Say It Ain't So! Mozilla Will Build Streaming Video DRM Into Firefox

by Ostatic Staff - May. 15, 2014

Ask many people in the open source community which companies they perceive as having policies that could be more open, and many of them will mention Adobe--right up there with Microsoft. For example, Adobe is well known for holding a two-fisted grip on technologies such as Flash, which still powers more than 70 percent of the video content found on the web.

Now, Mozilla--a champion of openness on the web--has teamed up with Adobe to provide a Content Decryption Module (CDM) that effectively hitches its wagon to streaming video DRM (digital rights management) in the Firefox browser after years of eschewing the practice. 

Mozilla's new CTO Andreas Gal writes in a blog post:

"Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a tricky issue. On the one hand content owners argue that they should have the technical ability to control how users share content in order to enforce copyright restrictions. On the other hand, the current generation of DRM is often overly burdensome for users and restricts users from lawful and reasonable use cases such as buying content on one device and trying to consume it on another."

"In 2013 Google and Microsoft partnered with a number of content providers including Netflix to propose a 'built-in' DRM extension for the Web: the W3C Encrypted Media Extensions (EME). The W3C EME specification defines how to play back such content using the HTML5 <video> element, utilizing a Content Decryption Module (CDM) that implements DRM functionality directly in the Web stack."

"With Google and Microsoft shipping W3C EME and content providers moving over their content from plugins to W3C EME Firefox users are at risk of not being able to access DRM restricted content (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu), which can make up more than 30% of the downstream traffic in North America. We have come to the point where Mozilla not implementing the W3C EME specification means that Firefox users have to switch to other browsers to watch content restricted by DRM....As a result we have decided to implement the W3C EME specification in our products, starting with Firefox for Desktop." 

 Part of the reason why this announcement is getting so much notice is that it comes from Mozilla, which has taken admirable stances against DRM over the years. But many users are already familiiar with the frustrations that can arise from not being able to access popular content online. For example, when Apple delivered the iPad, there was a torrent of criticism over its lack of support for Flash video. 

In the end, even most users who support open policies also want to be able to get at popular online content. That's the reason for Mozilla reversing its stance on DRM. "This is a difficult and uncomfortable step for us given our vision of a completely open web, but it also gives us the opportunity to actually shape the DRM space and be an advocate for our users and their rights in this debate," writes Gal, who is making one of his first big moves as Mozilla's new CTO.