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The Free Software Foundation is urging web users to sign a petition opposing a proposal by companies to specify standards for HTML extensions to support digital rights management (DRM).

The proposal has been advanced by Netflix, Google and Microsoft and is under consideration by the World Wide Web Consortium. It has the backing of the BBC, among others.

FSF founder Richard Stallman said that while the W3C could not prevent companies grafting DRM onto HTML5, it could prevent the standardisation of DRM.

"...where the W3C stands is tremendously important for the battle to eliminate DRM," Stallman wrote in a post on the FSF website.

"On a practical level, standardizing (sic) DRM would make it more convenient, in a very shallow sense. This could influence people who think only of short-term convenience to think of DRM as acceptable, which could in turn encourage more sites to use DRM.

"On the political level, making room for DRM in the specifications of the World Wide Web would constitute an endorsement in principle of DRM by the W3C. Standardization (sic) by the W3C could facilitate DRM that is harder for users to break, than DRM implemented in Javascript code.

"If the DRM is implemented in the operating system, this could result in distribution of works that can't be played at all on a free operating system such as GNU/Linux."

Stallman said that among the arguments for standardising DRM, one was that a lack of standardisation would mean encapsulating more data and works in formats that could not be searched.

"I doubt that claim; video sites that use Flash have plenty of information in searchable HTML about the videos. Standardized (sic) DRM could just as easily harm searchability, if it leads to more use of DRM," he wrote

He said another argument was that the W3C needed to obey the wishes of these companies to remain "relevant". "...in other words, to be in a position to influence events," he wrote.

"However, it makes no sense to preserve that influence for some later decision that will be less important than this one. And is it even real influence? "Influence" maintained by obeying a master is more self-delusion than reality."


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.