“Freedom? Open Source?” Tell me why?

March 29, 2010

NB My personal blog so my personal views

I had a chat with Ant the other day.

We started by talking about the rather good BBC blog he runs.

After that we argued about DRM.

Arguing about DRM can be fun. But it made me think how much my views have changed over just a couple of years.

The last time I wrote a blog post I still felt that the problem was persuading the people who mattered of the worth of the arguments.

But now I increasingly ask: “is the pain worth the gain?”. It all seems very romantic, but is it practical, and if it’s not practical, is it then desirable?

Here are some notes:

1. If the internet is build on open technologies then there are obvious benefits to being open. But technology is not the same as content. The benefits of content being completely open (i.e. unrestricted by content protection or DRM) have yet to be proved.

2. Complete openness in technologies is useful in a tech environment or in R&D because it allows you to experiment and build new things. But outside the lab most people just want a device that works. They don’t care if it is a proprietary device as long as they can get the content they want. Being able to move content from one device to another feels like a “nice to have” rather than a great moral principle for the average consumer.

3. The rights situation is very very complicated. Much more complicated than I thought it was. There are a small number of speech programmes on Radio 4 which are all rights and so the BBC makes these available without much restriction. But TV is a completely different animal – largely because its more expensive to make, has a market value and people sensibly try to raise revenue from it.

4. The music industry is a red herring. People frequently look at the music industry and say that the changes there are a forerunner of what will happen elsewhere.

I’m sceptical.

What’s actually happening in music is that artists no longer need record companies to bankroll recording and distribution costs. Artists are gaining control of their own rights. The clever ones use a mix of rights models to attract audiences – giving some stuff away, charging for other stuff.

This doesn’t mean that copyright is dead. It means that rights are in the hands of the people who should have controlled them all along.

Singing a song is different from making a Hollywood film. The film requires collaberative working and serious investment. I’d like to have Jason Statham blow something up in my garden for fun but I can’t afford him. The only way I get to see that is if someone else with much deeper pockets funds it, films it and gets a return on their investment. You can see why they would want a form of content protection so that I’m encouraged to buy their DVD. It seems fair enough.

5. “All DRM does is encourage illegal file sharing”.

People have a choice as to whether they illegally file share or they don’t. They are adults and should take responsibility for their actions. If there are a plethora of legal means, devices and platforms available (as there are in the case of BBC iPlayer) the BBC cannot be blamed if someone decides to ignore them all and illegally file share.

And while we’re on the subject is the Digital Economy Bill quite as bad as some people say? Read this. (Credit must go to Diane Coyle whose twitter feed I got this from)

6.”Free to air” does not mean “free to copy”. Nor does it mean “free to watch on any device I choose no matter how obscure or how I’ve chosen to customise it”. There are practical limits on what the BBC can reasonably be expected to do.

7. Even though technology is increasingly important to what it does the BBC remains a content maker, not ultimately a technology company. What are the creative benefits of content being unrestricted? Would better content be made as a result?

Yes people are making their own videos on You Tube. And yes these are starting to have an impact on what people watch. But can an amateur video replace Eastenders? What’s the benefit of all this to the person who isn’t technical but wants to watch New Tricks?

I’m sure I’ll continue to argue about DRM. Even possibly in comments on this post.

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78 Responses to ““Freedom? Open Source?” Tell me why?”

  1. Mo Says:

    I’ve rebutted, pretty solidly as far as I can tell, every single one these points at some point or another, both on my blog and on the Internet blog. When I get a spare half an hour, I’ll do the same here (because, yes, although the arguments are watertight, making sure there’s no confusing slip of the keyboard which suggests otherwise is actually very time-consuming).

  2. George Wright Says:

    Nick, are you speaking for yourself here, or the BBC? I’ll do the former and assume you are too.

    “Free to air” does not mean ‘free to copy’

    Noone says it does.

    ” Nor does it mean ‘free to watch on any device I choose no matter how obscure or how I’ve chosen to customise it’. There are practical limits on what the BBC can reasonably be expected to do.”

    Have you read Tim Berners-Lee’s “Weaving the Web”, where he explains that connecting identical, or similar, computers together was possible long before the Web – and in fact there any many ways to do this that are easier than using the Web.

    The brilliance of the Web was that it allowed many different types of device, OS and hardware to access the same content and render it as best they could.

    If the BBC wants to make Web sites, and deliver content over the open internet, it is fair easier to make content that works on all devices, rather than tailor make it for each and every device.

    If the BBC did this, it wouldn’t need to worry about “obscure” devices, or what computer I perfectly reasonably choose to ‘customise’.

    Who are you to say which is obscure and which customisations users are allowed to make *on their own property*?

    Your argument proposes a monoculture. One where everyone uses one OS, with one client.

    Life isn’t like that.
    George

  3. Mo Says:

    Okay, taking each point in turn (more or less). This took a lot longer than half an hour, for what it’s worth. There goes my evening.

    1. Although people would like the BBC’s content to be more open than it is (e.g., Creative Commons), there’s pretty widespread recognition that for much of it, this isn’t feasible. At least, not in the near term. It’s important to be aware of the fact that the debate about “open content” is far more philosophical and less immediately practical than any of the more contentious debates which have raged on the BBC Internet Blog.

    2. The notion that being able to move content from device to device is a “nice to have” is an opinion held by a tiny minority of people. The fortunes of massive corporations exist principally because almost everybody (including chunks of US Law, various Select Committees, and even the British Phonographic Industry when pressed) expect it to be a reality. This principle is deeply intertwined with the BBC’s core principles: without it, there is only ever a passing nod to the mantra of “free to air” to which it is bound.

    Technological openness is how we are having this conversation today. Without it, the Internet simply wouldn’t exist. Not just because the Internet is built upon this principle, but also because the BBC would never have worked without openness in its core broadcast medium, either for TV or radio. Without open standards, there would be no BBC1, BBC2, Radio 4, or World Service.

    3. The rights situation is certainly complicated, but how much of that can change over time? Just because a certain set of rights have been negotiated in the past doesn’t mean it won’t be a different set being negotiated in five years’ time (just as happened when the corporation started planning for the first incarnation of iPlayer).

