DRM and the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Posted 21 Feb 2007 at 15:46 UTC (updated 5 Mar 2007 at 13:24 UTC) by dwmw2 Share This

The BBC has recently published a public consultation on its proposals for providing online access to broadcast content; essentially the television analogue of its long-standing listen again and simulcast services.

Unfortunately, they seem to want to impose gratuitous restrictions using DRM, and have concluded that they must therefore make their content available only to users of recent versions Microsoft Windows and its Media Player.

I encourage every BBC licence payer to express their opinion of this proposal, by following the link above to the BBC consultation. My own response follows...

A. DRM serves no useful purpose in preventing piracy.

It should be observed that BBC content is already freely available in unencumbered form, with no technical restrictions on use. I can purchase and copy DVDs, I can record from broadcast television to VCR, PVR or DVD recorder, and I can even stream raw digital content directly to my computer's hard drive using a satellite or freeview receiver card. For those who are inclined to break copyright law, this is already a simple task.

Furthermore, DRM schemes have a long history of being broken, often by law-abiding citizens who just want to be able to view the content to which they are genuinely entitled. The DVD “Content Scrambling System” is but one example of such. I observe reports in the news that even the new ACSS scheme designed for HD-DVD has been cracked already.

It is reasonable to assume that the DRM scheme will be cracked as soon as it poses a significant obstruction to any suitably capable member of the public. It is expected that a tool for “freeing” content will appear in fairly short order, and anyone intent on keeping such content for longer periods of time or writing it to DVD will be able to do so, just as they already can from other sources.

In fact, it appears to be the case that Microsoft's Windows Media DRM has already been cracked, allowing users to strip the protection from saved files.

No useful purpose would be served by the use of DRM on the available content, and that fact seems acceptable to the BBC – the published proposal (on page 91) reports that “experience to date suggests that while illegal file sharing has had a measurable effect on the content industries it requires a high level of expertise and mainstream audiences have shown a preference for legal alternatives”, and continues to conclude that “there is no significant monetary risk.”

It is a fallacy that making content available without artificial restrictions on its use will lead to a significant increase in illegal copying and distribution of BBC content. That content is already available, quite readily. The use of DRM for this purpose will provide no real benefit, despite the massive inconvenience and the commercial impropriety it entails.

This is a fact realised also by the author Eric Flint, who in conjunction with his publisher Jim Baen has pioneered the availability of written works in free formats in the Baen Free Library. His own eloquent explanation of the principles behind the decision can be found on the referenced web site, and quite clearly supports the idea that the unrestricted availability of content on computer systems does not damage commercial enterprise based on that same content. Eric's three major points are so compelling that I shall repeat them here:

  1. Online piracy is, as a practical problem, nothing more than (at most) a nuisance.
  2. Losses suffered from piracy are offset by the additional publicity of free copies.
  3. Any cure which relies on tighter regulation is far worse than the disease.
B. DRM does little to prevent depreciation of secondary rights.

Another claimed reason for the use of DRM is to impose time limits on the use of content, to avoid a reduction in the value of secondary rights markets such as DVD and commercial television channels. As mentioned above, the certainty of a “crack” is in itself sufficient to largely disqualify this claim.

Nevertheless, even the principles behind the claim seem suspect in the opinion of this particular viewer.

I myself am a frequent viewer of UK Gold and similar channels, and I watch many programmes even when I possess those same programmes on DVD. Even when the television channels seem to be acting as no more than a “random play” facility for my own DVD collection, I find value in them. The availability of the same content on the computer in the next room, even if the picture quality were identical, would be no more of a deterrent to my viewing habits; the time limit is entirely unnecessary.

Again, this is especially true since if I want to keep BBC content after it's broadcast, it's trivial for me to spool it to disk on the computer from the satellite card. That point doesn't apply just to geeks like myself – a USB DVB-T receiver can be obtained for as little as £25, and can be installed by a non-technical user without even having to make use of a screwdriver.

Conversely, I purchase DVDs of certain shows even though they are consistently rebroadcast on television channels. The availability of content on the Internet would have even less of an effect on my DVD purchasing habits than it does on my viewing.

My personal experience would lead me to agree with the observation on page 90 of the proposal, that “repeats or additional showings that increase the public awareness of the product in question lead to further sales despite the fact that such additional showings in theory give the potential customer a chance to record rather than buy.”

Again, the claimed requirement for DRM seems to be based on a fallacy, and there is text within the BBC's own report which highlights that fact.

C. DRM prevents legitimate usage and causes inconvenience for normal users.

My partner teaches Physics at a local secondary school, and as such is covered by the ERA Scheme. She is explicitly permitted to use certain BBC content in her work, and on occasion I have used the above-mentioned technologies to assist her in this; recording content to disk which she then uses in presentations to her classes. The proposed scheme would prevent this perfectly legitimate educational use of BBC content.

The nature of technological restrictions such as those proposed is that they are indiscriminate – no “common sense” or discretion can be applied to their use. By imposing DRM on the available content, you cause hardship for genuine subscribers while doing almost nothing to prevent illicit use.

