Free the BBC from the same old tired DRM debate
And of course, a quick look shows that this has sparked the same tired circular arguments on the backstage.bbc.co.uk mailing list.
One person has been arguing that DRM is a bad thing because their sister accidentally wiped clean their iPod, whilst someone else is claiming the only basis for the BBC's decision to use Microsoft's DRM system in the iPlayer is for personal financial gain.
"If you had taken 1 minute to ask anyone knowledgeable you would know that a secure system such as encryption is NOT compromised in anyway if the algorithm is known, thus there is no damage from using a published standardised format. Why have you not done so? The only reason I can think of is someone at the BBC has shares in Microsoft!"
From "I don't like Microsoft" to "therefore someone in the technological decision making process at the BBC must be corrupt" is quite an extrapolation in my book.
I haven't joined in the debate myself this time, thus nobody has had a chance to insult my wife yet, but what saddens me is that people are so quick to jump on the 'DRM = evil' argument that they neglect to notice that 'paying to make a programme to show once on TV in the UK != giving it away for free in perpetuity around the globe'.
The majority of points made in the Free The BBC open letter are redundant.
Claiming that the industry is 'moving away' from DRM is not the same as saying that nobody else in the industry is using DRM anymore.
And as ever, Steve Jobs, the figurehead of the monopolistic proprietary
AAC FairPlay format and iTunes / iPod combo that is stifling competition in the music download market, is heralded for having written one open letter saying "wouldn't be nice if we hadn't done that".
The Free The BBC campaigners say that all DRM systems get cracked.
It might be news to them, but I'm sure that nobody at the BBC is under any illusion that the iPlayer DRM won't be cracked quickly. Nor will the BBC be surprised when the press run stories about how the BBC has 'wasted' £n million on software that has been hacked within 12 days of its release (or however long it takes).
However, the basic business model supporting the on demand distribution of DRM flavoured content is that the DRM restrictions only have to stay in place sufficiently in order to keep the rights holders happy that their subsequent DVD releases, repeat transmission fees and overseas sales revenue are not going to be decimated by the iPlayer.
Of course the DRM won't stop piracy, or stop the computer-savvy ripping Windows Media streams into their preferred Ogg Vorbis format, or stop people using UKNova, but it tends to make the expected level of piracy tolerable for the people investing in television production.
After the most recent deals negotiated with PACT and reviews of the BBC's production capacity, between 25% and 50% of the BBC's television output has to be made by independent producers, and they have greater control over the exploitation of the associated new media distribution rights than ever before. Radio also has an independent production quota, and 15% of the BBC's Future Media spend also has to go outside the Corporation.
This system is designed to keep a healthy ecosystem running in the UK's media industry. The fact that the cancellation of the BBC Jam project is costing £0.5m and jobs at an independent producer like Tinopolis illustrates that the Corporation does not operate in anything like splendid isolation anymore.
Decisions made in Broadcasting House and Television Centre have consequences in the commercial sector.
The Free the BBC letter makes a specific point that by using Microsoft's or Real's technology, the BBC is
"in effect subsidizing unrelated private enterprises"
as if the BBC never had any commercial suppliers in any other area of business.
In addition, it isn't clear to me how they can also argue that launching the service initially on the most popular platform in the UK, Windows, is distorting the market against Mac and Linux users, but that flooding the internet ecosystem with DRM-free downloads of everything made for British television and paid for by the Licence Fee isn't going to interfere with and distort the commercial market for entertainment.
Whatever the anti-DRM zealots think, the BBC is simply not in a position to give away other people's intellectual property and potential future earnings.
Production companies like Endemol and Baby Cow expect people to pay for their content when it is distributed online by ITV and Channel 4.
At the very least, when the BBC is distributing the content it has commissioned from them online, they expect a semblance of protection of their property.
The reason the number of DRM-free mp3 podcasts files available from the BBC is low is because there are so few shows where the BBC wholly owns the rights to the formats, and has been able to negotiate deals with the production companies and on air talent. And note that this service is still a trial over 2 years since it was first announced.
Many of the signatories of the Free The BBC open letter seem to be under the illusion that the BBC is about to throw up the British media equivalent of the Great Firewall of China, and lock everybody outside the UK, and everyone not using Windows Media Player, out of the BBC's services.
The use of the DRM system only affects the iPlayer downloads of TV programme for catch-up viewing. That is a new service, over and above the existing distribution of BBC content on air and on demand via some cable services and the internet.
The listen again radio service won't be affected.
The Download and Podcast trial will continue to provide DRM-free mp3 downloads free at the point of delivery.
Radio stations will still be streamed live.
The BBC News site will still have video clips.
None of this is going to have DRM applied to it.
And the ultimate point that the petition writers miss is that whilst they believe 'DRM = evil', the BBC's legal, technical and strategic teams know that frankly 'no DRM = no BBC TV download service at all'.