BBC betrays the public, demands DRM for HTML5

You may have heard that a group of batshit insane entertainment shills have asked the W3C (the standards body responsible for Web standards) to put "DRM" -- magic beans anti-copying stuff -- into HTML5. Shamefully, the BBC -- a publicly funded organisation, chartered to act in the public interest -- is one of the forces pushing for adding stuff to HTML that will make your browser hide things from you, disobey you, and say "I can't let you do that, Dave." Naturally, also requires a ban on free/open source software, because if your browser is open, you could just disable the "I can't let you do that, Dave," program.


  1. I’m confused – why would “publicly funded, chartered to act in the public interest” imply that their behavior would benefit the public? They are acting this way precisely *because* they are publicly funded, which means the only people they are accountable to are the politicians who fund them. And they, like everyone else, act in their *own* interest most of the time. Government bureaucrats are not suddenly endowed with superhuman powers of altruism when hired, and that goes double for pseudo-private crony entities like the BBC.

    1. First-off they are not government bureaucrats (they are worse), and are not accountable to politicians.
      Other than that, I completely agree with you. The BBC always acts in its own interest, and it has definitely become a “pseudo-private crony entity”.

      Why? It’s a blend of cash, under-hand advertising deals (if you watch the morning news show just look at the guests they have on – it’s the tip of the iceberg) and not giving a shit.

      1. not quite, while im not familiar with the british tax system specifically, if its like most systems, the people pay money to the politicians yeah, but the politicians say where the money goes. so the politicians directly fund the BBC by appropriating the tax money they receive to the BBC opposed to some other organization.

        1. We pay a ‘TV Licence’ (£145 per year) to have a TV (also applies to BBC iPlayer steaming) that goes straight to the BBC and other TV related things (like Digital UK).

          1. Except the TV license covers devices with a capability to watch TV not the use of them, if you use a computer to watch streams that have in anyway a relation to broadcast then you are proving your capability to watch TV, thus require a license.

          2. Whereas this is technically correct, it is very difficult to prove your intentions to TV licensing, as they know as soon as you purchase a TV. Your details are automatically sent to them to check whether you have a licence whenever you buy any kind of TV from the vast majority of retailers.

          3. Yes that’s right you can have a TV without a license but only if the demodulator has been disabled. It’s still a receiver, whether you have an ariel or not. But even more stupidly that analog has been switched off. It’s still a receiver of intergalactic broadcasts. (I suppose)

            I have avoided the TV License for years, and they caught up with me last year. That was the only measure I had to take. But I still can’t watch *live* UK TV over the net without a license.

            They’ll also remind you that an internet enabled mobile phone is subject to scrutiny. (f*ckers!)
            It’s a mad mad mad world.

        2. We pay a TV license, this is £12 a month, that goes to the BBC every household has to pay it. Even if you rarely watch the idiot box (there is never anything on the blasted thing). When you move house, it’s one of the first things that arrive through the letterbox the good old – “we know you’ve got a TV in there, pay us or we’ll send the debt collectors round”.

          1. It’s *very* hard to convince the TV licensing people that you don’t have a TV. People who say such things are clearly liars and cheats.

            It’s even harder to convince them that, even when you own a TV, you don’t watch TV on it (remember when we all used to use TVs as computer displays?).

          2. I have a tv but no aerial, it is connected to a computer I only watch prerecorded content on the iplayer. I don’t need and dont have a licence, I have even had a licence inspector visit my home and he agreed with me after I explained the situation. Having said that I think the content you get for a tv licence is a bargain and if a time comes that I legally need one I will happily pay.

          3. @GyroMagician:twitter 

            It’s *very* hard to convince the TV licensing people that you don’t have a TV.

            It used to be, but it really isn’t hard now. You just fill in an online form, and they promise not to bother you again for two years. I did it about six weeks ago. 

            I moved into my current house over three years ago, and this was the first I had heard from TV licensing.

          4.  Way back in 1971 I attended an electronics show where they had one of the TV snooper vans on display. Pretty impressive; they could point an antenna at your house and tell how many TVs you had, what channel you were watching, and even if it was out of tune. (Pre-satellite days, of course, and analog TVs emit all kinds of spurious RF.)

