Now the BBC iPlayer has a version without DRM, what next? v2

The BBC has started to drop DRM, hopefully recognizing the social problems involved, and I hope it continues to drop it.

So now the question is, what next?

I think that persuading the BBC to support Xiph formats like Ogg Theora and Ogg Vorbis is the next step the BBC ought to take in embracing the free and open culture of the web.

I’m happy to see BBC Backstage leading the way with this, having recently agreed after public discussion on the Backstage list to publish its podcasts in Ogg Vorbis as well as MP3 from now on. (It started doing this, and then stopped.)

Many people recognise that the BBC’s leadership over data exchange technologies has a profound worldwide effect on innovation. For example, the BBC’s use of RSS on its news site encouraged widespread adoption of RSS across the internet - but this trend goes back to the BBC Acorn computer.

I suspect that supporting Xiph formats is relatively easy for the BBC technically, because of all the money it spent on the backend of the iPlayer. (Many people have criticised the BBC for spending so much on the iPlayer when it is so crappy, but reading the press releases and news stories carefully, you can see that most of the effort has gone on behind the scenes to make this initial front end possible, and other front ends (ie, other file formats) are now a lot more straightforward to develop)

So this seems like the next thing to suggest that the BBC do, while continuing to suggest dropping DRM totally, because it is realistically doable in the short term.

Suggesting permitting worldwide redistribution rights, and as a separate issue, remixing rights, of BBC branded works is as Ian Forrester said on his personal blog, “a complex issue [that] requires more thought and time [than] the DRM debate.”

The “GeoIP” access control restricts many parts of the BBC website to people in the UK. Such access control is very unlike DRM, which mandates proprietary software and is supported by laws that prohibit the distribution of free software. For works which the BBC has already negotiated only rights for UK distribution, that access control is somewhat legitimate, although sad.

But what about new works?

(By that I mean works made in 2008 and later, for which the BBC is the only rightsholder.)

The BBC Backstage podcasts are already available without GeoIP and permit worldwide redistribution, proving Backstage as an innovator within the BBC - which is the whole idea of Backstage, afterall. However, as interesting as the Backstage podcasts are to me, something else that is more ‘sexy’ would be a lot better.

The obvious first step would involve the BBC Audio & Music Interactive’s current “restrictive” podcast license terms: “YOU MAY NOT COPY, REPRODUCE, REPUBLISH, POST, BROADCAST, TRANSMIT, MAKE AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC, SELL OR OTHERWISE RE-USE OR COMMERCIALISE THE BBC PODCAST IN ANY WAY”

There could be a sister “bonus” license that read something like “YOU MAY COPY, REPRODUCE, REPUBLISH, POST, BROADCAST, TRANSMIT, MAKE AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC, VERBATIM COPIES OF THE BBC PODCAST BUT MAY NOT SELL OR OTHERWISE RE-USE OR COMMERCIALISE THE BBC PODCAST IN ANY WAY.” With the sophisticated metadata control that’s commonplace today, and a dash of branding, distinguishing between “personal” and “sharing” podcasts would be straight forward.

Of course, that “restricted” license is actually pretty free when compared to the awful license in the iPlayer: “No storing the work yourself, or storing it only for a few days.” is the basic idea. But video is the most ‘sexy’ kind of media, and new wholly-BBC-rightsheld video would be next, once audio is redistributable. BBC News footage, perhaps? Shows like Jonathan Ross or Newsnight that interview celebrities and politicians?

After that, non-commercial UK remixing would be the next smallest step.

But I don’t think that would get much traction, so if it was piloted it might never “go live” because of “lack of interest.” Backstage has toured Universities before, including my undergraduate college while I was there, to promote the aspects of the BBC it has “freed” for non-commercial reuse to date. But there was no surge of interest.

I think that’s because many people intuitively understand (and because its intuited, they don’t articulate this understanding much) that non-commercial restrictions are overly restrictive and will cause problems for them down the line. Perhaps non-commercial worldwide remixing would create more interest, but at the end of the day, money talks and bullshit walks.

So permitting commercial UK remixing would kick things off. Yet, to “go live” really means to engage in proper free culture, for example being able to add BBC works to Wikipedia, and that means permitting commercial reuse, worldwide.

That sure is a very hard problem to solve. I think it is best solved by continuing to take small, steady steps towards it, some of which are easy technical wins that I suggest concentrating on.

At the end of the day, nothing is impossible.

Nothing is impossible isengraved on the steps of the Saatchi advertising agency in London.

(This is all personal opinion and doesn’t reflect the views of any employers past or present)

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The Now the BBC iPlayer has a version without DRM, what next? v2 by David Crossland, except the quotations and unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

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