W3C hearing the concerns the EME recommendation raises

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We are hearing a great deal of anger, concerns and disagreement –in the Press, in e-mail we've received, and in response on Social Media. We have been reading and hearing assertions that we made a mistake when we published Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) as a W3C Recommendation.

A lot has been written about EME in the many years the work has been conducted at the W3C, in more or less sourced and more or less unbiased articles. Among those writings are the materials we prepared, the stories we shared with the media, the Blog posts our Director Tim Berners-Lee and CEO Jeff Jaffe have written. So much has been written that I wonder how much, and what has been read and heard.

We hear furious feedback from some of our community and we are sorry about those who feel this way about this contentious topic and those we failed to convince, those whose trust we lost –trust that we hope and believe we have worked many years to earn and will work to gain again in the future, although we do know many viewpoints are unlikely to change. We also hear those eager to get back to their non-EME interactions with the W3C, whether they support or oppose EME.

Relevant materials

The W3C leadership has been accused of overriding objections and of obstruction

At W3C all decisions are informed by discussions amongst the W3C membership and the general public. The recent vote was not a decision of the W3C management, but a voting of the W3C members themselves.

Our leaders have led, and facilitated a very divisive debate both among the W3C Membership and Web community, but that is one that touches on society at large. To quote from a blog post our CEO published Monday, "DRM has been used for decades prior to the EME debate. But in recent years it is a credit to the world wide web that the web has become the delivery vehicle for everything, including movies. Accordingly it was inevitable that we would face issues of conflicting values and the appropriate accommodations for commercial use of the web."

W3C is a technical standards body and thus, the debate helped improve the specification in areas of security, privacy, and accessibility.

The W3C is accused of disowning its mission statement and principles, even of greed

We take at heart our principles, and greed is far from being among those. W3C is a Membership organization, which means that Members pay a fee to contribute to setting the agenda of the Open Web Platform, to participate in W3C technical work and to send engineers to conduct that work, but our Process is built around community work and throughout the standardization track our Process ensures our work is reviewed.

Refer to section “Wide Review” of the Process document in particular: "The objective is to ensure that the entire set of stakeholders of the Web community, including the general public, have had adequate notice of the progress of the Working Group, and were able to actually perform reviews of and provide comments on the specification. A second objective is to encourage groups to request reviews early enough that comments and suggested changes can still be reasonably incorporated in response to the review. Before approving transitions, the Director will consider who has been explicitly offered a reasonable opportunity to review the document, who has provided comments, the record of requests to and responses from reviewers, and seek evidence of clear communication to the general public about appropriate times and which content to review and whether such reviews actually occurred."

Wide Review is a requirement and such review needs to be demonstrated as part of W3C work to proceed through the various maturity levels.

The W3C is accused of keeping votes secret, and not being transparent

The W3C follows the W3C Process Document which describes the organizational structure of the W3C and the processes related to the responsibilities and functions they exercise to enable W3C to accomplish its mission to lead the Web to its full potential.

Futhermore, W3C has co-signed with IEEE, Internet Architecture Board (IAB), Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and Internet Society, a statement affirming the importance of a jointly developed set of principles establishing a modern paradigm for global, open standards.

Also, W3C is a level playing field. No matter how much big companies at W3C are worth, they have exactly the same vote; exactly the same voice as a small start up, university or advocacy group – each member gets one vote.

Consider these two facts: our statutes provision member-confidentiality, and the process by which W3C Members can appeal certain decisions was used for the very first time and concluded last week.

