BBC exec's straw-man defence of DRM

Ashley Highfield, the BBC's Director Future Media & Technology, has done an interview with the BBC Backstage podcast about the BBC's new DRM-based net-delivery system, iPlayer, which delivers a slim fraction of the functionality available to people who watch their TV over the air.

Highfield defends the company's DRM in an incoherent way, attacking straw-men ("The rightsholders need DRM to protect their rights" and "we need open source DRM, but that may be a contradiction in terms," "Rightsholders are scary," "We need a fictional technology that will let us insert ads but only when American eyeballs are present") but without addressing the really meaty questions.

The BBC broadcasts the entirety of its programming at the speed of light, in digital form, without DRM, to every corner of the UK. The net is flooded with every single show the BBC transmits. The BBC has previously stood up to rightsholders who insisted DRM (removing DRM from its satellite feeds, despite an entertainment industry boycott that lasted a year). Adding DRM to its downloads just makes the downloads suck, traps Britons into using Microsoft OSes, shuts out one in four license-paying households who don't have the right combination, bans open source — but it has nothing to do with stopping infringing downloads.

What's more, the fictional technology Highfield cites as a prerequisite for dropping DRM is wildly improbable. It would require every single entity in the video "value chain" — every player, every hosting site, every hardware company — to sign on to always follow the BBC's "insert ad here" instruction, and the only way to force them to do that is…to add DRM.

When asked about the iPlayer's P2P system (which you can't switch off, meaning that once you download shows, they're available for other iPlayer users to download from you), Highfield says that the ISPs have sold "unlimited" broadband to their customers without expecting us to actually use the service without limits. They have a dishonest pitch for their technology, and Highfield essentially says, "Well, that's their problem."

I couldn't agree more — and what's more, there's another group of companies that have made a dishonest pitch for technology: the rightsholders who say that DRM on the BBC's downloads will stop unauthorized distribution of their videos.

I like Highfield — I know him personally and think he's smarter than this. I'd love to see him interviewed by someone who actually walked him through the real implications of what he's proposing here.

Link, Link to Ben Laurie's rebuttal

(Thanks, Glyn!)

See also:
BBC announces that it may NOT deliver Linux/Mac/older Windows version of iPlayer — sorry, 25% of UK, no iPlayer for you!
Cory's column on DRM's Potemkin Village for the Guardian
BBC Trustees agree to let BBC infect Britain with DRM
BBC's online media now requires MSFT player, DRM
BBC picketed over use of Microsoft DRM
BBC recruits Microsoft DRM exec
Regulators order BBC Trust to meet with open source consortium over DRM player