There is a trade-off which must be made, and the balance of benefits on each side is clear in this case – it is not at all balanced. To decide to use DRM would demonstrate massive contempt for the consumer, and provide almost no benefit to the content producer.

D. The proposed use of Microsoft's DRM amounts to an endorsement of a single commercial product by the BBC, with no allowance for competition.

The BBC Trust has already commented upon this matter, and has recommended a 24 month time period in which it should be remedied. That suggestion, however, is woefully inadequate. For the BBC to endorse one commercial product above all other, even if it were only a recommendation, and only for a single day, would be too much and for too long.

To allow the situation to persist for up to two years, and for it not only to be a recommendation but a complete denial of service to users of any competing system, is entirely unacceptable and must not be allowed to happen.

Microsoft themselves have admitted that “no DRM system is impervious to circumvention,” continuing to say that “if such events occur, the system can be refreshed to address them.”

The obvious implication is that older versions of Microsoft's media player and operating systems will be left behind as exploits are found and only newer versions are upgraded to cope with the new content. So what initially seems to be an unacceptable requirement for recent versions of Windows could easily, in time, mutate to a requirement for Windows Vista and Windows Vista alone – a requirement which is even less acceptable.

E. Content should be available in a format which can be freely implemented on any device or system.

The proposed tie-in to Microsoft is particularly grievous, but a more general point should be made separately – the format used for BBC content should be one which can be implemented by anyone without artificial restrictions. Consumers are increasingly moving away from PC-class computers in favour of games consoles, portable media players, mobile telephones and devices such as Nokia's “Internet Tablet”. In order to establish itself firmly as a media provider for the future, the BBC must ensure that its content is available to this class of device rather than limiting itself to the more traditional “computer” of days gone by.

In particular, this means that the BBC content must be available in formats which can be widely implemented. Standard, well-documented formats with multiple implementations in both commercial and free software should be used. Preferably, no legal barriers to such implementation should exist; in the absence of overriding technical reasons to do otherwise, formats should be selected which are either not encumbered by software patents, or for which royalty-free licensing is available.


It is difficult to understand the reasoning which has led to the conclusion within the BBC Executive that DRM must be used for the proposed on-demand system. If one discounts the theories of conspiracy and inappropriate commercial lobbying, one can only surmise that it was not so much a reasoned conclusion, but more an initial assumption based on the existing practices of other commercial content providers, which was not given sufficient consideration.

One of the most prominent examples of DRM in media provision, which may have led to such an initial assumption, is Apple's iTunes system. Yet Steve Jobs himself has recently declared his dissatisfaction with that system and has written, in an open letter published on the Apple web site, that a DRM-free environment “is clearly the best alternative for consumers”. He goes on to say “if the music companies are selling over 90 percent of their music DRM-free, what benefits do they get from selling a small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system? There appear to be none.” That observation holds a massive parallel with the provision of BBC content, which is also provided without DRM to more than 90% of households.

Mr. Jobs also has interesting points to make about the likelihood of DRM schemes being 'cracked', and the fragmentation of the market which arises from DRM. I would recommend that his letter be considered in its entirety, and to that end I have printed and included a copy with this submission.

The BBC's own proposals recognise (p.105) that “audiences would welcome access to both BBC and non-BBC content in one place”, yet the use of proprietary formats which cannot be freely implemented in all media players and devices is fundamentally incompatible with that desire.

It should be recognised that the BBC has been in a similar situation before, with the encryption of BBC channels on digital satellite services. In that case, the BBC behaved entirely appropriately, renegotiating the deal with BSkyB in 2003 to ensure that BBC content is broadcast without the use of the NDS VideoGuard system, in order that it can be viewed by standard satellite receiver equipment without the need for Sky's own receivers and the purchase of a Solus card. This enlightened move was followed by ITV in 2005.

It has been shown, above, that the proposed use of DRM provides little or no benefit to the BBC, while dramatically limiting the usefulness of the service to consumers and also raising severe questions about the commercial impartiality of the BBC. It is as astonishing as it is inconsistent, therefore, that the BBC now seem to be contemplating such a retrograde step in introducing such restrictions and vendor tie-in to the proposed on-demand service. This would be a serious mistake and must be avoided.

Furthermore, the BBC must take steps to ensure that the content it provides is freely usable to consumers without artificial restrictions. An example of an area in which the BBC has failed to do this is its failure to continue after the trial of using Ogg Vorbis for existing audio services. The Ogg Vorbis format is freely available for all types of computer systems, and would be a much better choice for streaming audio than with Windows Media or RealAudio as are currently used.

Even MP3, although better than WMV and RA, is suboptimal – although there are many available implementations of MP3 decoders, the existence of software patents with per-player licensing royalties prevents those decoders from being distributed freely. Ogg formats, for example, are not similarly afflicted.

With regard to the perceived need for time limits on the availability of content, it should be perfectly sufficient merely to limit the time period for which a given programme is available for download from the bbc.co.uk site, without further technical restrictions on its use after download. It may perhaps be desirable to give each download a 'watermark' or preferably a trailer reminding the user of the date after which it should be deleted. That would be entirely sufficient to ensure compliance from law-abiding citizens and indeed anyone who doesn't have huge amounts of available storage for video media.