In the case at hand, there were several milestones where the W3C Members expressed their preference on EME, through the following decision-making and voting:

  • In March, to transition EME from Proposed Recommendation to Recommendation, we called for an Advisory Committee review. AC Reviews aren't votes. In reviews, W3C Members share comments which are considered and addressed by the W3C Director who engages as appropriate with all the parties (Working Group, Members, team, etc.). In July, the Director addressed the comment and made the decision to publish EME as a Recommendation. The key action of the Director was to listen to objections. All objections he considered and some caused changes to improve the spec - but the objection to stop the spec he did override.
  • That decision was appealed by the EFF and at least 5% of the Membership supported the appeal request.
  • In August, we called for vote on the Appeal of the Director's decision to advance EME to W3C Recommendation. That was a majority vote. It ended last Thursday with 108 who sustained the Director’s decision, 57 who rejected it, and 20 who abstained.

Review and voting last about 4 weeks by Process (although the Appeal process isn't yet very specific, so we followed the existing process for votes), reviews are governed by consensus while votes are governed by majority, and in both cases all W3C Members had the same options for visibility of their responses:

  • Member-visible
  • Member-visible and send email to w3c-ac-forum
  • Public and send email to both w3c-ac-forum and public-new-work
  • Team-only

Screenshot of the options available to W3C Members regarding visibility of their responses

Screenshot of the visibility options available to W3C Members responses

Those options regarding visibility of W3C Member responses have been available since December 2014, further to W3C Member request, for all calls for review of proposed work and proposed recommendations.

Lastly, although our practice had been to not share any numerical results, we informed our Members that we would share this information for the appeal vote that was about to end, given the controversy. Our long-standing practice has been to respect member-confidentiality, yet we still shared the vote totals, and while we did not expect any particular recognition, we never anticipated to be accused of abandoning consensus, or to be blamed because no member chose to make their responses publicly visible.

EME is a framework for DRM implementation, not DRM itself

Many have protested EME or W3C making a “DRM standard”. Implying that EME is DRM is false. EME is an API to DRM. EME is agnostic of the DRM. Using "DRM" in place of "EME" furthers the wrong assumption that W3C controls DRM. W3C does not create/standardize/mandate DRM directly. That is out of scope and is stated clearly in the specification itself, the charter of the working group that conducted the work, our public communication and material.

DRM exists whether the W3C as a Consortium or a Team wants it or not.

It is equally wrong to assume that browsers would not implement DRM without EME, the alternatives are closed and dedicated applications, which media outlets would insist upon for access to their content.

What EME achieves is that by allowing the decryption to take place in the browser, users benefit from the security, privacy and accessibility that are built in the Open Web Platform.

Furthermore, all functionalities involved being provided by the HTML specification or some of its extensions, current and future security, privacy and accessibility enhancements of the Open Web Platform can be leveraged.

W3C is accused of betraying the free and open Web

EME is an extension of the Open Web Platform. 49 W3C groups contribute to grow and improve the Open Web Platform, enabling W3C to pursue its mission to lead the Web to its full potential through the creation of Web standards, guidelines, and supporting materials.

233 other specifications are under active development. You can see all the other areas W3C is actively involved in. We tackle every aspect of the Web. We ensure the long-term growth of the Web. We care to make the benefits of the Web available to all people, whatever their hardware, software, network infrastructure, native language, culture, geographical location, or physical or mental ability.

We have heard from some that we have not listened to our community

The steps leading to EME becoming a recommendation involved several rounds through with W3C Members were consulted, culminating in a vote last week, but wide review and comments from the public are built-in the W3C Process. While, as our CEO Jeff Jaffe noted, we know that many people are not satisfied with the result, we feel we took the appropriate time to have a respectful debate about a complex set of issues and provide a result that will improve the Web for its users.

We have heard your concerns and anger and so we have tried to clarify some misconceptions and explain the process and rationales in these decisions.

We understand and admire the passion we've seen about the open Web and the role of the W3C in the world, and while there may be points where not everyone always agrees on the methods, please know that we at the W3C also care deeply and passionately about the Web, about its users and about our community.

While this has been a time of some disappointment, passion and confusion, we continue to reach out to you, our community, to clarify and engage - to continue to have discussions and to hear from you on important issues that face the Web.

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