BBC wants to put DRM on the TV Brits are forced to pay for

Danny O'Brien sez,
In the US, the movie and TV industry tried to get mandatory DRM into digital TV receivers by pressuring regulators and standards groups to enforce a "broadcast flag", a nonsensical "anti-copying" bit that would never have stopped piracy, but would have given the copyright industry a veto over new digital video technology. Now they're trying the same tactic in the UK. The BBC has written to Ofcom telling them rightsholders want DRM, and asking them if they can implement a crazy scheme to require it.

Ofcom is taking responses to this plan UNTIL TOMORROW -- if you don't want a broadcast flag in your country, read the proposal, and write to Ofcom! The details include:

1) Taking the TV metadata in digital TV signals (which include TV listings), lightly scrambling it -- and then demanding that any tech manufacturer who wants to unscramble it sign a contract with the BBC.

[Ed: it's worse than this -- it's not just TV listings, it's the instructions for decoding the video streams, without which they can't be viewed. In other words, the BBC, which is prohibited from encrypting its TV signal, wants to encrypt its TV signal]

2) The contract itself requires the manufacturers to implement DRM.

3) Profit.

The only people will be affected will be companies and individuals who want to sell consumers settop boxes that do what *they* want, not rightsholders. That includes open source developers like the MythTV project, who'll never be able to get a license, because there's no-one to sign, and DRM demands that software and hardware be locked down and unalterable by end-users.

License to Kill Innovation: the Broadcast Flag for UK Digital TV?

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  1. Would this mean that the set-top boxes i’ve already bought (1 per receiver = 1 for each telly and 1 for each vcr and each pre-digital hdd recorder, plus I suppose the freeview-ready hdd recorders themselves)
    would be rendered useless?

    Would I be compensated for buying equipment the government told me I would need for switchover?

    I would hope so…

  2. If my reading is correct, then the proposed amendment will make absolutely no difference to the present license. All it does is to make explicit a situation that already obtains. That is, ‘Condition 6’ could still be ‘construed’ in exactly the same way even without this amendment.

    This is Ofcom’s proposal —

    To add at the end of Condition 6: “(8) Nothing in this Condition 6 is to be
    construed as preventing the Licensee from entering into arrangements for the
    protection of intellectual property rights in High Definition television services
    where such arrangements have been approved by Ofcom in writing”.

    On the other hand, this amendment will of course help to grease the wheels, and it will pre-emptively remove one possible line of defense when the real issue comes up for debate. That issue being whether or not Ofcom will grant written permission for the DTLA to fuck everyone up the ass while the BBC discreetly provides the mood music and rohypnol.

  3. The BBC has absolutely no interest in making it harder for people to obtain its services.
    Indeed when it took over DTT after a failed commercial effort one of main reasons it did so was to get as many free to air DTT boxes out there with no slot for a subsciption card.
    So clearly it has no intention of encrypting the HDD DTT signal. Which means it really wants to do whatever option one is about. *
    By the way you are not forced to pay for the BBC just as you are not forced to own a television.
    And profit will never be a motive for the BBC itself.
    *I’m non the wiser after a brief skim if anyone can enlighten me that will be great

  4. It seems the BBC is going backwards in the age where companies such as Apple are taking away DRM from music. Also, does this mean we will have a valid excuse for not paying the licence fee or, will we still receive the signal but not be able to record on digital hard drives. I should hope that when the BBC goes digital everyone (currently forced to pay the licence fee) will have the option to opt out of the BBC channels and thus the licence fee.

  5. The proposal is initially only aimed at HD content and is following the lead of commercial broadcasters such as ITV who already use a broadcast flag on their HD channel presumably to protect future physical product sales (Blu-ray).Sky also already use selective anti copy flags on their Sky+ PVR boxes.This will only apply, if implemented to future PVR’s (Freeview HD etc).The BBC are required (as part of their broadcast license) to keep free to air channels unencrypted and are at present anyway ‘going through the motions’ on this to placate rights holder groups putting pressure on them.

  6. Not a very good email, but an email nonetheless:

    Dear Mr Dumbrecki,

    Regarding the consultation published at
    http://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv/ifi/tvlicensing/enquiry/ofcom_bbc.pdf, I would like to register my opposition to the proposal made by the BBC. The principal that underlies the requirement that public service broadcasting be unencrypted surely applies to the SI data too.