    If there’s a red herring anywhere, it’s that residual revenues somehow preclude openness: if that were the case, BBC Worldwide’s domestic retail operations couldn’t exist. It thrives in a market where content is broadcast freely in a form that people can record and retain, and has done through the rise and fall of VHS, which was so convenient that most people’s grandmothers could (and regularly did) record something for you and lend you the tape.

    4. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree, but I think you’re missing the wider trends, and I’d be very wary of stating that the broadcast industry has nothing to learn from the music industry and the sea-change which has gone there. Although shifting control away from the labels is undoubtedly the big shift which is happening in the music industry, and that’s not going to happen in the immediate term in TV (though it’s a lot closer than you might think), it would be foolish to think that a similar kind of shift won’t happen in TV. What happens if Kudos or Tiger Aspect starts distributing TV series to the public directly over the Internet? What’s the future of the BBC then, especially if they found they could sell directly for more than they’d net through broadcasts and residual sales and demand ever-higher fees for securing the rights? It’s not a future I necessarily relish, but it’s not at all beyond the bounds of feasibility.

    How does “a form of content protection” encourage you to buy anything? You’re either going to buy it, or you’re not.

    5. First, yes, people do have a choice as to whether to illegally file-share or not. However, there are a few points:

    a) There’s no moral disincentive if they have legal access to the same content in a less convenient form (as is the case with FTA broadcasts).

    b) So long as the content is available illicitly but more conveniently than the legal alternatives, it will be consumed by some.

    c) There are only two ways of preventing people from distributing content illicitly: either don’t distribute it to them in the first place (at all), or remove the demand by making it at least as convenient for people to obtain the content via legal means. The former isn’t feasible, the latter is.

    d) Imposing DRM does precisely nothing — at least, not for more than a day or two — to inhibit the actions of the people described by (c). This is because DRM is by definition flawed (if you want an explanation of why this is the case, say the word — it’s pretty straightforward, but not something you can fit into a sentence!)

    d) By logical conclusion, this means that by imposing DRM, you’re artificially, and at not insignificant cost and loss of transparency, you’re only affecting those people who at worst would download because it’s more convenient than time-shifting for one of a variety of reasons. This means that the people who’re imposing DRM upon are those who are doing you no harm at all—is it worth bothering to stop them? Is that not the very definition of a waste of licence-fee payer’s money?

    e) iPlayer is not available on a “plethora” of devices. It’s available on a tiny number of devices. The count of companies who make TVs you can buy on the high street is higher than the count of kinds of device which can access iPlayer.

    Why is the onus upon the public to demonstrate to the rights-holders and broadcasters that a device (or set of devices) is somehow worthy? If you don’t artificially restrict the devices which can receive content, this is a non-issue.

    Moreover, when the content is broadcast free-to-air, and people are legally permitted to time-shift up to the 7 day window and far, far beyond, what is the benefit of going to the trouble of actively preventing them from doing the same thing with iPlayer’s content? I don’t mean all of the content on iPlayer should stay on there forever, but does imposing DRM (and things which are widely confused with DRM) actually make any sense?

    (And yes, the Digital Economy Bill is very bad. The devil is in the detail, and those are very big “if”s that Paul Carr notes at the end, and those “if”s aren’t going to happen).

    6. Actually, it does, more or less.

    It doesn’t mean “free to redistribute”, but given that timeshifting is explicitly permitted where it comes to broadcast radio and television and that format-shifting is considered by the vast majority to be a legitimate (but technically illegal) activity, then it certainly does mean “free to copy”.

    The BBC’s core principles and the various laws and regulatory pronouncements surrounding it, specifically mean that it most certainly does mean “free to watch on any device I choose no matter how obscure or how I’ve chosen to customise it”. That’s why there are open standards for broadcasting in the first place, and why the BBC exists today.

    Bear in mind that for all the talk by certain people of “supported” and “unsupported”, the BBC doesn’t actually provide support per se. If my TV didn’t work, I’d be ringing up the shop which sold it to me, not the BBC. The BBC doesn’t have a “supported devices helpline” (and rightly so). Indeed, nobody (who has properly engaged in any of these debates) has ever actually asked the BBC to support anything. Instead, they have requested that the BBC cease operating a device “whitelist” policy which both costs the licence-fee payer money with no clear benefit.

    7. Are we talking about things like DRM, or are we talking about copyright provisions? The two are completely different (but related) things.

    On the former, what are the benefits, as compared to the massive costs, of the content being actively (i.e., by DRM) restricted? Has the BBC performed cost/benefit analysis on its various implementations of “content management”, for example? Do I need to submit an FOI request to find out?

    On the latter, as I say, that’s a wider philosophical debate, and the answers are a lot more complex.

    As a content maker and a distributor rather than a technology company, the BBC is not the right organisation to be making unilateral proclamations about what devices are and aren’t workable. That’s what people like the DTG, the EBU, SMPTE and ISO are for. Standards bodies.

    Finally, the BBC isn’t just any company. Virgin and Sky are more than welcome to experiment with end-to-end “content protection” and blow millions of pounds doing so. The BBC isn’t.


  4. Nick – you ask “What are the creative benefits of content being unrestricted?”. What are the creative benefits of it being restricted? So far they remain entirely vague, if there at all. Not surprising. Being bound-up and locked-down are unlikely conditions in which to foster collaborative creativity.

    But this is not just about Free Range thinking. ‘Open’ means individuals have the freedom to avoid commercial interests and proprietary systems should they wish. Many do, many don’t, but having the choice is important.

    What about illegal copying? Well it’s illegal. By law. And what broadcaster will take responsibility for the actions of its viewers? Trust them, yes. Police and control them, no. Thankfully this should feel perfectly natural to the BBC: as it’s own values state “Trust is the foundation of the BBC”.

    (my views, not those of the BBC, even though I’m quoting their values.)

  5. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    Hi Mo,

    1. A principle isn’t much use if you can’t put it into practice.

    2. Not really sure I understand this.

    3. Possibly but digital content is different. Much easier to copy for a start.

    4 What happens if Kudos or Tiger Aspect starts distributing TV series to the public directly over the Internet?

    Depends how much scale they need to reach a mass audience and make it pay. The BBC can give them this mass audience as a shop window.