    2. It’s in BBC’s interest not to freely make available all their shows outside the UK or inside the UK after a certain time, so they can sell DVDs and charge the TV stations and cable companies to broadcast their shows. If all BBC’s content was freely available for ever, for anyone, the annual TV license that we UK residents pay should be much higher, or the budgets for producing the shows would plunge.

      I’m not in favour of DRM in HTML5, but I hope this enlightens the reasons behind BBC’s position. For BBC to back a technology to show video in the web, it must make, at least complicated, for people to download a DRM-free version of the contents. That’s their business model.

      1. Yeah, the UK does have a TV licence fee (about £165 a year per household) which is paid directly to the TV licence agency which then goes to the Beeb and the like. If you watch live TV you have to pay. iPlayer has strict restrictions in terms of time and location, so I suspect they’re trying to protect that. 

        1. I suspect that if they didn’t have the restrictions, none of the owners of the non-BBC programs would let them show the programs on iPlayer

    3. They’re not acting this way *because* they are publicly funded. They are among a list of other media companies who are acting this way, and the others aren’t publicly funded.

    4. In my experience, which is extensive because I regularly deal with the BBC and DRM companies, the BBC themselves aren’t overly concerned with restricting content, they are under pressure from Hollywood, big sports and other rights holders. They are certain they won’t get premium content if they don’t secure it and they are probably right, the likes of Pay TV can easily out-bid them in regards to security of content. If the BBC isn’t getting content that people want and they have to go to Pay TV to get it then they could be considered to be failing in their duty to “Educate, Inform and Entertain”.

      1. Perhaps the BBC should offer a paid subscription service to those of us outside the UK? As a US resident, BBC content is generally far superior to comparable content available in the US. 

        How many million international customers might the BBC sell a $5/mo subscription to Netflix/Spotify style access to the BBC’s original content?

  2. The BBC isn’t a government agency, it’s not run  by government, and is only “accountable” to government every 10 years when its charter is renewed.

  3. chartered to act in the public interest

    I don’t doubt that the BBC truly believes they are following their charter.

    Regardless of the issue, regardless of the point of view, one can always rationalize one’s own opinions/desires as being “in the public interest”. 

    It’s even easier when what I believe to be Good For Society At Large also puts money in my own pocket, one of the most powerful feedback loops that’s known to exist…..

    This has been true ever since Ug-Ug chased Gronk’s crippled grandma away from the campfire in 37,000 BCE.

    The only way you ever determine the “public interest” is when enough of the public gives enough of a damn to do something.

  4. Um, why shouldn’t the BBC want to protect our content from foreign pirates? I don’t want to be paying for someone else’s bandwidth. Many shows are aired outside the UK, so get a job and watch those instead.

    1. I’d support it to make British shows more appealing to foreigners than American shows.

      (Empire building by entertainment.  America does it, but they charge.)

      1.  BBCAmerica is doing quite well here and it ain’t exactly free..grin.  There’s some tripe there but when they get it right (Dr. Who, Torchwood, their World News programmes for example) they blow the knickers off American TV.

      1. Region-locking is a subset of DRM. Alternatively: if you break region-locking, you’re breaking the DRM designed not to let you have right to play a Region A piece of medium in Region B.

    2. Can you explain what you mean by “I don’t want to be paying for someone else’s bandwidth.” and what that has to do with this? The BBC can easily bandwidth limit by subnet, if they are concerned about heavy demand from non-British portions of the internet.

    3. a) Last time I checked BBC blocked all its streams to “foreign pirates”.

      b) BBC can do what ever they feel like as long as they don’t mess with web standards.

  5. It’s not going to stop access to those that want the content.  All DRM, the snakeoil of the content industries, has been broken. The content gets shared anyway. The only thing that DRM does is anger consumers, making them less likely to make an actual purchase.

    In this way, I see DRM as a good thing. It will speed the demise of the middleman portion of the content distribution chain, leaving content creators to deal directly with consumers. This will benefit everyone in the long run.

    1. One thing to bear in mind. BBC doesn’t own a lot of the content that it commissions, so something like DRM will help them to reduce the costs of broadcasting and streaming their programmes. These sorts of issues are rarely as simple as they are presented.

