Ever since the World Wide Web went wide in 1994, film studios, music labels and publishers have tried to neuter this unparalleled communications commons. Much of the Web’s power stems from its open technical protocols known as hypertext markup language, or HTML, which are used to build webpages. HTML has always put users, not "content-makers," in control of content, and as a result, people could (for example) copy and save the “source code” for a webpage. Bottom-up innovation could emerge and prevail.
The truly dismaying news is that the official steward of technical standards for the Web – the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C – plans to adopt a new set of standards, HTML5, that will let content owners add digital rights management, or DRM, to their web content. As Cory Doctorow writes on BoingBoing, “the decision to go forward with the project of standardizing DRM for the Web came from Tim Berners-Lee himself [who invented the Web in the early 1990s], who seems to have bought into the lie that Hollywood will abandon the Web and move somewhere else (AOL?) if they don’t get to redesign the open Internet to suit their latest profit-maximization scheme.”
What makes the new HTML5 standards so alarming is that it kicks open the door for still other new forms of proprietary control over Web-based video, images, fonts and more. Danny O'Brien, International Director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has a good account of the struggles to prevent this outcome at the W3C, which could lead to the piecemeal privatization of the Web infrastructure.