DRM Again

A bit more on DRM. Sorry.
It’s interesting that at about the same time as Steve Jobs becomes a sudden convert to going DRM-free, the BBC Trust reports back its conclusions to the BBC’s on-demand proposals and in particular the iPlayer.
One of the key things they want the BBC to ensure is that DRMd material is platform agnostic:
As proposed, the TV catch-up service on the internet relies on Microsoft technology for the digital rights management (DRM) framework. The Trust will require the BBC Executive to adopt a platform-agnostic approach within a reasonable timeframe. This requires the BBC to develop an alternative DRM framework to enable users of other technology, for example, Apple and Linux, to access the on-demand services.
Around the ‘net there’s a lot of harrumphing at this with plenty of people moaning that the BBC shouldn’t be sticking DRM on their material at all. We [British licence payers, that is] have paid for it so we should get it. Well things aren’t as simple as that are they? The BBC licence but don’t own a lot, if not most, of its broadcast material. And even programming they do own, they sell on DVD – Bleak House for example. Do we want to kill this income stream and force the BBC to raise the licence fee more than it is being raised?
The other problem is that the BBC wouldn’t be allowed to stick its content out un-DRMd even if it wanted to. That’s what this whole Trust thing has been about. As Ofcom’s Market Impact Assessment highlighted, the BBC entering this market affects other TV channels’ business models regarding selling downloads, as well as third party companies such as iTunes. Indeed they were terribly worried that content that the BBC might easily be able to give away free such as book readings, plays or classical music (out of copyright, performed by in-house orchestras) might affect, say, Audible, much of whos British content is actually BBC stuff “re-purposed” to use a horrible Americanism.
But on the other side of the argument, there’s also a technical one, with lots of discussion running on the BBC Backstage email list. Indeed, they’ve just released a podcast featuring an esteemed colleague of mine. Is it possible to come up with a DRM system for Linux – an operating system that by its very nature is open source? As it stands, the DRM being proposed and likely used in the launch phase of the Iplayer, is Windows.
There just isn’t an easy solution to this. If the BBC released material free-to-air, the BBC Trust and Ofcom would stop on the basis that it’s anti-competitive and distorting the market. But if the BBC does release DRMd material, it’ll either not work on everyone’s computers (read Macs and Linux in the short-term), or will be in some bizarre “Open Source” format which will immediately be hacked.
The thing is that if material does appear in a DRM format, the same material will be released to world in a non-DRM format too, because some people will want that. I want to catch-up with last night’s Eastenders. Great – the BBC Iplayer lets me do that. But hang on… I want to watch it on my PSP on the train. Ah. The DRM wrapper on it won’t let me do that. I’ll find a torrent instead and drop that through PSP Video 9. Voila! I can now watch it on my PSP because that’s what I want to do. It’s a technically fiddly process, and not as neat as just downloading in PSP format direct from a website, but depending on the value of the content to me, I might well go through that process. It’s unlikely that the BBC will be releasing “Complete Season” box-sets of Eastenders (although scarily, they are doing this with Casualty), although UKTV Gold does show episodes. And there’s a value to them in some overseas territories.
We live in an age where you can do a lot more with content than you were once able to. We’re just going to have to accept that people will try to do more, and change our perceptions of what you should and shouldn’t be able to do with something.
Right – I’m off to fill out the BBC Trust’s On-Demand consultation questionnaire.