no proprietary code, ie none, allowing them to both doff their cap to the HTML5 standards, but also stand by their open source principles (such as they are).

The apologetics from Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker were even more distressing:

“People want to watch video, including movies and TV shows. Browsers must provide the ability to watch video or the browser becomes less and less the tool users need.”

Baker’s implied claim here is that if we can’t use Firefox to watch TV, users will switch to another browser. In other words, if we don’t use a certain browser for *everything*, we won’t use it for *anything*. What’s more likely is that anything we can’t watch in *every* browser won’t become a thing we usually watch in *any* browser. If we’re desperate enough to watch shows from NetFlix and other DRM-mongers, we’ll hold our noses, install an app to do so, and continue to use our browsers for what they’re for…  browsing the free and open web. We don’t need Mozilla to hold our noses for us, we need them to stick to their mission.

The web is not television, or the movies, and that’s a *good* thing. Yes, it’s cool to be able to embed songs or videos in web pages, or even watch videos in full screen without leaving the comfort of the browser. But there is a huge range of devices, media player software, and download/ streaming services, for users who want to watch movies and television shows (desktop media players like VLC, mobile apps, gaming consoles, *televisions*). Push come to shove, audio and video are nice-to-have extras that most websites do perfectly well without. But there are plenty of DRM-free ways to serve and display them, and even if there weren’t, this would be no excuse to allow legacy media corporations to dictate how the web should work, or force free code browsers to use proprietary components which strip their users of legal rights like ‘fair dealing’ (or in the US ‘fair use’).

Baker goes on:

“We have selected Adobe to provide the key functionality… We believe that Adobe is uniquely able to bring new value to the setting.”

Seriously? As pointed out by John Sullivan of the Free Software Foundation, Adobe have used their Flash plug-ins as a backdoor to spy on users’ computers for over a decade. What “new value” could possibly make it worth letting them within 1000 miles of the Firefox code repository?!?

Sullivan also challenged Mozilla to make sure the resources they put into helping abolish DRM match the resources they are putting into implementing it in the form of EME. With all the other common browsers predictably integrating EME too, this left users who don’t support DRM, but haven’t yet made the transition to a free code OS like GNU+Linux (I use Trisquel), in a tricky position. One option is to follow the instructions on the Mozilla support pages to disable Adobe’s EME spyware. The good news is that Mozilla recently announced they will be distributing a DRM-free version of Firefox, in unbranded form, although these are aimed mainly at add-on developers.

This just adds to the frustrations created by Mozilla bundling a WebRTC videophone client into Firefox called ‘Hello’, which I described on this blog as part of a Core-Us update in July this year:

“a front-end for TokBox, a proprietary WebRTC implementation owned by corporate giant Telefonica. It’s sickening that a not-for-profit, open source development organisation like Mozilla is reselling proprietary software under the name of a well known free code project like Firefox. That Hello doesn’t have a flashing ‘powered by proprietary TokBox software’ warning on its user interface makes it even worse.”

Mozilla could have partnered with Jitsi, whose fully free code WebRTC stack (under the Apache license) can be tried out at meet.jit.si. Their decision to work with Telefonica instead, like their decision to work with Adobe, is a disturbing omen that the decision-makers at the Mozilla Foundation have lost touch with the Mozilla project’s free code origins, and its social mission. As I asked in July:

“What is up with Mozilla these days?”

Filed September 7th, 2015 under free culture, free software, open source

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