    5. How does “a form of content protection” encourage you to buy anything? You’re either going to buy it, or you’re not.

    My point here is that investors need to protect their investment. If I could get that Jason Statham film for free by just downloading it from somewhere then I might not buy the DVD.

    a) I think you’re confusing legality and morality here.

    b) so what? Does that make it legal or moral?

    c) c) There are only two ways of preventing people from distributing content illicitly: either don’t distribute it to them in the first place (at all), or remove the demand by making it at least as convenient for people to obtain the content via legal means. The former isn’t feasible, the latter is.

    Depends what you mean by distribute. Content protection means it only gets distributed to those who have paid for it. It is feasible.

    d) so since some thieves can pick car locks I shouldn’t lock it at all (locking it deters the casual thief rather than the clever one)

    e) I don’t think the number is tiny. And there will be more. And its available anywhere you can get a decent broadband connection.

    “I don’t mean all of the content on iPlayer should stay on there forever…”

    Unlike TV boradcasts the BBC iPlayer is covered by a specific service licence which places certain restrictions (7 day catch up, 30 day window) on the content. Would an open source device or platform comply with those restrictions?

    “It doesn’t mean “free to redistribute”, but given that timeshifting is explicitly permitted where it comes to broadcast radio and television and that format-shifting is considered by the vast majority to be a legitimate (but technically illegal) activity, then it certainly does mean “free to copy”.”

    This sentence contradicts itself. Time shifting is permitted. Format shifting isn’t. It doesn’t matter what people think if its technically illegal, then its illegal. Time shifting is not copying.

    7. You haven’t really answered my question.

    But surely if you believe that copyright is reasonable then surely some form of content rights protection is reasonable and a logical next step? After all rights are no use if you can’t enforce them.

    I doubt if the BBC is “blowing” millions of pounds on this.

  6. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    “What are the creative benefits of it being restricted? So far they remain entirely vague, if there at all. Not surprising. Being bound-up and locked-down are unlikely conditions in which to foster collaborative creativity.

    But this is not just about Free Range thinking. ‘Open’ means individuals have the freedom to avoid commercial interests and proprietary systems should they wish. Many do, many don’t, but having the choice is important.”

    1. True but copyright holders would argue that creating content needs investment and so locking it down prevents revenue disapearing.

    2. People of course have a choice. But if they choose to avoid certain systems then they may not be able to access some kinds of content. With choices come consequences.

    And in the BBC’s case, since that content is available on lots of devices (including old fashioned TV and radio) there will always be a way to get BBC content even if you don’t like a particular device or platform.

  7. Mo Says:

    I’ll reply properly, but not today — busy writing up other things at the moment, and I need to (it seems) think immensely careful about how I phrase things so as to avoid misinterpretation and confusion.

    In the meantime, you may find it worthwhile to read up on the Parable of the Broken Window:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_broken_window

  8. Paul Battley Says:

    Open source doesn’t matter, but open formats and protocols matter a lot. By developing the iPlayer for specific clients, the BBC is picking winners. The funding arrangements and uniquely powerful position of the BBC mean that this is not the kind of market distortion that it should be involved in.

    For example, why is there an iPlayer for the iPhone, but not for Android phones? The BBC went to a lot of (ultimately futile, believe me) effort to make sure that other clients could not gain access to the iPhone h.264 media. And yet these videos play perfectly on my Android handset! If I spoof an iPhone, download a video, and transfer it to my HTC Hero phone, it plays flawlessly.

    If the BBC had simply developed an HTTP/h.264 version of the iPlayer, both Apple and Android devices would both enjoy the iPlayer already – as, significantly, would any other capable new handsets that appear on the market. The only thing stopping the iPlayer working on Android today is the bizarre
    decision of the BBC to reject clients that don’t have an iPhone user agent string and which don’t follow the CoreMedia framework’s chunk downloading behaviour. Why is Apple special?

    Following the article’s logic, I am being “obscure” by not choosing an Apple phone. Really? Everything is obscure at first. Unless you accept some kind of Fukuyama-style end of history for operating systems, then the Microsoft/Apple duumvirate is not the last word – but it’s going to be harder for contenders that don’t have the BBC’s blessing. “Should I get Android or iPhone?” “Well, the iPhone has the iPlayer!”

    Even the desktop offering is hobbled by being tied to a single software provider. Flash works well on Windows. It works inefficiently on OS X. It … sometimes works on Linux. Linux-based systems have run on 64-bit processors for a long time, but it took Adobe a long time to catch up – indeed, they appeared to have only one developer on the project – and the 64-bit version of the Flash Player is still not out of beta as far as I’m aware.

    Once again, I’m probably being “obscure” by not just running Windows. I don’t know. But if the price of entry to the iPlayer means relying on proprietary software from a US company, that’s a poor showing for the BBC.

    The BBC has the power to create new opportunities for software companies at home and abroad. Instead, it’s just propping up the existing powers. That’s a waste, and a shame.

    Who is the enemy that DRM seeks to defeat, but the regular user? It’s not the BitTorrent or Usenet uploader (he can get it off Freeview more cheaply and easily). It’s not the professional pirate (professional piracy is harder hit by the internet than legitimate suppliers!). It’s the person at home who didn’t get round to watching last week’s episode. If he’d had the presence of mind to record it off the air on his DVR or even on a video cassette, he’d be fine. But no: the internet is magical and special.

    Open source software can’t implement DRM in any meaningful sense, but it doesn’t matter: it doesn’t really work all that well in closed source software either. I can describe how to bypass the iPlayer’s current proprietary “content protection” scheme in a few paragraphs. It’s laughable.

    I’ll leave you with a personal testimony. Do you know why I bypass the content protection to download stuff off the iPlayer? So that I can watch or listen to it on my own terms in my own time on the devices I already own. It’s that simple.

  9. Mo Says:

    By the way, when you say “Content protection means it only gets distributed to those who have paid for it. It is feasible.”, what on earth gives you this impression? It couldn’t be more of a complete falsehood – that’s the point underscoring of many of these discussions.

