Free software foundation condemns Mozilla for supporting DRM on Firefox

The Free Software Foundation(FSF) has condemned Mozilla’s highly controversial move to support Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) on the world’s most popular Free and open source browser. The nonprofit that stands to promote computer user freedom and  defends the rights of all free software users notes on its webite

“The Free Software Foundation is deeply disappointed in Mozilla’s announcement. The decision compromises important principles in order to alleviate misguided fears about loss of browser marketshare. It allies Mozilla with a company hostile to the free software movement and to Mozilla’s own fundamental ideals.”  

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This comes after Mozilla announced, although rather very reluctantly that it would upgrade its Firefox browser with copyright protection technology, fearing a loss of users if they can’t play protected content from services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.

What’s DRM

Remember back in the day when music was distributed on magnetic tapes? The recording industry did enjoy those days because it was hard to copy and redistribute content. However, the on-set of digital content storage and distribution mechanism was and is a nightmare for recording studios, Film and TV broadcasters. With Music on CDs or DVDs and with the aid of DVD/CD burners, copying music or movies from the optical disks to your computer was as simple as clicking a button. With this you, could move your music onto your iPod, your smartphone or to a different computer. Convenient, right? Well, Hollywood was generally not happy with this development, in the fear that it would increase piracy,  hence DRM.

Digital rights management, or DRM, is a general term used to describe any type of technology that aims to stop, or at least ease, the practice making digital copies. Although, DRM supports serves the purpose of content creators and distributors because it cabs on piracy, it’s an inconvenience to the users — those that have paid to have the content. with DRM in place, you can’t easily move your content from say one device to another.

Mozilla and DRM

Up until now, Mozilla foundation which is the custodian of the popular Firefox browser has stood on the ethical grounds of opposing the DRM movement. Users have previously accessed DRM-controlled content through third-party plugins such as Adobe’s Flash plugin. Other browser vendors such Google, Apple and Microsoft already have proprietary technology (PlayReady by Microsoft and Widevine by Google ) that plays content from Netflix, Amazon and other DRM-controlled content allows users to enjoy video content.

Netflix restricted to certain geographies

Netflix restricted to certain geographies

However, Mozilla is now ceding to market pressure. The foundation will be implement DRM through a mechanism termed as Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) proposed by World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) even though it was initially opposed to the technology. The module supported in HTML5 will allow streaming of DRM video content from providers like BBC, Netflix on users’ browsers. Mozilla will partner with Adobe to implement EME in future versions of Firefox. For maximum protection, Mozilla will runs Adobe’s Adobe’s Content Decryption Module in a “sandbox” to ensure that minimum users’ information is sent back to the content providers. 

The move is to ensure that Mozilla Firefox stays a head in browser market share as iterated by Chief Technology Officer Andreas Gal in a blog post 

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“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 ,” 

Loss of Marketshare is what the Free software foundation calls “misguided fears” . Cory Doctorow points out in The gurdian that there’s no substantial evidence to support the notion that without Firefox supporting DRM, the browser is at risk of losing Marketshare. Netflix and Hulu aren’t for instance available in most countries outside of the US, including here in Uganda. Instead, home-grown versions of Netflix such as Nigeria’s iRokoTV, Afrinolly work with current versions of Firefox without trouble. 



However, in the organization’s defense aside the possible loss of marketshare, Gal says that this places the foundation at a possible to shape the DRM space and be even more proactive in protecting users’ rights on the web.

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,”.  

The FSF on the other hand argues Firefox users to write to Mozilla expressing their distrust of its decision to support DRM in future version of Mozilla Firefox. 

Are you a Firefox user, let us know your thoughts in the comments.


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