    1. It would make it impossible for a fully open-source browser to view the content.

      Open source encryption works fine when two people want to communicate and hide the secret from outsiders.  DRM is different.

      DRM is when one person wants to communicate with your video screen, but hide the information from the owner of that screen.  That’s fundamentally not possible with open source software — any part of the code kept secret from the owner of the computer isn’t open source, but without that it’s not possible to keep secrets from the computer owner.

      (If you had hardware that implemented the necessary DRM, i.e. “trusted computing” it could work, but for DRM to work the owner can’t be in control of the secret locked in the hardware.  That is, you are no longer in control of the hardware.)

  6. This is not new of the BBC, if you try to watch their shows online, you are often limited by their format and IP filtering.
    The BBC’s argument (and I think they are being pushed by some close minded members of the public) is that it is a public entity of the UK, and therefore, the UK public pays taxes that are used to run the BBC, so only the UK public should have access to the content as they are the only ones that paid for them. The BBC is not a worldwide public entity, so it’s public reach ends at the UK’s shore.
    As @twitter-21190915:disqus  pointed out, some people feel that it’s unfair that foreigners can see for free what they paid (indirectly through taxes) for.

    1. The issue of cost/public funds is not why iPlayer isn’t accessible outside of the UK. The actual reason is that the companies who produce content for them don’t give them license to distribute it in an online format outside of the UK. That’s why the BBC still allow access to their Radio content via iPlayer outside the UK, it’s almost entirely self-produced.

    2. some people feel that it’s unfair that foreigners can see for free what they paid (indirectly through taxes) forYou guys have really forgotten how to do cultural imperialism.

  7. Any questions about the BBC’s honesty, just refer to the ‘star’ incubating machine that included shows like “Jim’ll Fix It”.

    1. Given that DRM is impossible(*), yeah, it is in impossible idea

      (*) An unauthorized user and authorized user are one and the same.

      1. Not only that – I also found myself wondering why BBC would have any say at all in the matter.  In fact, I had to read the article twice to be sure we weren’t talking about some other BBC.  The Monty Python one, right?

  8. It’ll be interesting to see how the BBC play this.  They seem to have a long-term plan of building justification for a “broadband license fee” to supplement or replace the broadcast license fee, recognising that people are more likely to shift entirely to on-demand viewing rather than watching at the broadcast time over the next few years as the available devices and deployed bandwidth become more suitable to do so.  The more that happens, the more households are going to ditch the license fee entirely.

    Without this first step, they’re stuffed.

  9. As the BBC doesn’t own the rights to all its programmes is has to pay extra to keep them in iplayer. Without the iPlayer’s DRM, then it most of iplayer would just be news. The value of a TV show is directly related to how many viewers it has.  If it is pirated then less people “watch” therefore the less its worth. Producers don’t want their shows to be pirated as it costs them “eyeballs” so they demand DRM.

    If you were a producer of a TV show, would you make a show aimed at the pirate demographic? no, you know why? because it’ll be worth a lot less than a similar show aimed at a different demographic. like it or lump it, quality TV costs cash. Try living off just youtube shows, that haven’t been made by pros.

    As for the free internet argument, the internet hasn’t been free since the rise of the “app” store.

    in short it boils down to this: DRM is there to make sure people get paid. Yes, most DRM is hideous, however when implemented correctly (like the iplayer currently, or netflix) noone notices apart from the people who refuse to pay. Copyright is a good thing, it keeps a lot of people in jobs.

    Copyright is much like going to the pub. However if you choose the wrong pub it can be full of dicks. Not all pubs are full of dicks.

    1. > As for the free internet argument, the internet hasn’t been free since the rise of the “app” store.
      There have always been non-free things on the internet. I’m not sure how the app store changes anything.

    2. “Copyright is much like going to the pub. However if you choose the wrong pub it can be full of dicks. Not all pubs are full of dicks.”
      No joke, this is perhaps the worst analogy I’ve ever heard.  Bravo.

  10. Wow, what a histrionic post.  What exactly is the reason for this outrage?  And how exactly would this ban free/open source browsers?  The spec specifically does NOT embed any content keys in the browser code because, to quote from the spec’s FAQ, “it is not something that fully open source browsers could natively support”.