    If really want me to explain to you _why_ it’s a falsehood, I’m happy to (insofar as I can in this medium), though I’m pretty sure about 99% of R&D would be able to explain it to you just as well.

  10. ewan Says:

    so since some thieves can pick car locks I shouldn’t lock it at all (locking it deters the casual thief rather than the clever one)

    The analogy doesn’t work. The problem with DRM is that it only requires one clever person to break it once, and then there’s a DRM free copy that is easily accessible by everyone, clever or not.

  11. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    So someone steals my car once and then the locks are permenantly broken so lots of other people can drive it too?

    Sounds less than ideal…

  12. Mo Says:

    “So someone steals my car once and then the locks are permenantly broken so lots of other people can drive it too?”

    This is a rather tortuous and flawed analogy, but yes.

    The people who you have to stop if you want to protect content are the people smart enough to work around all of the protections which exist today, and any of those which have been proposed. It only takes one such smart person and the whole system is defeated. That’s why it’s a huge waste of money: the people who are theoretically hindered by it weren’t going to bother ripping off the content themselves in the first place. When people talk about “casual piracy”, they’re not talking about Joe Consumer casually ripping a stream and distributing it over the Internet, they’re talking about Joe Consumer visiting BitTorrent site X and downloading a copy that somebody’s already ripped for them. Thus, all the protections in the world are costly and wasteful if they don’t stop “the smart pirate” from uploading that content in the first place, and the only way to do that is a completely closed system of the sort which simply isn’t possible when you’re distributing content simultaneously to millions of people (over the airwaves, down a cable, or otherwise).

  13. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    Mo – regarding content protection I’m sure there are plenty of clever people who can strip DRM off digital files. I can’t.

    Let me give you an example from my own experience.

    My wife likes “Glee”. We could record Glee live into our digital box. We forgot. We can watch it from our on demand service. But we can’t watch it on demand and record it from the demand service.

    They’ve obviously put some kind of content protection on it to prevent that. So that we may pay to watch it again, or even buy a DVD.

    It’s annoying. But it works. By “works” I mean I can’t find some clever way of stopping it.

  14. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    Mo – but I don’t want people to steal my car and have everyone use it.

    You seem to be saying “they can steal it and there’s nothing you can do about it so don’t bother with any locaks at all”.

    Seems less than ideal…

  15. Mo Says:

    Nick – Yes, the point of all of this is that clever people _are_ stripping it off and distributing it on the Internet. the solution here is to get them to stop doing it, not to restrict the activities of *everybody else*.

    And for every time you or I or anybody else might say “well, *I* don’t download those copies from the Internet”, plenty of people do.

    (All of this leads into a separate issue, which is whether those downloads are actually lost sales of anything at all and are actually harming anybody – after all, a common usage pattern is for stuff to get downloaded, watched, and immediately deleted. This is a problem if you’re in a different region or it’s long enough after broadcast that it’s now being sold, but otherwise it’s no more a “lost sale” than watching something on iPlayer or 4oD is; people disagree as to whether the rightsholders should be getting stroppy about this, it is their content, after all, but the fact that the “download equates to lost revenue” notion is broken is pretty indisputable).

  16. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    So:

    1. Increase the level of content protection to make it harder for pirates

    2. Send in the lawyers to close down their sites

  17. Mo Says:

    Now we’re going in circles.

    1. “Increase the level of content protection” DOESN’T make it harder for pirates. That’s the most fundamental point to all of this. It doesn’t. Seriously. This is not a joke, a fabrication, a exaggeration. It just does not work, and in the context of TV broadcasting it _cannot_ work. Worse, any efforts you make to increase the level of content protection restrict what everybody else can do, too – it’s collective punishment.

    2. Go for your life.

    Now, what do you do about the people – who are ostensibly your customers – who were making use of those sites? Do you say “tough” and be deeply unpopular, or do you go back to the start and think about the whole problem in a different way? What if instead of trying to legislate everybody out of existence, you just removed the demand for the illicit content by providing a legal alternative which everybody was happy with? iPlayer did this to an extent – lots of people don’t bother downloading BBC TV and radio from BitTorrent sites any more because iPlayer was a decent (for them) alternative. It’s by no means the be-all and end-all (which is why plenty of people still *do* download BBC TV from Usenet and BitTorrent sites), but it’s a big step in the right direction.

  18. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    You say that it doesn’t work Mo – but in the example I gave above it does.

    I’m all in favour of providing legal alternatives.

    This argument started in the context of iPlayer. iPlayer provides a “legal” alternative precisely because it has content protection measures in it, doesn’t it?

    • pjakma Says:

      Nick,

      Provide an example of a technological content protection scheme that hasn’t been broken. You won’t be able to except for very very new schemes, and history shows those will generally offer no more than a month or so of resistance to the pirates.

      Even very sophisticated hardware based schemes have fallen within months, once the hackers are motivated to break them.

      Note that often the “hackers” who break these schemes have NO interest in piracy, and don’t do any piracy themselves. Often they’re incredibly smart young people whose motivation is just to show off to the world just how clever they are. It will get them notice and cool jobs.

      You certainly can’t outlaw cleverness, and you can’t usefully outlaw people demonstrating how technically flawed DRM schemes are. That knowledge will always spread – its at least as hard to prevent as file-sharing!

  19. Mo Says:

    Eh? I said that it doesn’t work “for pirates”. the pirates are the smart technical people who distribute the content to others. you are not one of “the pirates”, so it doesn’t actually matter (in the context of defeating piracy) what it stops you doing.

    iPlayer was successful DESPITE its content protection measures, not because of it – please don’t confuse the two. The fact is, the variant of iPlayer which actually has DRM (iPlayer Desktop) is hardly used at all.

  20. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    But iPlayer could have only existed in the first place because the BBC signed up to a agreement around protecting rights holders and the content protection that went with it…

  21. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    So iPlayer is sucessful BECAUSE of content protection…

  22. Mo Says:

    That is the most utterly bonkers thing I’ve read all day, Nick.

  23. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    Mo – let me take you through it logically.

    1. In order for the iPlayer to be launched the BBC agreed with the BBC Trust that the iPlayer would have certain restrictions placed on it. A 7 day window for example.

