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HTML5 and Digital Rights Management Collide

html5Many of us turn to Netflix, Hulu, or LoveFilm when we want to watch movies online. And while it appears we’re watching via a browser, in reality we’re often using an online application. And there’s a different application for every device. You may have noticed that if you’ve used Netflix on a Wii, then your desktop computer, and your iPhone. Each of them has a slightly different user interface.

With all the talk of standardising video and browsers with HTML5, why is it we need to have these applications?

Piracy, copyright issues, royalties … right now applications are a good way to avoid these legal issues, or minimise them, by providing the content only to those approved to view it.

The truth is that HTML5 doesn’t have native support for digital rights management (DRM) which is the term used to describe how content providers restrict access to those who have the rights to view the content (generally that means you’ve paid to see it). The decision to exclude DRM was made consciously because HTML5’s mantra is “no plugins”. And at the moment, browsers use plugins to help decode the encrypted movie content. So the two are mutually exclusive.

But the W3C (the organisation in charge of the HTML5 standard) is getting pressure from content owners to include DRM in the standard. And it looks like W3C is making changes to support DRM, though not in the HTML5 standard directly.

Instead there will be a defined API in JavaScript that vendors (content owners) can use to authorise and decrypt content. You can read the draft specifications at the W3C website under Encrypted Media Extensions.

It’s important to note that the draft API approach is being contested by some organisations that claim adding DRM to the HTML5 standard is the wrong approach. Their arguments are based on their desire to ensure freedom of content and the fear that by making this exception to the HTML5 standard, other exceptions will follow – thus corrupting the original intent of the standard.

If you’re a content creator looking to make sure your videos are protected you’ll want to follow how this plays out. In the meantime, if you are wondering about HTML5 and what that means for making your content accessible on multiple platforms – especially mobile – then download our special report: “The Truth About HTML5 and Mobile Streaming: What HTML5 is, isn’t, and why it matters”.

Oliver Burt

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