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Friday, 16 May 2014 12:59

With DRM, Mozilla shows it excels at hypocrisy Featured


The Mozilla Foundation appears to be capable of blowing hot and cold when it suits them. On Wednesday, it announced that it would be including digital restrictions (or rights, if you prefer) management in Firefox via code from Adobe.

The DRM is meant to support the playing of video streams from places like Netflix; Mozilla's argument is that other browsers like Internet Explorer, Safari and Chrome support it already and that it does not want its users to be forced to use another browser if they want to watch such streams. What noble sentiments!

All these browsers are proprietary and the source is closed. Firefox is an open-source browser - though one doubts whether that appellation can be applied after the DRM is in place.

Mozilla Foundation chairwoman Winifred Mitchell Baker told the well-known technology writer Cory Doctorow that "it's not in line with the values that we’re trying to build. This does not match our value set".

This is the same Baker who told the world that Brendan Eich was being sacked as chief executive because his financial support in 2008 for Proposition 8 in California - a measure to define marriage as a union only between a man and woman - did not match the Foundation's values.

So one can kick out a co-founder of Mozilla, the person who invented JavaScript, a technical genius, in order to adhere to these so-called values.

At the same time, one will incorporate DRM, even if it is in not in keeping with those same "values". A word beginning with "h" and ending with "e" suggests itself.

Mozilla chief technical officer Andreas Gal has written a blog post, trying to justify the decision on DRM, but the same argument can be put to this worthy - what happened to your values all of a sudden?

Gal tries to influence his arguments by saying that 30 per cent of the downstream traffic in North America is made up of encrypted video from places like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Video. But these are mere weasel word - it is not the number of users that is affecting the percentage, rather the bulky files.

Exactly how much video cannot be played in Firefox due to DRM? As Doctorow writes, it is a small fraction; he points to the fact that 96 hours of DRM-free video is added to YouTube every minute.

Encrypted media extensions (EME) were defined by the World Wide Web Consortium soon after Google and Microsoft started doing private deals to support streams from the likes of Netflix, instead of trying to create an industry standard. W3C boss Tim Berners-Lee panicked and added support for EMEs to HTML5.

Gal has tried to paint the situation as one where Mozilla has no choice because the EMEs are already supported on the web.

But then Mozilla also had a choice to retain Eich because he was of immense importance to the organisation - and it chose to sacrifice him to the lynch mob.

The DRM will operate from within a sandbox in Firefox; it will not be able to affect other functions on a computer. But no matter what it does and does not touch, it is proprietary, closed-source code that is doing the work.

And you don't know what the hell it is actually doing. That flies in the face of every principle behind free and open source software.

Mozilla excels in hypocrisy; it should now recognise that it is a closed-source browser and stop all the talk of values. It's something like a whore talking about the virtues of virginity. It is a sham and a massive waste of time.

Want to get with the crowd and keep the dollars rolling in? Then do it without platitudes about morals, ethics, values and the like.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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