Mozilla Wants to Save the Open Web, but is it Too Late?

Yesterday, Mozilla launched the Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellows Programme, what it calls "a Global Initiative to Recruit the Heroes of the Open Internet".


Yesterday, Mozilla launched the Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellows Programme, what it calls "a Global Initiative to Recruit the Heroes of the Open Internet". Here's the vision:

The Internet has the potential to be the greatest global resource in the history of the world, accessible to and shaped by all people. It has the promise to be the first medium in which anyone can make anything, and share it with anyone. In many ways, it already has helped bend the arc of history towards enlightenment and justice.

But continuing in that direction isn’t guaranteed without help. For all the good that can come from the Internet, in some areas it is already being used to weaken society and concentrate power in the hands of the few, and to shut down democratic discourse. The fight over preserving net neutrality in the U.S.; the debate over governments undermining the Internet to further surveillance efforts; the curtailing of speech and access to the Internet by authoritarian regimes — these are all threats to the Internet and to civil rights.

We need to take up the challenge to prevent this from happening. We must support the heroes – the developers, advocates and people who are fighting to protect and advance the free and open Internet. We must train the next generation of leaders in the promise and pitfalls of technology. We need to build alliances and infrastructure to bridge technology policy and social policy.

I think this is all spot on, and it's great that Mozilla is organising this scheme. Indeed, for some years now, I have advocated precisely this kind of extension of its activities.

But there's a problem.

The post announcing the new programme begins:

We are at a critical point in the evolution of the Internet. Despite its emergence as an integral part of modern life, the Internet remains a contested space. Far too often, we see its core ethos – a medium where anyone can make anything and share it with anyone – undermined by forces that wish to make it less free and open.

Again, I think this is absolutely correct. But what it fails to recognise is that one of the key ways of making the Web medium "less free and open" is the use of legally-protected DRM. DRM is the very antithesis of openness and of sharing. And yet, sadly, as I reported back in May, Mozilla has decided to back adding DRM to the Web, starting first with video (but it won't end there...) This means Mozilla's Firefox is itself is a vector of attack against openness and sharing, and undermines its own lofty goals in the Open Web Fellows programme.

Although I wish the new project well, I find it rather sad that Mozilla can't see that its own support for DRM on the Web contradicts everything it is doing here. Once DRM becomes standard online, for all kinds of material, those "forces that wish to make it less free and open" will have gained perhaps their most powerful weapon, since it will be one backed up by the full force of law in most jurisdictions. Openness and sharing will be powerless against it. And Mozilla will have helped make that happen.

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