BBC's iPlayer sold us out — and then failed

My latest Guardian column, "Downloaded BBC programmes should be forever," talks about how the BBC has sold us out with its failed, DRM-based iPlayer (a reliable source puts the number of active iPlayer users at less than ten thousand and a second reliable source says, "That number sounds high") and how it and the Trustees should have had the guts to go to rightsholders and say, "Sorry, we can't accept any deal that doesn't give the public at least as much freedom as they have with their existing VCRs."

You might decide, hell, I'm a paid-up licence-payer, why shouldn't I use iPlayer to store up several months' worth of the kids' favorite cartoons for them to watch in an all-day marathon on New Year's day – while I sleep off New Year's Eve? You might just reach into the guts of your iPlayer and change the line of code that says, "Delete my shows after 28 days" to "Delete my shows after 28,000 years".

If you did you'd be part of a grand old tradition of shed-tinkerers. A few years back I attended a DRM meeting in Edinburgh. We were wrangling over a DRM for DVB, the digital video standard that is used throughout Europe, Asia, Latin America and Australia. It was nearly Christmas, and one engineer slipped off at the break to buy his son an electronics kit at John Lewis. When he showed it around, all the engineers in the room immediately broke into nostalgic recollections of "building crystal sets with grandad in the shed" when they were growing up. These were the formative experiences that made engineers out of these gents, and yet there they were, busily designing a broadcast system that would prohibit user modification.