n s The problem is the multiple incompatible
formats, such as Dynamic Adaptive Streaming
over HTTP (DASH), Smooth Streaming, and
HTTP Live Streaming (HLS), that are required
to deliver to the multiple targets. In many cas-
es, this means that publishers have to store
multiple sets of encrypted files to serve these
targets, boosting storage costs and diminishing
the effectiveness of browser caches. Expand-
ing support for DASH and new technologies
like the Common Media Application Format
(CMAF) are helping, but EME is still more com-
plicated and expensive for producers than the
What Did the W3C Do?
According to its website, the W3C is “an in-
ternational community where Member orga-
nizations, a full-time staff, and the public work
together to develop Web standards” (go2sm
.com/w3c). Tim Berners-Lee, who is widely
considered the inventor of web, heads the or-
ganization. On July 6, 2017, the W3C issued a
Disposition of Comments for Encrypted Me-
dia Extensions and Director’s decision (go2sm
.com/w3ceme). The document reviewed all the
objections that members had to the EME spec,
and concluded the following:
The Encrypted Media Extensions specifi-
cation remains a better alternative for users
than other platforms, including for reasons
of security, privacy, and accessibility, by tak-
ing advantage of the Web platform. While
additional work in some areas may be ben-
eficial for the future of the Web Platform, it
remains appropriate for the W3C to make
the EME specification a W3C Recommenda-
tion. Formal publication of the W3C Recom-
mendation will happen at a later date.
Subsequent to this filing, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) appealed this decision. I’ll
discuss that later in this article.
What Does Recommended Status Mean?
From the perspective of most W3C members and other parties interested in the theoretical appropriateness of EME, it ends the debate, or it least it will once the appeal is settled.
From the perspective of companies that actually use EME, like browser and player developers
and DRM vendors, it means surprisingly little.
Unlike other web standards like H.264/H.265,
which aren’t commercially released until the
standard is formalized, EME has been in use for
2 or more years, depending upon the browser.
Writing for Medium ( go2sm.com/medium
eme), author Sander Saares states, “Web stan-
dards are usually developed in parallel with
implementations and EME was no different.
Two major browser manufacturers—Microsoft
and Google—each had their own DRM technol-
ogy and they were eager to get it on the mar-
ket in a widely usable form. While discussions
were ongoing, their browsers implemented what
seemed to be the most sensible opinion of the day
and sometimes created custom API extensions
where there was no EME-provided solution.”
Saares goes on to describe how that commer-
cial usage tended to reduce the urgency of cre-
ating and finalizing the specification, and ob-
serves, “EME in practice has been a done deal
for a year or two already. It is in widespread use
and blocking standardization will not get rid
of EME or change what browsers do. In many
ways, EME survives at the mercy of browsers,
not the other way around.”
W3C director Tim Berners-Lee seems to
agree. In his lengthy and surprisingly readable
blog post, “On EME in HTML5” ( go2sm.com/eme
lee), which addresses many of the objections to
EME, Berners-Lee states:
When a company decides to distribute
content they want to protect, they have many
choices. This is important to remember.
If W3C did not recommend EME then the
browser vendors would just make it outside
W3C. If EME did not exist, vendors could just
Viewed in this light, the W3C recommendation is more a ratification of the work already
implemented than a directive to be observed
by those who implement. That said, this doesn’t
mean that the specification serves no essential
purpose. Beyond thoroughly documenting the
specification for all users, the final spec sets
expectations regarding one of the key issues
that hindered its adoption.
What Concerns Did EME
Raise Among W3C Members?
There were a number of concerns raised
which fell into two categories, concerns about