BBC techies talk DRM

Glyn sez, "The first ever BBC Backstage podcast kicked off in fine style talking about the BBC and its position on DRM and copyright. You can download and remix the MPeg3 file or the Ogg Vorbis file. Both are licensed under creative commons attribution. So as long as you credit, your good to go. In the next few days the BBC will make available a broadcast quality audio file and a video file for those who want to see the debate in action."

The podcast is both heartening and frustrating. The BBC had so much promise a few years ago, back when it was talking about delivering real, world-class public value to license payers by doing the hard work of clearing the footage in the archive and letting the public remix it. Now that vision has been reduced to a sham -- the BBC iPlayer, a steaming pile of DRM that restricts you to being a mere consumer of BBC programming, downloading it to your PC for a mere seven days.

For a minute there, the BBC seemed like it would enable a creative nation. Now it's joining the jerks in Hollywood who think that media exists to be passively swallowed by a legion of glassy eyed zombie audience members.

You can hear the disappointment in the visionaries at the BBC, the betrayal at being sold out by management. The BBC is forcing Britons to buy an American operating system -- Windows -- in order to watch British programming, made in Britain. The free and open GNU/Linux -- whose kernel is maintained in Britain -- can't be used for British TV, because of DRM.

The BBC claims it will find an "open standard" for DRM, but of course such a thing is totally, utterly, categorically impossible.

An open standard is one that anyone can implement. Anyone can improve on it, innovate on it, add features to it. The whole point of DRM is that it has to be implemented in a very specific way, to cripple certain features that users otherwise want. All DRMs have "Hook IP" -- something you have to license in order to implement them. A condition of the license is inevitably that you can't make the product user-modifiable. That means that it can't be open. It can only be implemented in crippled, restricted form.

The BBC claims that it can't clear its archives, but that is only to say that it can't do this without legislative assistance. One way to achieve that is to prospectively clear everything in its production pipeline, something that could have been done five years ago -- and that evidently isn't happening now.

The fact is that Britons are already downloading tons of TV from UKNova and elsewhere. They're risking criminal and civil penalties to get access to the programming that they are required to fund, that is being made on their behalf.

We've trained people to watch TV. You can't turn around after 70 years and say, you have to stop using the best new technology to get the best TV experience. The point of the BBC is to create compelling programming that educates, informs and entertains. At the end of the day, it's the same shows. Why should how you watch it make a difference?

The BBC exists to win this kind of fight in Britain. They exist to go where the private sector won't. For the BBC to throw its hands up and say, "We can't win this fight, we surrender, here we are, DRM forever, go buy some Microsoft," is nothing short of a betrayal. The BBC is dooming the Brits who fund it to being criminals. It's a bloody shame.

MP3 Link, Ogg Link

Update: Duncan sez, "the BBC has undertaken a consultation exercise about their proposals for on-demand services that runs until the end of March. The forms can be completed on-line