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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
B. DRM does little to prevent depreciation of secondary rights.
- Online piracy is, as a practical problem, nothing more than (at
most) a nuisance.
- Losses suffered from piracy are offset by the additional publicity
of free copies.
- Any cure which relies on tighter regulation is far worse than the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
oops - they've taken the form offline. ha ha. email the silly fuckers instead.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
* By post to:
35 Marylebone High Street
London W1U 4AA
Closing date for receiving responses is 5pm, Wednesday 28 March 2007.