    Due to the very short duration of the consultation, interested members of the public like myself have not had time to examine all sides of the argument. Suffice to say that Ofcom
    and the BBC are two of the few institutions that currently remain trusted by the public to defend our interests where they are threatened by just this sort of pressure.

    Please do not amend the licence.

    Yours,

    [action_ben aka]

  7. Agreed, no DRM on the beeb content. This is sad and stupid.

    Mind you, are the entertainment-producing hoardes being properly or improperly paid? Have you seen BBC radio’s rates for playing music? They’re among the highest in the world.

    Maybe it’s time the artists and creators accepted a lower pay per view, and innovated around better distribution of their work, and better quality work full stop. We have here a bit of a closed shop, no?

    So DRM or not – stop watching rubbish. Chuck the tv, don’t pay the license – work on this whole system from the other side – the side of demanding, difficult to satisfy consumers.

    Shows like Attenborough are invaluable, and I’d happily give a charitable, regular donation to any production team who can deliver that content to me. But most TV time is toss. Except CBeebies, which is wonderful and educational.

    Ahhhhh!

  8. What a shock that, over time, corporations would evolve to be ever more ruthless, sneaky and relentless in their efforts to wring every last dollar/pound from human culture in every conceivable way, and this relentless pursuit of profits would stifle real cultural progress and innovation and leave the individual citizen ever more powerless, voiceless and possessionless.

  9. The PDF refers to implementing “the D-Book content management arrangements”, but what do these arrangements call for? the DTG website suggests that you’ll need to work for a relevant company if you want to know (members only, and see what happens if you click “members area”).

  10. Action Ben wrote:

    Due to the very short duration of the consultation, interested members of the public like myself have not had time to examine all sides of the argument.

    Welcome to the new Transparency in Government, it’s all the rage here in the US. You’d be amazed how fast a five-day public review period goes these days…

  11. I think the fact the UK still has a licence on Television Receives in the 21st C is ludicrous. No other developed nation still requires a licence for public access broadcast media.

    We understand the radio spectrum, and its licensing a little better these days; If we didn’t fund all poll licence tax the market wouldn’t allow this DRM nonsense. DRM is a pointless waste of time. It hinders the end user, protects the pirates and offers no real protection against theft.

    All DRM formats are defeated swiftly and easily.
    “…like trying to make water unwet”, a great man said.
    Stop it. Stop trying to have complete control over the signal. It leaks.. no channel is noiseless. let it!

  12. I just rattled his inbox too. Not just about the issue but the disgrace of a so-called consultation that was not public and was open for only 2 weeks.

    Whose side are Ofcom on? (Oh – wait …)

  13. I’m far from an expert, but aren’t the Huffman coding schemes mentioned in the letter just an ordinary feature of compression schemes such as ZIPs and JPEGs? Is compression the same as encryption? If so, then the BBC’s MPEGed digital broadcasts must surely be illegal, by this intepretation.

  14. Encryption is mathematically analogous to uncompression (not compression; it makes the data larger, not smaller), yes. For practical purposes we avoid saying ‘encrypted’ and instead say ‘any technical method that effectively prevents people from accessing the content’ or something like that, since weak encryption algorithms are indistinguishable from a proprietary video codec for which no documentation is provided.

  15. E-mail sent. Good spot Cory, glad you caught this just in time.

    Does anyone else think that the alternate proposal (totally encrytped content) is only added in order to make the main proposal (essentially encrypted keys to the content) seem more acceptable?

  16. Camp Freddie asked –

    Does anyone else think that the alternate proposal (totally encrytped content) is only added in order to make the main proposal (essentially encrypted keys to the content) seem more acceptable?

    Yes, since you ask, that’s exactly what I thought when I read it.

  17. “I think the fact the UK still has a licence on Television Receives in the 21st C is ludicrous. No other developed nation still requires a licence for public access broadcast media.”

