No to DRM in HTML

Published on November 22, 2013 (↻ February 5, 2024), filed under (RSS feed for all categories).

This and many other posts are also available as a pretty, well-behaved ebook: On Web Development.

It’s been quiet around DRM lately so I like to share my opinion, in brief: DRM doesn’t belong into nor anywhere near HTML.

For one, HTML is a language to describe documents and, since HTML 5, applications. I don’t deem DRM in scope for HTML. Even in the form of EME, as there won’t actually be a DRM-related HTML element nor even a section in the actual HTML spec. Setting the scope’s not my call given that I’m neither one of the spec editors nor in W3C’s chain of command, but that doesn’t all of a sudden make DRM relevant to describe a document or application.

For another and more importantly, there are far too many problems around intellectual property. The whole copyright system is broken. DRM itself doesn’t work and is argued not to work on the Web, either. With a broken patent system on top you can say that everything around intellectual property is dysfunctional—and go further and regard all of this a socio-political problem in the first place.

From my point of view there needs to be a fair, lenient, simple, robust, and actually working solution to intellectual property first before we should even think about bringing anything to the Web and its standards.

I’ve been contemplating to leave the HTML Working Group because of the whole DRM drama, symbolically, but I’m still staying in a holding pattern until I’m clear about a more effective course of action. No matter the confidence, this is a bit out of my comfort zone.

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About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens (long: Jens Oliver Meiert), and I’m a frontend engineering leader and tech author/publisher. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like Google and as an engineering manager for companies like Miro, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly and Frontend Dogma.

I love trying things, not only in web development (and engineering management), but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on I share some of my views and experiences.

If you want to do me a favor, interpret charitably (I speak three languages, and they can collide), yet be critical and give feedback for me to learn and improve. Thank you!

Comments (Closed)

  1. On November 22, 2013, 17:42 CET, Gannon (J.) Dick said:

    I agree.

    Internet routing - Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) - renders the transportation path for an instant document unforeseeable. However to “extend” this uncertainty to mean that every document “must” at some point pass through a virtual jurisdiction where digital rights are modifiable or do not even exist is far far beyond the scope of a document format including HTML.

  2. On November 25, 2013, 5:37 CET, Arthur Clifford said:

    My personal opinion is that part of marking up a document or document could include marking up digital rights expression. That is I intend this document to be seen but not copied. Or, I’ve provided this document with the hope people will copy it as they see fit. Digital rights enforcement on the other hand is a bit different and better addressed by the hypertext protocol or some other layer. I don’t have a problem with the notion of allowing expression of preferred or intended use of a document. I agree that there is a socio political element to it all that I’m sure will be chipped away at slowly over time. But I don’t think that happens by symbolic gestures such as leaving the working group, but rather by continuing to represent your perspective. The right answer is not the majority or minority opinion, the loudest presented, or unspoken, but found somewhere in the overlap of differing ideas in a community of ideas. The truth is, the copyright system has not figured out, like most industries, what to do with the internet. It seems a wierd statement, but in the grander scheme of thigns the internet a and what it allows is still new, still evolving, and quite confounding and it takes time to properly and fairly encapsulate freedoms in legal terms. I think it is flawed to say copyright system is broken, it just hasn’t evolved to where it needs to be yet. All the “DRM drama” is part of the process of figuring out what the new paradigm is. It is a necessary evolutionary process; its just growing pains.

  3. On November 26, 2013, 10:08 CET, Chris said:

    It seems funny to me that around year 2000, W3C departed from HTML and promoted the unpopular and restrictive XHTML. Now they are trying to restrict HTML5 also…it seems that giant companies like Netflix, Google, Microsoft and BBC are supporting W3C in their mission to “lead the World Wide Web to its full potential.”