Now the BBC iPlayer has a version without DRM, what next?

(This is wholly my own personal opinion and doesn’t reflect the views of any employers)

Back in February in the BBC Backstage DRM podcast, BBC mangers said that 3rd party rights holders wouldn’t accept iPlayer without DRM.

Yet in December we have a streaming iPlayer, without DRM.

I wonder what changed.

I guess the Defective By Design and associated campaigns paid off and made the BBC and the rights holders think twice about what they were doing.

Sadly I don’t think that the rights holders or the BBC has been convinced that DRM does more harm than good, is unacceptable, and ought to be eliminated. I think they’ve just seen a lot of negative press about DRM, and want to avoid negative press. A streaming DRM-less alternative stops the majority of the criticism, but only partially solves the problem.

I won’t be surprised if the Adobe Flash DRM features are turned on in the future, because the BBC has not yet issued a policy stating that it rejects DRM technologies and refuses to foist them on people.

However, assuming that DRM is going out and will stay out of the iPlayer, what are the next issues the BBC faces in engaging with the free culture movement?

Redistribution, and reuse.

Redistribution is a hard problem for the BBC to tackle. It would mean that, if I download an iPlayer show, I am permitted to share copies with my friends.

Probably they will also be British license fee payers, since I live in the UK and most of my friends are too. But what about my non-British, non-license fee paying friends?

Currently they can’t access at all many BBC works directly from the BBC - even many BBC web pages. It does this with “GeoIP”: looking up the IP address of each user in a database that lists the geographic location of all registered IP address blocks. For a long time the BBC has discriminated against non-UK-registered IP addresses. serving them different and less HTTP data than is accessible from a UK IP address.

This is merely access control, not DRM. DRM mandates proprietary software and is supported by laws that prohibit the distribution of free software that can access DRM media - a serious social problem.

Before it tackles redistribution, the BBC need to cease discriminating against the rest of the world. Once the BBC is able to distribute directly to people the world over, it makes more sense and is a smaller step to allow others to redistribute BBC works.

Reuse is an even larger problem.

Reuse makes no sense when media is DRM encumbered, so perhaps arguing for reuse and thereby presupposing the end of DRM is a winner. To me it seems like a hopeless longshot to attack DRM indirectly in this way, and it would be better to get DRM eliminated and then move on to reuse.

The BBC is also currently committed to permitting only non-commercial reuse. To actually participate in free culture, such as Wikipedia, the BBC needs to switch from non-commercial restrictions to strong copyleft restrictions. That would shield the BBC works from exploitation by others and ensure that all works produced on behalf of the British public remain accessible and reusable by the British public.

So I’m wary of moving on to these two issues, since they are more complex than DRM, and the DRM problem is only partially solved: DRM needs to be eliminated, not just have DRM-less alternatives provided, which may have DRM added later.

Creative Commons License
The Now the BBC iPlayer has a version without DRM, what next? by David Crossland, except the quotations and unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.


One Response to “Now the BBC iPlayer has a version without DRM, what next?”

  1. Nobody on August 12th, 2008 22:54

    I completely agree you. I’d like to watch some programmes available in the bbc iplayer, but I can’t because I’m not in the UK. Actually I watch those programmes using a UK proxy, but it’s extremely slow and annoying having to search them.

    What is worse about that, is the fact that the BBC don’t understand the purpose of the internet: creating a global network in the world. They don’t understand what WWW means, WORLD wide web!! not oukww (only united kingdom wide web).

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