IT ANNOYS you when you try to play a movie.
It makes it hard to play your favorite video games.
It makes it nigh impossible to move your music to another device.
And now it's coming to a browser near you.
This villain, of course, is DRM.
Digital Rights Management software is designed to protect any given type of media and prevent software piracy.
In theory, the concept is all well and good, but in practice, the software can block a ton of legitimate functionality, or make it impossible to actually access what you've purchased if everything isn't in 100 percent proper order.
DRM technology exists in many online music, video and book stores and, for a variety of reasons, has been the topic of heated debate since its inception.
Recently, the W3 Consortium, the standards body largely responsible for the structure of the modern Internet, has ruled that DRM falls within the scope of the HTML specification. What that bit of jargon actually means is that they might be building DRM capabilities into many if not all web browsers in the near future.
So, how is this a big deal?
Well, the way your browser accesses the Web is based on a paradigm called the User Agent.
Your browser – Chrome, Firefox or even – gasp – good old-fashioned Internet Explorer – is your agent – answerable to and controlled by you, as you browse the Web. You have control over the information it sends and receives. It only broadcasts a specific set of information, and, in theory, is working on your behalf.
By adding a DRM component to HTML, the universal markup language on which the Web is built, your browser would, in order to access the protected content, have to receive a scrambled key from a third party – say, Hulu, for example, and keep that information from you.
In theory, this means that media distributors wouldn't need to use specialized software or even Flash to deliver protected content – it could all be handled by the browser.
If put into practice, however, this could be a thin slice of a much larger wedge that transfers the balance of power on the Web in general from the consumer to the producers of content, to distributors.
I should stress that this is only being looked at for video and audio streaming so far, but this is, to my knowledge, the first time that such a step has been taken.
The worst-case outcome of this is a little hard to predict.
The problem is that while content producers have a strong incentive to push this sort of technology, and a lot of money with which to do so, it has always been possible to circumvent these measures, and the worse they get, the more people find ways to work around them.
My prediction is simply this: The Internet will get less convenient to use.
The degree to which this will be true will, as always, depend on the user.
Nick DeLorenzo is director of interactive and new media for The Times Leader. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.