    2. These restrictions were put in place to manage the possible market impact of iPlayer and after rights holders (like other interested parties) submitted their views to the Trust.

    3. Without these restrictions and conditions iPlayer would not have been launched. If the BBC had said “we want the iPlayer to have an unlimited window with people being able to download anything on it to anywhere forever” the rights holders would have refused to allow the BBC to put the programmes they have rights in on the iPlayer.

    4. How are these restrictions and conditions to be enforced? If they are to be more than empty words then some form of content protection has to be in place.

    So without content protection the rights holders would never had agreed for iPlayer to be launched in its current form.

    iPlayer’s sucess stems partly from the BBC being able to negotiate a new rights model and a set of conditions with rights holders to fit internet access and distribution.

    • pjakma Says:

      Nick,

      I’m curious how much of this post and others is informed by specific knowledge of events you have from working at the BBC, and how much is speculation on your part. It’d be useful if you could indicate that in posts.

  24. David Says:

    So Nick if I understand that last point correctly you are saying that the DRM was an essential part of getting the iPlayer up and running in the first place. That is a fair enough point, however that surely reflects more on the (mis)conceptions amongst the BBC Trust and the other interested parties than any inherent truth in the view.

    To take that argument one stage further and say that the iPlayer was successful amongst users *because* of its DRM is patently absurd and for that to be true YouTube and 4oD would have necessarily failed.

    In my view DRM is not by definition a bad thing, but as mentioned above it necessarily fails if it prevents people who have a legal right to view content from doing so: for the iPlayer this list includes anyone using “non-supported” hardware (and it is an ethically dubious position for the bbc to act as kingmaker in these markets, as pointed out previously) as well as failing those, like me, who are currently out of the country on work but in posession of a valid TV license: a DRM mechanism that does not recognise MY digital rights to watch Doctor Who this evening is patently flawed.

  25. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    David – I’d be very surprised indeed if 4oD didn’t have some kind of DRM or content protection on it. Maybe someone can enlighten me.

    The BBC is not acting as kingmaker I think. In fact the BBC is trying to get iPlayer on as many patforms as possible (see this for an example) Does the non supported hardware you mention comply with the iPlayer service licence?

    If it does people would have a fair point.

    I’m not sure you have a “digital right” to watch Doctor Who, especially if you’re not in the UK.

    People sometimes assume that the licence fee gives them more “rights” than it actually does. It doesn’t for example give you the right to watch Doctor Who on whatever device you like for ever and ever without advertising. Old Doctor Whos sometimes turn up on commercial digital channels in the UK (with adverts in) and no one seems to make a fuss about that.

    The licence fee really gives you a particularly window to watch programmes in without advertising on if you’re in the UK.

    • David Says:

      Nick: my understanding is that channel 4 have stated that they will be putting all (presumably own-brand, rather than US import etc.) content into a youtube channel.

      Re: acting as Kingmaker – yes, it is. If a consumer is presented with a choice between a Nokia smartphone and an iPhone, but only one is “supported” by the iPlayer, then manufacturer (in this case Apple) enjoys an advantage which has nothing ostensibly to do with them complying with a BBC service agreement any more than Nokia.

      Perhaps “digital right” is the wrong way to describe this, so let me try again: I pay my license fee (via DD): I am paying for the production of BBC programmes, and enjoy a consequential right to watch BBC programmes when they are screened in the UK. The fact that I am not currently in the UK (though I return at the end of the month) means I should in principle either a) be able to get a refund for the month and a half I am away, or b) watch the episode while the BBC makes it available. As things stand I will have not only missed the episode, I will have missed the inevitable re-runs shown on BBC3 etc. for the following two weeks.

      My point is that an appropriate use of DRM would be to recognise me as a legitimate consumer and allow me to watch within the next week, despite a “non-UK” IP address, but this is not how the BBC use DRM. I do not accept that in this day and age the need necessarily to be physically in the UK to watch BBC programmes which I have paid for is an appropriate restriction, and as I note above DRM might provide an appropriate mechanism to “solve” this issue.

      Consider this: the only other means for me to watch this episode are a) wait until it comes out on video 18 months from now, b) hope that when the BBC next schedule it I am around, or c) illegally download it tonight, thus supporting the pirates the BBC want to avoid, but getting my hands on it during its “availability period” (which also coincides with the period in which I want to watch it). Which do you think is most appealing to me?

      Your point about keeping it “for ever and ever without advertising” shows that you continue to see anyone who disagrees with your position as a nefarious pirate who must wish to create an illegal collection and share it with other shady characters: I don’t, and I don’t think most users of any iPlayer downloading tools are (and I think that is a point made by others on this blog) – I just want to watch various programmes, like Doctor Who, on an appropriate medium while they are current. Once watched, I will delete them so that they don’t clog up my hard disk space, and move on with my life.

  26. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    “platforms” not “patforms”.

  27. Paul Battley Says:

    Nick, the BBC is patently not trying very hard to get the iPlayer on as many platforms as possible. As I’ve mentioned, Android phones are technically capable of using the iPhone version of the iPlayer. All Android users see, however, is “your phone does not support BBC iPlayer.” This is untrue: it’s BBC iPlayer that doesn’t support their phone. It’s only the fact that the iPhone version is specifically coded to work solely with Apple devices that stops it. Take away these arbitrary restrictions and the BBC supports Android.

    Does an Android phone “comply with the iPlayer service licence”? I don’t know. Does the iPhone, for that matter?

  28. Mo Says:

    There is no Service Licence for iPlayer in particular (there’s one for BBC Online, which covers it).

    More to the point, though, devices do not adhere to or breach the service licence. The licence is between the regulator (the Trust) and the corporation.

    The Licence states:

    BBC iPlayer should aim to maintain the BBC’s overall reach and consumption levels, as usage of the BBC’s linear services is replaced over time by on-demand consumption. In doing so, it should contribute in the long term to the BBC’s ambition to provide services that are of value to all licence fee payers.

    “Our Values” within http://www.bbc.co.uk/aboutthebbc/purpose/ is also of particular note.

  29. Olly Says:

    “You say that it doesn’t work Mo – but in the example I gave above it does.”

