BBC's iPlayer DRM cracked again

Last week, I brought you the news that the BBC had inadvertently dropped the DRM from its controversial iPlayer service, a video-on-demand system. The BBC's beta iPhone project made unencrypted streams of BBC programmes available to anyone whose browser identified itself as an iPhone.

Yesterday, the service stopped working, as the BBC took a countermeasure to stop non-iPhones from getting access to the unencumbered streams.

Today, it's back. It turns out that all it takes to get around the BBC's countermeasure is to structure the request header using the same quirks as an iPhone.

At this point, the BBC needs to confront the fact that by choosing DRM, it has set itself to war against the license paying public. After all, a British license-payer who records a digital video-stream from the Beeb's broadcast towers can store the recording forever, can watch it on any computer or TV, and can otherwise enjoy all the freedoms that we've had since the VCR was legalized.

But with the iPlayer, you can only watch shows on authorized devices (all these devices require a license from a non-British corporation to manufacture) and only according to a baroque set of rules that delete your recordings after a set period.

The law compels British TV owners to pay for the production of these programmes -- so it's natural that they'll want to go on enjoying the freedoms they've had in the pre-Internet era.

The BBC has declared war on the people who fund it. That's not a war it can win. Link (Thanks, Glyn!)

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  1. > The law compels British TV owners to pay
    > for the production of these programmes

    No it doesn’t – if you want to watch free-to-air TV you must buy a license. If you don’t it is legal to own a television and not a license – for example to watch DVDs and play videogames.

    Granted, the TV Licensing authority tries hard to make people think they must own a license. Check out the letters this guy received when he tried to stop paying – http://www.bbctvlicence.com/

  2. Just verified the new Ruby script works. It looks like downloadable video is not about to vanish from the Beeb.

    I just hope this is not a sinister play by Apple – releasing a popular device – the iPhone – with a public interface whose DRM is woefully broken to non-existant, and a private interface that works well but only if you sign up to the iTunes Store…

    I’d hate to see the Beeb forced to do a deal with Apple (the new satan) and the iPlayer become subsumed into iTunes in order to meet the DRM `requirements’.

  3. DRM or no DRM, 5 seconds running a downloaded wmv through FairUse4WM and I’ve been watching their now ex-DRM content all over the place (dvd player, streamed to media frontends, on portable devices, linux…). It’s easier than pirate bay!

  4. I’ve written to the UK broadcast industry magazine, Broadcast about this (looks like it is going to be published in next week’s edition).

    What I’ve said is that it’s about time broadcasters started serving the viewers rather than pandering to their content providers. Without the viewers, there would be no content to be watched.

    The BBC’s radio catch-up service is better. Nobody seems to batter an eyelid if people use audio capture systems such as Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack to capture the streams which, at least, are cross-platform under a number of different OSes. But video – oh my goodness, the BBC and content providers have multiple heart attacks if they discover people downloading them by a method they’ve not approved.

  5. With all the actual armed conflict in the world right now (see article below), maybe some cutting back on the hyperbole is in order.

  6. finisterre@2, I’m sorry, that’s just not true. If you own a tuner, you have to pay. If you buy a monitor or another set without a built in tuner, you can argue against paying the license, but tuner=license.

  7. But video – oh my goodness, the BBC and content providers have multiple heart attacks if they discover people downloading them by a method they’ve not approved.

    The locus of failure with deploying Internet services has always been people unable to grasp the purpose of protocol. Instead people are stuck in an “applications” mindset.

    You should not care at all about the software other people use to read your data; just send them the bits! Do not attempt to suss out what web browser they’re using! Do not attempt to to differentiate “streaming” from “downloading”! You send the bits; they decide how to digest it.

    When someone made a podcast RSS feed of This American Life by hyperlinking to the official MP3 files, that’s how the web is supposed to work! But instead this moron webmaster at NPR starts moaning, “but they’re undermining how I’ve intended how the content will be viewed!” TOUGH TITS! That’s out of your control, get over it!

    Likewise, there is no “MPEG-4 only for iPhones”; HTTP is for anything that speaks HTTP, and MPEG-4 will be decoded by anything that understands MPEG-4. The arrogance of that whole “only for our predetermined purposes” mindset frustrates me to no end!

  8. It’s not the mere fact that it uses DRM. It’s the on-demand rights window that PACT negotiated with the BBC (and other broadcasters).

    A) Producers have a right to monetise their content in other ways after a period of exclusivity.
    B) The UK government denied the BBC the license fee rise it wanted, compelling it to seek more funds from commercial sources.

    It’s the rights window claimed by the producers that any point of protest should reach. And it’s a philosophical point – as the people who paid for these programmes in the first place, should we have the right to watch them whenever we like in perpetuity? Or have we *really* paid for them in their entirety?

  9. “The BBC has declared war on the people who fund it”

    Yes I believe you’re right – that was the motivation behind iPlayer all along.

    Those pigs, we’ll make them pay …

  10. > finisterre@2, I’m sorry, that’s just not true. If
    > you own a tuner, you have to pay. If you buy a
    > monitor or another set without a built in tuner,
    > you can argue against paying the license, but
    > tuner=license.

    This is not my understanding… As far as I am aware if you have a tuner, say in your TV, if you decode all the channels so they will show only static you are in the clear.
    Here’s a link that agrees with this view: http://www.tvlicensing.biz/info_on_tvlicensing/index.htm

    I have previously called up TVL to notify them that I had done so, and the response from the lady was that that was alright but I would still be receiving the letters as they had no way of stopping them… I should just ignore them.

    In another flat, one of their agents came around asking if I would mind him having a look around… when I agreed he said in that case he wouldn’t bother as clearly I had nothing to hide.

    Also interestingly, the BBC iPlayer does not require a TV license at the moment, even according to the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2008/01/iplayer_does_not_require_a_tv_1.html

  11. “After all, a British license-payer who records a digital video-stream from the Beeb’s broadcast towers can store the recording forever, can watch it on any computer or TV, and can otherwise enjoy all the freedoms that we’ve had since the VCR was legalized.”

    This implies that it is legal in the UK to record TV (e.g. on VCR) and keep it forever. I have a feeling that you’re technically only allowed to record for the purposes of time-shifting and only to keep the copy for something absurd like a week.

    I don’t think people are hunted down and prosecuted for taping shows though, you know, so this is more a point of order than a serious objection to the point you’re making. [In fact, hasn’t the Beeb appealed to members of the public to send in copies of old shows when they’ve lost or destroyed the masters?]

  12. I’m in the UK. I refuse to buy a licence, but then I don’t have a TV. That hasn’t stopped the TVLicensing goons from harassing me, and I had to get my MP involved.

    I eventually got the skinny from their press office: You only need a TV licence if you watch TV while it’s being transmitted.

    The upshot is that if are in the UK and you watch any streamed TV while it is also being transmitted live (not just BBC), you need a licence. And the TV Licensing people have the right to hammer on your door and demand entry if they think you are watching TV live, whether from air, by cable or online. Bonkers.

    The sooner the BBC is paid from by general taxation, or subscription, or advertising, the better.

  13. TV LICENSE MAN: [shoves his way inside the house] Right, where’s this telly. Ah-hah! So you do have it! You little runt! [walks over to JaneKM, who has successfully eaten the TV, save for the cord, which hangs out his mouth. JaneKM waves to TV LICENSE MAN] The old trick, eh? Eat the telly before I get a chance to nick you!

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