BOSTON, Massachusetts, USA — Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 — In response to Mozilla’s announcement that it is reluctantly adopting DRM in its Firefox Web browser, Free Software Foundation executive director John Sullivan made the following statement:
“Only a week after the International Day Against DRM, Mozilla has announced that it will partner with proprietary software company Adobe to implement support for Web-based Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) in its Firefox browser, using Encrypted Media Extensions (EME).
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.
Although Mozilla will not directly ship Adobe’s proprietary DRM plugin, it will, as an official feature, encourage Firefox users to install the plugin from Adobe when presented with media that requests DRM. We agree with Cory Doctorow that there is no meaningful distinction between ‘installing DRM’ and ‘installing code that installs DRM.’
We recognize that Mozilla is doing this reluctantly, and we trust these words coming from Mozilla much more than we do when they come from Microsoft or Amazon. At the same time, nearly everyone who implements DRM says they are forced to do it, and this lack of accountability is how the practice sustains itself. Mozilla’s announcement today unfortunately puts it — in this regard — in the same category as its proprietary competitors.
Unlike those proprietary competitors, Mozilla is going to great lengths to reduce some of the specific harms of DRM by attempting to ‘sandbox’ the plugin. But this approach cannot solve the fundamental ethical problems with proprietary software, or the issues that inevitably arise when proprietary software is installed on a user’s computer.
In the announcement, Mitchell Baker asserts that Mozilla’s hands were tied. But she then goes on to actively praise Adobe’s “value” and suggests that there is some kind of necessary balance between DRM and user freedom.
There is nothing necessary about DRM, and to hear Mozilla praising Adobe — the company who has been and continues to be a vicious opponent of the free software movement and the free Web — is shocking. With this partnership in place, we worry about Mozilla’s ability and willingness to criticize Adobe’s practices going forward.
We understand that Mozilla is afraid of losing users. Cory Doctorow points out that they have produced no evidence to substantiate this fear or made any effort to study the situation. More importantly, popularity is not an end in itself. This is especially true for the Mozilla Foundation, a nonprofit with an ethical mission. In the past, Mozilla has distinguished itself and achieved success by protecting the freedom of its users and explaining the importance of that freedom: including publishing Firefox’s source code, allowing others to make modifications to it, and sticking to Web standards in the face of attempts to impose proprietary extensions.
Today’s decision turns that calculus on its head, devoting Mozilla resources to delivering users to Adobe and hostile media distributors. In the process, Firefox is losing the identity which set it apart from its proprietary competitors — Internet Explorer and Chrome — both of which are implementing EME in an even worse fashion.
Undoubtedly, some number of users just want restricted media like Netflix to work in Firefox, and they will be upset if it doesn’t. This is unsurprising, since the majority of the world is not yet familiar with the ethical issues surrounding proprietary software. This debate was, and is, a high-profile opportunity to introduce these concepts to users and ask them to stand together in some tough decisions.
To see Mozilla compromise without making any public effort to rally users against this supposed “forced choice” is doubly disappointing. They should reverse this decision. But whether they do or do not, we call on them to join us by devoting as many of their extensive resources to permanently eliminating DRM as they are now devoting to supporting it. The FSF will have more to say and do on this in the coming days. For now, users who are concerned about this issue should:
- Write to Mozilla CTO Andreas Gal and let him know that you oppose DRM. Mozilla made this decision in a misguided appeal to its userbase; it needs to hear in clear and reasoned terms from the users who feel this as a betrayal. Ask Mozilla what it is going to do to actually solve the DRM problem that has created this false forced choice.
- Join our effort to stop EME approval at the W3C. While today’s announcement makes it even more obvious that W3C rejection of EME will not stop its implementation, it also makes it clear that W3C can fearlessly reject EME to send a message that DRM is not a part of the vision of a free Web.
- Use a version of Firefox without the EME code: Since its source code is available under a license allowing anyone to modify and redistribute it under a different name, we expect versions without EME to be made available, and you should use those instead. We will list them in the Free Software Directory.
- Donate to support the work of the Free Software Foundation and our Defective by Design campaign to actually end DRM. Until it’s completely gone, Mozilla and others will be constantly tempted to capitulate, and users will be pressured to continue using some proprietary software. If not us, give to another group fighting against digital restrictions.”
- What is DRM?
About the Free Software Foundation
The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting computer users’ right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software — particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants — and free documentation for free software. The FSF also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software, and its Web sites, located at fsf.org and gnu.org, are an important source of information about GNU/Linux. Donations to support the FSF’s work can be made at https://donate.fsf.org. Its headquarters are in Boston, MA, USA.