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Firefox swallows principles to let you watch Netflix

Barry Collins
13 May 2015
Firefox with Netflix
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New copy protection technology introduced in latest version of Firefox browser

Firefox maker Mozilla has been forced to compromise on its principles to let Firefox users continue watching sites such as Netflix. Firefox 38, which has just been released, includes digital rights management (DRM) technology that will finally allow Netlfix users to watch HTML5 video streams via the browser. 

Mozilla has long been opposed to DRM, as it goes against the organisation's open-source ethos. However, the hard commercial reality of having a web browser that can't natively play content from some of the world's biggest streaming sites has led Mozilla to back down, especially as plugin alternatives such as Adobe's Flash and Microsoft's Silverlight are being gradually phased out by the streaming sites. Rivals Chrome, Internet Explorer and Safari already support DRM. 

"Today at Mozilla we find ourselves at a difficult spot," Mozilla's executive chairwoman, Mitchell Baker, wrote in a blog post announcing the forthcoming changes last May. "We face a choice between a feature our users want and the degree to which that feature can be built to embody user control and privacy."

How to watch US Netflix

"People want to watch video, including movies and TV shows," she added. "Browsers must provide the ability to watch video or the browser becomes less and less the tool users need." Baker admitted the new DRM system contained "deep flaws", but that Mozilla simply didn't have the influence to bring about change. "We very much want to see a different system. Unfortunately, Mozilla alone cannot change the industry on DRM at this point. In the past Firefox has changed the industry, and we intend to do so again. Today, however, we cannot cause the change we want regarding DRM."

Consequently, Firefox 38 includes the new Adobe Content Decryption Module (CDM), which will allow playback of encrypted content on PCs running Windows Vista or later. To appease those who accuse Mozilla of hypocrisy, the organisation has also released a version of Firefox that doesn't contain the DRM technology, although we imagine that could easily be phased out if take-up is low.

Other changes to Firefox 38 are relatively minor, a new preferences tab being the most notable tweak. The DRM-packed version of Firefox 38 is available for download here; existing users will be updated automatically. 

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