    In the example you gave the content protection inconvenienced you, the paying customer. It didn’t make the slightest bit of difference to the serious pirates. That’s the nub of the problem.

  30. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    But I’m not the “paying customer”.

    I’ve not paid for it.

    There may be some clever pirates who can break into Virgin’s on demand platform and pull the content out (which is the example I used). That doesn’t mean all content protection is pointless or that it doesn’t deter.

  31. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    David – I’m not saying you are a pirate. Personally (and I am speaking personally) I don’t have a particular problem with what you’re doing.

    Why not get a friend in the UK to record Dr Who into their hard drive and keep it for you to watch on your return?

  32. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    In case anyone is still reading this, here’s a new post:

    https://nickreynoldsatwork.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/you-are-not-a-gadget/

  33. Paul Jakma Says:

    Nick,

    No one in the open-source world is asking for the right to copy BBC content as they wish. Further, the internet has, since its inception, been used to carry proprietary content – over openly specified technologies.

    I do not understand how you can:

    a) equate a demand for open standards in technology with a demand that all content be copyable at will

    b) paint a demand for open standards as being the same as a demand for access for obscure devices (from your other entry).

    I’ve and others have spent a great amount energy explaining this elsewhere, on a forum you are (to some extent) paid to read. Somewhat demoralising to see that ignored – though communication failure is a 2-way street.

    Hence there seems little point trying to continue the discussion in blog comments. Maybe we need some kind of conference. 😉

  34. Mo Says:

    “This puts it all rather in perspective:”

    um… eh?

    • Paul Jakma Says:

      The perspective is that the BBC hired a tech industry executive who is busy building a software-development empire inside the BBC, working to create a system to provide “monetisation” services for other media companies.

      Personally, I think Rose should not be pursuing such objectives from within the BBC, using the public purse.

  35. Paul Jakma Says:

    Nick,

    Re DRM, you acknowledge that there are sufficiently clever out there who can defeat such systems right? That’s certainly the case for software.

    Even hardware systems can be defeated. E.g. I’ve been working with a hardware engineer whose hobby is old arcade games. One of their pastimes is “dumping” the ROMs to share with like-minded individuals. Sometimes this involves having to *dissolve* the packaging of the chips and *photograph* the circuits using *microscopes* in order to defeat their hardware based protection (if I understood him right).

    I.e. can we agree that no matter how difficult DRM makes it for normal people to copy stuff, there will always be people with the right engineering/technical backgrounds to work around them? This will always be true, so long as society wishes to have engineers around who can build new technology.

    2nd, can we also agree that, no matter what is done, file-sharing technology will always be accessible to ordinary people? This is my field of expertise and I am sure that file-sharing technology can be made a lot more resistant to legal attacks.

    If we agree on those things, can we agree the following is a logical conclusion: If there will always be people who can defeat DRM, and there will always be generally useable file-sharing technology then content will always be made available in unprotected form to the general, non-technical public.

    I know it is not the answer media people want to hear.

    The next question for media people:

    Do you want to have the engineers in the free software / open-source world be on your side? Potentially even helping you implement the fig-leaf of copy-protection (and free software can implement such, though I know Mo will disagree with me)?

    Otherwise, you have them against you, for whatever that matters.

  36. Paul Jakma Says:

    Nick,

    You say people have no right to watch Doctor Who on obscure devices. This is a class of point you have brought up time and time again.

    However, who is asking for that? No one.

    All that anyone is asking for is the specification on how to build a “TV” (a “TV over internet” device that is). Do you believe the BBC has the right to withhold the specifications for the “TV broadcast” (in the TV-over-internet sense) format from certain TV device makers on a whim?

  37. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    “If there will always be people who can defeat DRM, and there will always be generally useable file-sharing technology then content will always be made available in unprotected form to the general, non-technical public.”

    No it won’t – because legal means will be used to close down file sharing sites to prevent the technology being abused.

    See this previous blog post:

    https://nickreynoldsatwork.wordpress.com/2009/07/13/i-fought-the-law-and-the-law-won/

    • pjakma Says:

      Yes… Every commercial organisation that has tried to make money from file-sharing has been sued out of existence. Note that in all cases the file-sharing network *carries on* because it wasn’t the companies doing the file-sharing!

      The one exception being Napster, which had a centralised index and which had control and insight of what was being shared. Oh, how the media industry must rue not having done a deal with Napster now..

  38. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    “All that anyone is asking for is the specification on how to build a “TV” (a “TV over internet” device that is). Do you believe the BBC has the right to withhold the specifications for the “TV broadcast” (in the TV-over-internet sense) format from certain TV device makers on a whim?”

    No I don’t – if it was “on a whim”. But I think that it is reasonable for the BBC to expect people who build devices to serve up BBC content to abide by the BBC’s terms and conditions (and the terms of the service licence for iPlayer). That’s not a “whim”.

    • pjakma Says:

      Nick,

      I agree it is quite reasonable for the BBC to expect people to comply with their terms and conditions.

      There is no argument there on that, particularly not from software developers who expect the same thing from those use their software.

      So back to the question: where are the specifications to let me build my own compliant, legitimate iPlayer client?

  39. pjakma Says:

    I note the “door locks aren’t perfect but we use them” analogy has been given a spin. As usual with argument by analogy, the analogy has been stretched too far.

    Unlike physical door locks, breaking a DRM lock in *one* place can break it *everywhere*.

    Basically, you can’t upload the contents of a car or house and copy it to everyone else on the internet.

    (I now feel like an “auto-reply to bad analogies” bot).

  40. Mo Says:

    Will they?

    Of the two BitTorrent sites listed there — TPB and OiNK, the former is still operating, and the latter was replaced within days (and the operator of OiNK was found not guilty on those charges). Rather more to the point, though, those are two sites out of thousands, and that’s just one mechanism of exchanging files out of dozens, some of which pre-date the web by some considerable margin and are still in quite active use today, and some of which don’t even bother with the Internet at all.

    The problem is that, if you ignore what is being exchanged for a moment, you’re essentially talking about controlling how people communicate with one another, on a backdrop of a global high-speed telecommunications network and a lot of determined individuals who are very good at figuring out new ways to communicate on this network very quickly.

