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Mozilla, DRM, and Fighting Smart

News came out of Mozilla that was of zero surprise to me, and many others, but did upset and surprise a great number of people. Mozilla, long time champion of a free and open web, is backing down on their stance to never incorporate the new DRM mechanisms in HTML5 into Firefox. Firefox will officially support blackbox DRM’ed content played back exclusively through closed source components.

The new DRM support in HTML5 has been inevitable for some time. It is not inevitable because DRM is a good thing (it is not) or because the media companies are too powerful to fight (they are not). The inevitability of this beachhead was all due to two names on the draft authorship list: a developer from Google (the company that brings you the Chrome browser) and a developer from Microsoft (of Internet Explorer). When this DRM spec was first proposed it was obviously inevitable because it did not come from outside, but from within, and with a foothold in two of the most popular browsers in the world. It was obvious that from Day One both would support these new capabilities, that Netflix (also a co-author) and many other media sites would utilize it, and that users would be left with either a severely limited web experience or the option to leave Firefox behind.

Mozilla tried to make a stand and it was entirely admirable.

It was not, however, practical even for a second.

DRM can be beaten. DRM can be made irrelevant. DRM can even be made detrimental to the very media corporation profits that drove it into existence in the first place! This is not the day when these statements can be made in the present tense. The fight we have before us is a long-haul fight.

Had Firefox been kept out of this game entirely, it could not participate in that fight at all. We could all see the writing on the wall when Mozilla so valiantly tried to make their stand. Had they continued, we would have seen them launch (I’m sure of this) some campaign to push DRM free video portals as alternatives, to showcase that now all video content requires these measures. They would have been laughably limited and done little more than to showcase the (current) need to give users access to the content they actually do care about.

That is why, for the time being, this was the right move.

Firefox will continue to allow users to access Netflix and Hulu and Youtube content that requires silly measures to make content owners comfortable. Staying in the fight today will allow Mozilla to contribute to the fight for a long time coming, and I do think this will be a long time fight.

I just don’t know what that fight will entail.

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