    Adding support for the Encrypted Media Extensions simply means that more types of media can be supported by browsers out-of-the box.  Think of it as when browsers started natively supporting PNGs.  Adding support for DRM-restricted media is not going to affect existing sites or anyone providing media in other formats (again, adding support for PNGs didn’t suddenly take away your GIFs and JPEGs).

    Yeah, it’s self-serving for the content providers – it means Netflix, etc., will now be able to develop their media viewing application in HTML/JavaScript rather than having to rely on Flash, SilverLight or other plugin technologies.  For the consumers this means that they’ll potentially be able to use these types of sites on more platforms that were previously supported (e.g. Linux).

    1. … And how the hell would this work? DRM doesn’t work – because the recipient and the man in the middle are the same person. The encryption keys are stored on the computer; you can’t stop the viewer from stripping the DRM.

      Also, how would they stop screenrecorders like CamStudio?

      DRM is a stupid idea.

    2.  I agree to this view mostly. I don’t see how introducing DRM would break something. Its just another “format” that will need some kind of sandboxing which aim is not to prevent pirating(which is not possible) but make it harder then ripping a youtube video.
      In a way YouTube already tries to fight audio/video ripping of its content using Adobe tech with no success. All kinds of youtube to mp3 services still work mostly.

      All in all this is the web, servers or content providers have no control over who client is and what client does with content they serve, and limiting some content to only clients who do give some control over to content provider is just that, limiting your user base, I sure am not to install those kinds of browsers and ignore those content providers…

  11. I pay $15 a month for usenet access just to watch bbc documentary series. This year has been pretty good, Lost Kingdoms Of South America, Sound And The Fury A Century Of Music,  The Genius Of Invention, Howard Goodall’s Story Of Music, Brian Cox’ Wonders of Life, etc. and that’s just in the past 6 weeks.

  12. What is Channel 4’s position? They get a slice of licence fee too, don’t they?

    Speaking of which, as an ex-pat, I’d happily stump up the cost of a licence for worldwide access to iPlayer. I know I could pay tunnel bear or whoever to get access but I’d rather the cash went to the producers. I even kept up a licence for years in the UK when I wasn’t there to justify my illicit watching of Auntie’s programmes. Funnily enough, they hardly ever block the radio, even TMS works most of the time.

    But I digress. The point is, they don’t let me buy access abroad, so they get nothing and I still watch what I want. It’s totally stupid. I have no interest in region rights arguments either, that stuff is totally artificial and ridiculous and shouldn’t exist in the first place.

    And I’d scrap BBC America and BBC World and replace them with straight BBC1-4. I want to watch the good stuff, not Graham bloody Norton.

  13. The BBC is lobbying for this DRM because the people it licenses content off demand it. Without the DRM it wouldnt have the content :(

  14. Dear Internet users – especial those who like Apple products, what the BBC does is just pushing a payment scam on all of us like Apple already does and did. 

    In the future we will have all high speed internet with nothing to share or to show. Ever wondered why this new 4G technology gives you only 5 Gigs of data at a reasonable price?

    Time to get rid of I-Phone, Droid and Co. and show the telecoms what we want.

  15. I agree (for the sake of argument) that there must be DRM in HTML.
    And I also believe that anything in HTML must last at least a decade in use.
    Does anyone know any DRM that has lasted a decade without being cracked?

  16. Ever wonder why most online services provide different content by region? It’s because the licencing requirements are different, and rights are administered differently by territory, meaning providers may have to block content by region for legal reasons. The copyright administration mire hasn’t quite caught up with the fact the internet is global, and impossible, or hard to compartmentalise or contain. It’s not the bbc “being evil”.

