Chris Bateman

Mozilla, DRM, and Pragmatism

Mozilla has taken a bit of a beating lately — more than their fair share, for sure. The latest trouble has been over their decision to add the Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) standard to Firefox. EME basically allows for native browser implementations of Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems.

There was a lot of unhappiness about this, which is understandable. I’m opposed to DRM — not because I’m in favor of pirating content — but because DRM has nothing to do with piracy and everything to do with leverage over creators of playback devices.

I shared an article on Twitter which made the case that there should have been a bigger outcry when Google and Microsoft implemented EME:

Google and Microsoft and Apple have already started implementing EME, over the complaints of precisely nobody…

I like the warm fuzzy feeling I get from knowing that Mozilla are out there doing the right thing… Firefox should stand on principle here and refuse to play DRMed videos – but of course I’m not going to stop using DRMed video, I’ll just use Safari for that. The warm fuzzy feeling is jolly nice, but it’s not enough to actually keep the Mozilla organisation running…

Mozilla helps keep the web open for us, but in return we have to help keep the web open for Mozilla. And we aren’t.

However, I was immediately seized upon by a dissenter who claimed that Mozilla was losing their core values and would lose their core user base because of it.

First off — switching away from Firefox because of DRM doesn’t add up. “I’ve been going out of my way to use the browser fighting against DRM, but now I might as well switch to Chrome, which embraced and promoted DRM from the start. Because DRM is the only aspect of the open web that Mozilla ever has or will stand for.” Yeah, that makes tons of sense.

But here’s the most important part — while there certainly are lots of people who use Firefox because of their committment to the open web, the average Firefox user has no idea about any of this. Half a billion people use Firefox (according to Mozilla); and for the vast majority of them, without EME, all they would know is that their Netflix doesn’t work in Firefox.

So it’s a tough situation for Mozilla. They’re clearly unhappy about adding EME, but they’re doing it because they believe that they simply can’t survive without it. And I agree. Mozilla hasn’t lost their core values, and I believe they still have much to offer the open web. But they can’t do any good at all if they don’t have people using their browser.

Tony Kushner penned the following words (inspried by Abraham Lincoln):

A compass, I learned when I was surveying, it’ll point you true north from where you’re standing, but it’s got no advice about the swamps and deserts and chasms that you’ll encounter along the way. If in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp… what’s the use of knowing true north?
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