DRM in Firefox, the sign of a defeat


On May 14, 2014, the Mozilla Foundation announced its partnership with Adobe for integrating DRM into Firefox, the free software product that it publishes. This decision results from the direct integration of DRM into HTML5, and it is the sign of a major setback to free IT.

DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) is the practice of imposing technological restrictions that control what users can do with digital media. It is one of the four threats [fr] to free software and was the subject, last April, of the International Day against DRM, 2014 edition. The introduction of DRM in HTML5 was bad news, and had been announced several months ago by Tim Berners Lee; we are very disappointed to find that the betrayal of free software principles and Internet universality is spreading, including to the core of a major free software product such as Firefox.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) calls for the withdrawal of DRM integration to Firefox. The FSF argues that the marketshare loss referred to by Mozilla in order to justify its decision is not substantiated by any evidence, and moreover that Firefox' statement about its reluctancy at making this decision is difficult to understand, given its rejoycing at the parnership with Adobe, a vicious opponent of the free software movement.

Our point is not to challenge Mozilla's good faith when they mention the threat of a marketshare loss; their competence at bringing up and developing a consumer software product is widely recognised. But even if these fears are indeed grounded, the problem is not coming from Mozilla, but rather from the W3C which has let the rot set in.

We may however take note of Mozilla's priorities: its press release is entitled DRM and the Challenge of Serving Users; thus users' freedoms come third, at best. Mozilla's willingness to implement the EME standard (Extended Media Extension, devoted to controlling media playback) of the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) while attempting “to retain elements of user control and transparency” doesn't make much difference, and this priority hierarchy is counter to the free software principles.

Yes indeed, most users assign a rather low priority to their own freedom, but then, where is the limit? What will differentiate Firefox from the other browsers if it enters a reverse auction system with respect to freedom issues? One of the equally worrying points is that this trend of the web characterises the strenghening of an oligarchic sort of IT, with DRM as a discriminant between those who can pay for software or systems that are required by DRM vendors, and the rest, who are thus excluded from an ever widening part of the internet. Given that the DRM provider which has been chosen, Adobe, is not known for its willingness to undiscriminately support all systems, one can fear that this extension will only be available for some versions of GNU/Linux and for some major architectures (x86, ARM), at the expense of the other platforms or operating systems; this is the opposite of the portability that free software provides.

The question of responsibility may also be returned to the free software communities. The sustainability of Firefox depends on its ability to maintain a sufficient marketshare for Google to continue financing this product. Can we rightfully complain about the policies of Firefox if we do not contribute, one way or the other? Indeed, there are many important issues and not enough free software advocates.

This defeat tastes especially bitter since Firefox, the giant of consumer-oriented free software, has stumbled, showing the limitations of the Free World. Bitterness also while we realise that Tim Berners Lee, the Internet hero, has defended the betrayal involved in endorsing the addition of proprietary extensions to something that was fundamentally free. This affair demonstrates that the mere goodwill of a few project leaders is no guarantee of anything. This news item demonstrates that the free software ideals remain as ambitious and as necessary as ever. We must regain control of our computing as a whole, from hardware to data, and refuse the disciplinary order of a computing devoted to surveillance and social control, which today is swallowing the W3C, and Mozilla after it.