  17. I was directed to this site by a well regarded commentator – Henk. While I was interested in the DRM issue I’m distracted by the stunning level of ignorance exhibited by some of these comments. It’s a classic of what it is wrong with comment boxes – people expressing strongs views without the slightest idea of what they are talking about. There are few people trying to briung some information to the discussion. While I have my concerns about the BBC but here is that I feel compelled to defend it in the face of comments based on brazen and wilful ignorance. If you don’t understand how the BBC is funded nor the debate around it, nor the problems of finding a better system why stick your oar in until you do? The BBC delivers high quality programmes that aspire to inform. Yet here we have comments that say nothing of use. Can you suggest a better system? Do you understand that people have to be paid if you want good quality news and TV. Do you understanding licensing problems. If you don’t go and look at Wikipedia first then comment. Where is there a better system for providing high quality public service boradcasting on the scale of the BBC? Why should the BBC be free outside of the UK when a lot of people there happily pay for what it provides? The nore money the BBC is paid the better the quality of programmes. It might be many things but it is not a neo-liberal conspiracy. I should know better than to contribute to this comment thread and dare say abuse will follow. Everyone has opinions, too few the facts.

    1. I should know better than to contribute to this comment thread and dare say abuse will follow.

      What, after that warm, friendly opening comment?

    2. How about letting viewers decide for themselves if they want to pay for your programmes? Admittedly, quite a novel idea. It came to me yesterday at the grocery store while the salesperson was shoving a pack of expired toast down my throat and took the money for it out of my wallet even though I had only wanted to get a bottle of milk.

  18. I’d like to partially rephrase what I’ve already said as part of this discussion here:

    Claiming that whoever you are speaking to is on the side of persecution, against liberty, and against users is hardly a great way to make a point in a technical discussion. It’s a Freedom Fries argument, and I don’t think that anyone has ever seen much good come from these.

    If you take a step back from the heat of the discussion, you’ll notice that no one involved actually really likes DRM. If you think that the problem being tackled here is for or again DRM, then you’re missing the point.

    The question that lies open before us is: given that DRM exists, should it be implemented through proprietary plugins or should it be possible to hook it somehow into the open web platform?

    It’s a difficult question in part because even if you have the clear goal that DRM should be eradicated — which you’ll find is a view actually shared by many people who support this specific work at W3C — there is no way to prove which path will most likely succeed in attaining that goal.

    It may be that DRM on proprietary plugins will cause DRM to die as the Open Web Platform renders proprietary platforms obsolete. But it may also be that by being the only solutions to a feature that for better or for worse is requested by large industry segments, proprietary platforms will be kept artificially alive. It certainly seems to be the case that platforms that probably should have died a while back (e.g. Flash, Silverlight) survive to this day because they support DRM.

    Conversely, it may be that DRM accessible through the OWP will bring DRM’s customers deeper into the OWP’s fold and culture, progressively assimilating their current world view until DRM is digested into nothing. But it may also be that it keeps DRM alive longer than its time by rendering it available on the dominant platform.

    We can all make guesses, we can have intuitions, but if we’re being honest there’s no telling which strategy is most likely to succeed in either eliminating DRM or turning it into something that’s user friendly.

    If you see this as being the discussion we’re having, the decision we’re faced with, then it should be clear that any grandstanding talk of liberty and persecution rings rather hollow.

    We have to make a bet, and then we have to help it get where we’d like it to go. That’s where the more concrete issues surface, notably the ability to support this feature in open source products. That’s why I think that Mozilla’s input on issues they see about supporting Encrypted Media in Gecko has been particularly important and defines concrete hurdles that our group must overcome.

    So to summarise, at this point in the discussion, I think our motto is: More Open Source, Less Freedom Fries.

    1. that’s the problem with living in the UK. There is an element of persecution with TV Licensing issues. There’s an assumed guilt if you own a device capable of viewing *live* TV. Proving you’re innocence means letting them into your home and not everyone is comfortable with strangers wanting to let them in. Especially the elderly, and those more vulnerable to coercion.

      There’s also another wider problem of DRM controls, and that is *who really controls* the device you bought. Re: Apple’s customers and their right to ‘jailbreak’ their iphone etc.

  19. If you value the openness of the web and be free from the tyranny of corporate media providers, which now includes the BBC. But also would like the steer the BBC into offering Pay-Per-View for internet delivery to anyone (anywhere they might live) then please sign the e-petition:

    The TV licensing situation is getting out of hand with its cancerous attitude that anyone with a web-enabled device is under suspicion of watching TV on it. web-PPV could help ease the pressure on licensing increases.


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