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The hands that held the web’s future.

When you ask the W3C to defend their decision to standardise DRM – digital rights management or digital restrictions management, the technical term for EME-style tools – they tell you that the web giants are going to make DRM with or without W3C help. By agreeing to give them a standardisation forum where they can conspire without the risk of antitrust action, the W3C gets to beg them to make the DRM a little more user-friendly.

That makes sense, if you think that Chrome, Safari, Google and Edge are the last browsers we’ll ever see. If you think that the winner-takes-all era of the web has arrived – when giants can no longer be overturned by upstarts.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Make it easy for today’s crop of web giants to sue any new entrants into oblivion and you can be pretty certain there won’t be any new entrants.

It marks a turning point in the history of those companies. Where once web giants were incubators for the next generation of entrepreneurs who struck out and started competitors that eclipsed their former employers, now those employees are setting the stage for a future where they can stay where they are, or slide sideways to another giant. Forget overturning the current order, though. Maybe they, too, think the web is cooked.

In case there was any doubt of where the W3C stood on whether the future web needed protection from the giants of today, that doubt was dispelled last month. Working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, I proposed that the W3C adapt its existing policies – which prohibit members from using their patents to block new web companies – to cover EME, a moved that was supported by many W3C members.

Rather than adopt this proposal or a version of it, last month, the W3C executive threw it out, giving the EME group a green light to go forward with no safeguards whatsoever.

The world has entered the age of giants: giant media companies, giant banks, giant tech companies. Where giants tread, mere mortals tremble, and hope for a day when they will be cut down to size. With the W3C acting like they’re a permanent fact of life, that day may never come.

Paul Ciano

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