    You mean, apart from:
    Albania
    Austria
    Belgium (Walloon Region)
    Bosnia and Herzegovina
    Croatia
    Czech Republic
    Denmark
    Finland
    France
    Germany
    Greece
    Iceland
    Ireland
    Italy
    Macedonia
    Malta
    Montenegro
    Norway
    Poland
    Romania
    Slovakia
    Slovenia
    Sweden
    Switzerland
    United Kingdom
    Israel
    Japan
    Korea, Republic of
    Pakistan
    Singapore
    Ghana
    Mauritius
    Namibia
    South Africa
    Brazil

    Also check how well you do by the BBC licence cf the RAI licence for example.

  18. Anonymous20,

    No other developed nation still requires a licence for public access broadcast media.

    In fact, Ireland also requires a TV licence. And it looks like Singapore does too.

  19. I should hope that when the BBC goes digital everyone (currently forced to pay the licence fee) will have the option to opt out of the BBC channels and thus the licence fee.

    UK Living, Granada Men and Motors, Sky1 – you’ll be fine. The BBC is lovely (I would happily sell my children into slavery to help its finances) and I’m sure this business about DRMs, whatever they are, can all be sorted out amicably.

    James Murdoch is a cock.

  20. DWM, if there is anything I respect about the BBC (and there is a lot that I do), it’s their ability to report independently on themselves, no matter what pickle they’ve gotten themselves into.

    They do it all the time, and everytime it happens I think, “bravo”.

    Of course the cynical part of me expects them to spin it, but generally the reports contain the same info I’ll find on Channel 4 or ITN.

  21. Arkizzle @32:

    Actually, the thing I found interesting was not that the BBC commented on their own behaviour — as you quite rightly point out, they are generally scrupulous in doing so — but rather the ordering of events:

    * Cory posts Danny’s article on the proposed DRM.
    * I comment on the story, linking to prior discussion on this subject on Tom Watson’s blog.
    * The BBC then publish an article on the subject, using the MP’s online comments as the source material for a contrarying opinion — despite the fact that they’d been there for a week or two already.

    I’m just wondering if, by posting the link to this story earlier this morning, I inadvertently helped some tech-savvy researcher at the BBC discover enough material from quotable sources to post a story on the subject?

    Perhaps not, but I found the idea interesting!

  22. OK, let’s compare the licensed TV receiver situation to here in Canada.

    The TVO situation is a smidge more complicated, but as for the CBC:
    – we have no receiver license, so we buy American and Japanese sets (NTSC, now ATSC and QAM mostly built in)
    – We pay taxes to our governments, who then distribute the money to these programmes (contrast to a situation where you can opt out, this is true ‘forced payment’)
    – Nevertheless, a solid majority of us pay extra money to get a bunch more channels via cable or satellite, some Canadian but most American

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the CBC, but those who don’t have no choices. Also, like most of the modern world, I download most of my TV and movies. TV is as dead as, if a few years behind, the newspaper industry.

  23. It’s not just the BBC – if you read the story it is by the BBC on behalf of Freeview, at the request of other stakeholders including ITV and Channel 4

  24. Everyone pays for TV. Most people pay for it with the time wasted by having adverts inserted into their viewing/listening (the licence fee also pas for a number of radio stations).

    For less than 3 pence a week (and, I guarantee, that either by dint of radio or TV, somebody in our household will use the service almost every day) we get some of the best programming in the world, with new drama and comedy that no commercial enterprise would dare risk.

    Frankly, its worth it for BBC Wildlife documentaries alone – NOBODY, and I mean this utterly sincerely – NOBODY matches the BBC when it comes to amazing documentaries about the natural world.

    (Though I do feel sorry for those that suffer dubbing to put an American voice in instead of David Attenbourough’s dulcet tones)

  25. Anonymous37,

    Maybe I’m missing something in your maths, but how do you arrive at 3 pence a week?

    The current UK tv licence is £142.50.

    Are you subsidized somehow? Do you mean £3 a week?

  26. “The BBC has written to Ofcom telling them rightsholders want DRM, and asking them if they can implement a crazy scheme to require it.”

    Wait a minute, that’s it? The rightsholders want it, so you do it–chop chop?

    Haven’t they ever heard of the old saying “want in one hand and shit in the other…”?

  27. OK OK OK just stop consuming this rubbish! I know several writers / producers in Hollywood, and they don’t even have TVs! They can’t stand it!

    Worry about DRM, yes, but if there’s no money going in, the whole thing falls over.

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