MPAA Joins Web Standards Group Amid Digital Rights Controversy

By / Jan 10, 2014 World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, the director of the W3C. (photo by Silvio Tanaka/Flickr)

The World Wide Web Consortium, which has been considering controversial new digital rights management rules, says the Motion Picture Association of America—which has a vested interest in DRM—joined the group this week. Technology critics are skeptical.

The ongoing fight by the Motion Picture Association of America against online piracy hasn’t won it a lot of friends among the tech-oriented.

The conflict was on particularly heated during the MPAA’s push to pass the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act in 2012, but CEO Chris Dodd said the association abandoned that legislative antipiracy strategy after technology activists’ protests helped to kill both bills.

But this week, it’s the association’s new partnership fostered with a key technology group that has people talking: The MPAA has joined the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an organization led by web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee that works on standardizing the structure of the internet as a whole. More details:

A move with influence: MPAA, which represents the Hollywood’s major film studios, has long fought against piracy. By joining the W3C, the association has the potential to help influence the future of digital rights policy and standards for web browsers. “If you think about the most problematic elements of your WWW experience, they typically are associated with web sources that stray from W3C standards to add additional functionality or usability, such as sites that use Adobe’s proprietary Flash plug-in to [operate] correctly,” the tech site AfterDawn explains. A number of associations already have membership in the organization, including the National Association of Broadcasters, the Online Publishers Association, and the Digital Advertising Alliance.

A controversial alliance: The decision drew scrutiny from online critics and watchdogs that have often looked at MPAA’s antipiracy efforts with a skeptical eye. “Bringing the MPAA into the process only continues to perpetuate this idea that we should be building a broadcast platform for the entertainment industry to push a message at consumers, rather than building a platform for creators of all kinds to communicate and share,” argued Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick. The W3C’s move to push for digital rights management in the HTML 5.1 standard has received criticism from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which described the push as “a dangerous step for an organization that is seen by many as the guardian of the open Web to take.” As a W3C member, MPAA could directly influence this particular policy.

MPAA’s joining of the W3C comes at a time when the film industry has started to figure out a successful way to drive digital movie sales: by offering anticipated new films up for purchase online prior to their release on DVD or Blu-Ray.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »