BBC Trustees agree to let BBC infect Britain with DRM

The BBC Trust -- the organisation that oversees the BBC's operations -- has driven another nail into the BBC's relevancy for the 21st century today by giving the broadcaster permission to use DRM on its online offerings.

The BBC has turned its back on its promise to deliver a remixable, DRM-free archive of its video materials to the British public, citing lame excuses like, "It will cost a lot to negotiate rights," and "It might make us less effective at selling DVDs to Americans." Instead, it has opted for the "iPlayer," a crippling technology that infects PCs and makes them incapable of saving and using some of the files on their hard-drives. At the core of this is a Microsoft technology, the WMV file-format. It's illegal for British entrepreneurs to build devices that play WMV without permission and a license from Microsoft, and Microsoft specifies what features WMV players must and must not have.

The upshot is that British TV -- when recorded over the air -- can be stored forever, shared, re-used, and recorded using anyone's tools. British entrepreneurs can make recorders for it. British people can save it and use it as they see fit within the law.

But British TV -- when delivered over the Internet -- infects your computer. It deletes itself after a set period. It can't be used for any purpose other than watching it. And no one is allowed to make a player for it without Microsoft's permission.

The Trustees heard that 80 percent of the respondents didn't want DRM and especially didn't want Microsoft DRM. But rather than giving the BBC orders to deliver its free-to-air video in free-to-net formats, they gave it permission to sell out the license-fee payers who are required by law to support the BBC.

Look: the BBC radiates its TV offerings in all directions at the speed of light from its broadcast towers. DRM doesn't stop copying (and it never has, and it never will). But even if it did -- if I can record my BBC TV over the air and make it available, the presence of DRM on the iPlayer just discriminates against the least technically literate Brits, who don't know about UKNova, which is filled with every BBC show aired, without DRM.

It also turns license payers who watch TV on their computers without restrictions into criminals. It criminalises the act of watching the TV that, by law, you are required to pay for.

They also instructed the BBC to stop making MP3s of public-domain classical music available, because the classical music industry is "precarious." That's smart -- we'll improve the health of the classical music industry by making sure that no one under 35 with an iPod can listen to it. Nice one, Trustees.

Indeed, if the goal of this report was to ensure that the BBC has no relevance to the 21st century, then mission accomplished. Who needs a "public service broadcaster" that criminalises its viewers, privileges monopolistic foreign software giants, and takes every measure to stop its audience watching telly in the way they see fit?

Link to Trustees report, Link to ArsTechnica coverage (via Copyfight)

See also: BBC techies talk DRM
BBC tries DRM-free distribution
BBC Creative Archive launches, without DRM