Google has quietly made its Web DRM Widevine mandatory – previously it used to be optional. Google’s proprietary DRM will be permanently enabled in Google Chrome version 57 onwards. So you will only be able to view that content on Google Chrome that is acceptable to Google’s Widevine DRM.
What is DRM?
It is called “Digital Rights Management” and it is used for copyright protection for digital media. It prevents unauthorized redistribution of digital media like books and videos.
Content with DRM cannot be accessed in another program. For example, if you have purchased a Kindle book and you would like to read it in Google Play Books and if the Kindle book is protected by DRM, you cannot do so. In the same way, if there is a movie that you can watch only in Netflix, you cannot watch using another app. Most of the companies producing, distributing and selling content prefer some sort of DRM control over their content. Only certain software can be used to view content protected by DRM.
There is an EME DRM system used by media companies to restrict free distribution of content. EME stands for “Encrypted Media Extensions”. These, approved extensions allow DRM plug-ins to encrypt Web content.
Google has its own web DRM called Widevine that can be used by companies like Netflix and Apple to stream media content without people having to use Adobe Flash Player and other plug-ins. This is why even if you don’t have Adobe Player in Google Chrome you can still watch all the content that otherwise needs Adobe Flash Player. Another such plug-in was Microsoft’s Silverlight. Netflix mostly used the Silverlight plug-in to make it possible for its users to watch its content.
Since the EME no longer required plug-ins like Flash and Silverlight, this created a problem with Netflix because all its content was using Silverlight for streaming. It had to rewrite its content for web browsers.
Many proponents of the open Web have problems with the EME DRM system because you cannot tinker with it due to legal provisions existing in USA and Canada. You cannot tinker with these systems even for educational and learning purposes.
Another problem with EME is that you still need to use plug-ins. Every browser needs a separate plug-in to play encrypted content. For example, both Google Chrome and Firefox use Google’s Widevine DRM. Firefox also uses Adobe’s “Primetime” DRM plug-in. The new Microsoft Edge browser uses Windows 10 native DRM. So the problem that was intended to be solved by EME still exists.
To pacify dtractors, Google had made the extension optional. You could switch it off and decide not to use it. No longer is the case. The Widevine DRM extension is switched on by default and it is no longer optional. It remains activated.
The problem with individual DRM is that then content becomes very restrictive. Right now, primarily 3 companies are providing DRM services players: Google, Microsoft and Apple. All these companies have their own operating systems. If you want to use something outside of these companies, the content that is available through these DRM services won’t be available to you.