    Put it this way, if I worked for a company who publicly claimed what you just had, I would fast be dusting up my CV, as they’d just have just lost all credibility.

    There is only one realistic way to stop illicit content-sharing dead in its tracks: provide a compelling cost-effective legal alternative; this is the conclusion which every credible analysis of illicit file-sharing activities has reached over the course of the last decade or so.

  41. Mo Says:

    “No I don’t – if it was “on a whim”. But I think that it is reasonable for the BBC to expect people who build devices to serve up BBC content to abide by the BBC’s terms and conditions (and the terms of the service licence for iPlayer). That’s not a “whim”.”

    Yes it is

    The corporation doesn’t have the right to dictate what TVs can and can’t do when it comes to transmissions. What the hell gives it the right to impose those conditions when it comes to on-demand, especially if on-demand is supposed to be so bloody important to the industry including public service broadcasters?

  42. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    “Unlike physical door locks, breaking a DRM lock in *one* place can break it *everywhere*.”

    So that makes it OK Paul?

    Just because something is easy to do doesn’t make it legal or morally right.

    • Mo Says:

      It doesn’t matter if it makes it okay! Argh.

      The point is that somebody out there won’t care if it’s okay and be inclined to do it if there’s the vaguest motivation for them to do so, instantly defeating the mechanism for all instances of that content, and reducing your DRM system to “just something which inconveniences people”.

      Seriously, how many times must this be explained?

    • pjakma Says:

      You are putting words into my mouth, which is mildly frustrating.

      Nowhere have I said that it is ok to break locks. I am merely showing how the physical-lock analogy breaks down and how DRM is *NOT* like physical locks. Ergo, logical arguments that extrapolate from the value of physical locks do NOT per se apply to DRM.

      Please read my “can we agree that there will be always be people who can break DRM?” post for further information on why DRM does not provide the kind of protection that simply physical locks do.

  43. Mo Says:

    Have you ever ripped a CD, Nick?

  44. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    “The corporation doesn’t have the right to dictate what TVs can and can’t do when it comes to transmissions. What the hell gives it the right to impose those conditions when it comes to on-demand…”

    Because on demand on the internet is different from TV transmissions. In order to allow iPlayer in the first place the BBC had to sign up to an agreement with the BBC Trust around how that content is used (the 7 day window described in the iPlayer bit of the BBC Online service licence)

    As I say, not a “whim”. Rather a windowing agreement which took an awful lot of time, negotiation and research (e.g the OFCOM market assessment) to achieve.

    • Mo Says:

      An availability window isn’t DRM. it isn’t even much of a restriction. it’s not something anybody’s complaining about (or at least, certainly not here).

      Same applies to the geographical restrictions.

  45. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    So how do you enforce the availability window without some form of DRM or content protection?

    • Mo Says:

      You… stop making the content available.

      Look, it’s simple: the people who want to get the content outside of the availability window and are willing to put in some effort, and don’t care that it’s a bit “dodgy” (as they see it) can do so now, today, with the content protections in place.

      For everybody else, the ordinary Joe User like you who wouldn’t actually know how to do it if you were so inclined, the content protection has no effect on something you weren’t going to do anyway.

    • pjakma Says:

      Well, you simply ask the software developers to honour your restrictions[1]. They have to, or they risk committing a criminal offence if they make software available that works around the restrictions.

      This is what is done with free software already, e.g. Adobe PDF has an openly described “don’t cut & paste” flag (amongst other things) and open-source viewers generally honour these.

      It all could be quite simple, if we were to co-operate and find a middle-ground…

      1. NB, you have “ask” them using some kind of technical device to activate the relevant law. That device can be quite simple and trivial.

      All you have to do then is describe that device.

  46. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    “This is what is done with free software already, e.g. Adobe PDF has an openly described “don’t cut & paste” flag (amongst other things) and open-source viewers generally honour these.”

    “Generally” – what additional restrictions should be put in place for those open source viewers who don’t honour these restrictions?

    • pjakma Says:

      Well, in 2003 the Copyright Act was amended to make it a criminal offence to circumvent technological content protection systems. So you notify the police and/or sue the software provider who is not honouring your restrictions.

      Simply put, there is no technological magic bullet for the media industry’s problem.

      You are going to *have to* trust people at some point. And your only effective remedy will be the legal route. You have 2 choices in that regard:

      a) You openly specify internet-TV access, such that normal, law-abiding software developers write conformant iPlayer clients . In turn, this means normal, law-abiding internet-TV viewers will have a plethora of restrictions-honouring iPlayer software to choose from, and they will have little motivation to turn to BitTorrent.

      You may find a few bad software developers don’t honour the restrictions. That’s life. If they’re in the UK you can have them shut down (probably US and elsewhere in EU too).

      b) You refuse to provide specifications. You make it impossible for law-abiding, decent sofware developers and distributors to provide iPlayer access software, except via that horrid flash thing (which, for a number of reasons, isn’t attractive to many people). Hence, some people will turn to Bittorrenting.

      Experience shows that in the case of b, the number of people you need to sue is quite large. Further, sueing them and stuff like the DEB act seems to alienate the very people whose support you need.

      So that’s your choice, as I see it. You can choose a world where we co-operate and minimise the reasons why people would participate in piracy, thus minimising the number of people you would need to use legal means against.

      Or you can choose to maximise the number of people who are turned toward participating in piracy, thus meaning that you need to sue/prosecute a lot more people and/or that you need to turn public opinion even more against you – particularly amongst the younger segment of the population who have grown up with the internet.

      NB: I am not condoning piracy, I am not condoning Bittorrent. I am just saying that the reality is that:

      a) It exists

      b) A lot of people seem to find it adds value, despite the slowness and legal risks

  47. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    “For everybody else, the ordinary Joe User like you who wouldn’t actually know how to do it if you were so inclined, the content protection has no effect on something you weren’t going to do anyway.”

    This sentence makes no sense to me. If you are an ordinary joe and you were tempted to do it, but didn’t know how, then the content protection works, doesn’t it?

    • Mo Says:

      Because it’s not the content restrictions which prevent Ordinary Joe from doing it. It’s the fact they don’t have the technical knowledge or inclination to spend time and effort applying what little technical knowledge they do have to the task at hand.