In summary, I feel it is imperative that the BBC abandons its misguided intent to impose DRM upon the services it provides, and instead make use of standard, open formats such as Ogg Theora or the BBC's own Dirac format for making content available. If there are overriding technical reasons why a patented, but still relatively open, format such as MPEG would be preferable then it would be marginally acceptable to use that instead.

Yours faithfully,

David Woodhouse.

BBC - who they are in the UK and World, posted 22 Feb 2007 at 12:18 UTC by Chicago » (Journeyer)

Can I just add in, for international readers who may not be aware of companies involved - the BBC is *not* an incumbant state television channel, but operates independantly of the Government (sort of) using funds through the TV License [insert Long story and heated political debate here] - which means it has no commercial adverts, and is forced to show a percentage of entertainment for children, political coverage and other non-profitable public services.

We also have several long running indepentant national TV stations such as Indepentant TeleVision (ITV, mentioned in the Article) and Channel 4 and Channel 5. There are also now numerous Satelite and Digital stations that also have national coverage.

The BBC however is not just Television, it also covers seven national radio stations (four FM, one AM, and three digital), of which two are international (through syrius and long wave radio (Aka world service)). It also offers websites and many online features (listen online, and playback features).

Its well regarded as being generally independant news reviewer, and has clashed with various governments over the years on the indepenance and nature of its reporting. It also wins many awards yearly for its drama's, comedys, as well as (I think) for its news reporting.

public consultation page non-existent, posted 23 Feb 2007 at 11:53 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

the 'public consultation page' doesn't exist any more.

google cache, posted 23 Feb 2007 at 11:56 UTC by lkcl » (Master)


oops - they've taken the form offline. ha ha. email the silly fuckers instead.

On-demand Services

* Introduction * Details * Questions

Introduction BBC Trust

The Trust's provisional conclusions on the BBC’s on-demand proposals are open to public consultation

The BBC Trust is carrying out its first Public Value Test (PVT) – a new procedure that must be applied when the Trust considers applications from BBC management for the approval of new BBC services.

The first PVT concerns the BBC’s proposed on-demand services.

Here you can find out how to take part in the public consultation on the BBC Trust’s provisional conclusions. The proposed new services

The BBC's Executive has been developing proposals to offer BBC programmes and content 'on demand'. They made an application last August for the following:

* Seven-day TV catch-up over the internet * Seven-day TV catch-up over cable * Simulcast TV over the internet (streaming of live television networks) * Non-digital rights management (DRM) audio downloads over the internet (podcasting of selected radio programmes)

A full description of the proposals is contained in the BBC Trust’s Public Value Assessment, PDF (652kb). Our provisional conclusions

The BBC Trust is responsible for ensuring the BBC always acts in the public interest. Amongst other things, it is our job to consider proposals for new services from the BBC Executive - ensuring that anything we approve creates sufficient value to the general public to justify the potential negative impact on the commercial sector. We have in mind that you are users of a range of services, not just those provided by the BBC, and the BBC must not, therefore, limit consumer choice.

Our provisional conclusion about the BBC Executive's on-demand proposals is that they should go ahead, but with some modifications and conditions in order that the public get the best value - including not affecting the choice on offer from the wider market. We've outlined what these are in the BBC Trust’s Provisional Conclusions and Consultation document, PDF (167kb).

Participate in the public consultation Our provisional conclusions are now open for public consultation, before we reach a final decision (which we must do before 2 May). The commercial sector, industry bodies, interests groups and BBC management are invited to respond formally to our provisional conclusions. We are also encouraging licence fee payers to respond to the consultation.

We have set out a series of questions that you may find helpful in framing your response. Should you be a member of the public who does not have time to complete the consultation form in full, please feel free to respond only to those questions you feel are relevant to you.

You may submit your response in the following ways:

* By completing the consultation form on this website * By downloading the Provisional Conclusions and Public Consultation document and emailing your response to pvtconsultation.ondemand@bbc.co.uk * By post to:

On-Demand Consultation BBC Trust 35 Marylebone High Street London W1U 4AA

Closing date for receiving responses is 5pm, Wednesday 28 March 2007.

Start Consultation

links:, posted 23 Feb 2007 at 12:51 UTC by lkcl » (Master)



morrre..., posted 23 Feb 2007 at 12:52 UTC by lkcl » (Master)


Moved., posted 23 Feb 2007 at 13:18 UTC by dwmw2 » (Master)

Luke, perhaps it would have sufficed just to point out that the consultation page moved to here?

But thanks for drawing my attention to it anyway.

search no find, posted 24 Feb 2007 at 09:49 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

i searched for it on the bbc's site: their indexes are still pointing to the old page.

horse shit, posted 26 Feb 2007 at 11:51 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

what a load of shit.

We have concluded that it is not appropriate to publish all the independent reports commissioned by the BBC Executive and Trust because of their commercial value to the BBC and the unearned advantage their publication might provide for others in the industry.

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