      For example, the vast majority of people out there don’t know that you can right-click on an image on a web page and save it to disk (or in many browsers, drag it from the page into a folder). Even those who do become completely unstuck when it comes to video, because even with no specific content protections at all, there’s no obvious mechanism for pulling it out of the browser. This means that whatever content protection mechanisms you do implement at this point don’t prevent those users — that is, the vast majority — from doing something they shouldn’t any more than the “© BBC MMX” at the end of the programme does.

      And you haven’t answered my question: do you rip CDs?

  48. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    “The point is that somebody out there won’t care if it’s okay and be inclined to do it if there’s the vaguest motivation for them to do so, instantly defeating the mechanism for all instances of that content, and reducing your DRM system to “just something which inconveniences people”.

    Which is what it is supposed to do, isn’t it? It also puts up a warning sign – which says “its not OK to do this” (even if for some it is easy to do)

    • pjakma Says:

      Firstly, if all you want is a warning sign, then why don’t you just put a warning message in the media? A la DVDs?

      Next… It’s not easy “for some” – it’s easy for *all*. Here’s how it goes:

      – 1 very clever person breaks the DRM, and tells others how they did it (for the kudos) – computer code is the typical form of communication here.

      – a very small number of people then use that knowledge to take content, strip any DRM, and upload it to special, restricted-membership “pirate” sites. Members here get kudos for uploading brand-new or otherwise previously unavailable pirated content and I would presume they are very careful about who they trust.

      – a small, but greater, number of people then re-distribute such content onto public file-sharing networks

      – a large number of ordinary, non-technical people then download this stuff. By the nature of file-sharing technologies, as they download it they help make it available to others.

      Note that in the last step:

      * There is no technical knowledge needed, beyond clicking on a torrent file or whatever

      * There is no breaking of DRM

      Note further that you can’t shut down the file-sharing technology, unless you shut down the internet. Further, we can make file-sharing anonymous (i.e. we can integrate existing techniques from the likes of “Freenet”, “Tor” and other systems into the popular Bittorrent technology).

      You or someone else made the point before about requiring some kind of fig-leaf. You definitely buy-in to the “we use simple locks in the real-world argument”, right? So what we technologists are saying is:

      + Technology is never going to make man’s most efficient copying machine ever, the internet, not be good at copying

      + Hence there is no point investing lots of money into digital locks, just as you wouldn’t spend thousands of pounds on a lock for your front door if it didn’t provide any extra security.

      + If you want to analogise with the real-world: What makes your front-door lock effective is NOT the lock, but the *legal force* behind that lock.

      + legal force requires being able to identify file-sharers

      + So you’d better not encourage the deployment of highly anonymous file-sharing systems

      My perspective is that if the media types keep ignoring what the technology people are telling you that you’ll find that in 10 years time you’re in a *worse* position than you could have been in.

      As we’re all fans of analogies here: It’s like being in quicksand, if you keep wriggling against it you’re going to sink even deeper. If you want to keep your head above it you need to work with the technology, so you may wish to pay attention to what the technologists are saying…

      But hey..

    • Mo Says:

      You have a warning sign. It’s on every broadcast programme, and at the bottom of every page on BBC Online. It’s called a copyright notice. Moreover, you don’t actually need a warning sign for it to be legally enforceable (since the mid-seventies, if memory serves).

      Illustrative example: BBC sends take-down notices to people who upload shows to YouTube and other video sharing sites. There’s no content protection which gives them the ability to do this, it’s a simple matter of copyright law and that the person uploading the shows doesn’t have redistribution rights.

  49. pjakma Says:

    I’ll say again… This subject appears to be a bit too broad and intricate for us to come to a shared understanding via blog comments.

  50. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    “- 1 very clever person breaks the DRM, and tells others how they did it (for the kudos) – computer code is the typical form of communication here.

    The 1 very clever person is in the wrong, morally and legally. From that step everything else flows.

    If you say “nothing can be done to stop that clever person” then it seems to me you are endorsing piracy.

    • pjakma Says:

      No, the clever person is not doing anything wrong. In fact, it is critical to the good of society that clever people be allowed to publicly discuss the flaws they discover in security schemes. Experience has shown that quite often they must demonstrate a flaw in order for the designer of the scheme and/or 3rd parties to take the flaw seriously.

      The people who are legally in the wrong are those who participate in the actual piracy. Usually a completely different set of people.

  51. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    On the contrary pjakma it seems pretty easy to understand to me…

    • pjakma Says:

      From my perspective, I wonder if your ease of understanding is borne out of too quick dismissal of counter-points, without understanding them.

      I mean that with all due respect, and I apologise for the harshness of that, but it’s where I am at the moment.

  52. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    “A lot of people seem to find it adds value, despite the slowness and legal risks”

    Which is an argument for developing legal alternatives, but not argument against DRM.

    • pjakma Says:

      You’re quoting a line that is about the *ease* with which DRM is stripped off works and *unDRMed* work spread over the internet, and you seem to be able to conclude that this says nothing about the futility of DRM.

      Clearly you have a different system of logic to the rest of us commenting here.

      Unfortunately, you don’t explain what your system of logic is. How can we have a productive discussion if you don’t do that? Argument by assertion of conclusions does nothing to convince anyone of anything but what they are already convinced of.

      I.e. Can you please elaborate?

    • pjakma Says:

      Oh, “developing legal alternatives” – I would agree with you on the importance of that.

      The problem is that DRM makes the legal alternatives *less* attractive.

      But… it seems many in the media industry insist they must try shooting themselves in the head first.


  53. […] Comments nickreynoldsatwork on “You are not a gadg…nickreynoldsatwork on “Freedom? Open Source?…nickreynoldsatwork on “Freedom? Open Source?…nickreynoldsatwork on “Freedom? Open […]

  54. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    Thanks for all these comments. I’ll write another full post in response. I won’t be able to do that for a few days. So see you then.


  55. […] More Arguing About D… on “You are not a gadg…nickreynoldsatwork on “Freedom? Open Source?…Paul Jakma on “Freedom? Open Source?…pjakma on “Freedom? Open […]


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