More Arguing About DRM

April 25, 2010

So let me take a look at some comments on my last two posts (this one and this one) and respond to the ones left hanging:

“…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 key word is “publicly” perhaps. If someone discovers a flaw in a security scheme then they could tell the designer privately. That way the flaw could be corrected. If the designer ignored them, then there might be a case to go public.

I discover a flaw in a bank’s lock. I would tell the bank. But I might not tell everyone – since that would mean that everyone would know how to break into the bank before the flaw was corrected.

There’s a section in Jaron Lanier’s book about hacking pacemakers and the morality of this kind of thing which seems relevant.

“…do you rip CDs?”

I have been known to copy CDs occasionally. What I haven’t done is either copy lots and lots of them and sell them on the local market, or put the files on a website for other people to share (and sell advertising on it).

Of course if a CD had copy protection on it I would not be able to copy it. And I’m too ignorant to know how to remove the copy protection measures. At which point I would probably swear a bit and give up. Copy protection is designed to stop ignoramuses like me – and so, it works.

As one of your career goals you stated: “I want to change the UK’s media, so that it becomes something we all do together, not something that is just pushed at passive consumers.”

When a consumer is subject to DRM restrictions set by the BBC, exactly how does that make said consumer less passive?

I said that when I was a little younger and more foolish, and before I’d got used to being beaten up all over the internet by people just because I was attempting to be a little more open and transparent that the norm.

I suppose it doesn’t make the consumer less passive, but there are other benefits. Like rights holders getting revenue from content which they can reinvest in more content for consumers.

why does iPlayer need to be treated any different to traditional over-the-air TV and radio?

Because the regulation is different, as laid out in the service licence. Traditional TV and radio don’t have windows of 7 days, for example.

When I said that the list of iPlayer-supported devices was a small number, I meant it. Compared to those which are technically capable of playing audio and video and could be made to work by somebody (that is, the corporation, or the manufacturer, or a third party — including the individual who bought the device), it’s a hilariously small proportion.

Here’s a list of devices and platforms on which you can get BBC iPlayer (I notice that Linux is included). It would be interesting to know how many licence fee payers in the UK get access to iPlayer through them. Not I suspect “a hillariously small proportion”.

How many mandarin and cantonese speakers does the BBC have btw? How many are sufficiently technical to be able to work with asian manufacturers?

Doesn’t matter since this is about UK public service.

If the BBC published its programmes in an open format, it would be more accessible – to me, at least,

Could this be done with the appropriate content restrictions in place?


14 Responses to “More Arguing About DRM”

  1. Luke B Says:

    Copy protection stops people like you copying CDs, but you weren’t going to redistribute them anyway. The people who are going redistribute wont be stopped by those sort of technical measures. So we end up with a solution which inconveniences ordinary people like you, but has no effect on piracy whatsoever. To me, that seems pretty pointless.

    We’ve all seen that list of devices which you can get BBC iPlayer on. That’s just a drop in the ocean compared to all the devices that could potentially support it if the BBC didn’t insist on writing its own software for each device.
    Those might be the devices with the most users, but the whole point in the BBC is that it doesn’t just support popular options. Otherwise it would just be like any other commercial company obsessed by viewing figures.

  2. Paul Jakma Says:


    I think you missed the point about mandarin speakers. That point was about competition and about the wisdom of having the BBC acting as gatekeeper to the “internet TV” device market.

    Simply put, if the BBC uses openly described standards then the BBC need only interact *once* with others, via the standards-setting body. Thereafter, anyone can read those specs and implement them or explain them to others to implement them. I.e. it minimises any dependencies between organisations in order to create products. It makes the market more efficient. It allows device makers across the world, including the large number based in Asia, to create products, without having to communicate much with anyone in the BBC. Indeed, if the standard is popular and is implemented in infrastructural software/components, the device makers may not even consciously target “BBC internet TV” – it happens for free.

    In short, it allows the market to innovate and create a variety of different devices – and the public can choose which are and which are not good.

    The other scenario, where every device maker must interact with the BBC and gain its approval, before they will be given access to the secret protocol, is clearly less conducive to a dynamic market. It is clearly stiffling of market activity. Clearly there will be manufacturers who will fail to build “BBC internet TV” devices because of these extra overheads.

    Why do you hate the free market Nick? (please take that in good-humour! 😉 ).

  3. Paul Jakma Says:

    Because the regulation is different, as laid out in the service licence. Traditional TV and radio don’t have windows of 7 days, for example.

    So it’s different cause it’s different? I will remind you of this when you next bring up an analogy. 😉

    You’re wrong about the windows. TV has had time-shifting ever since the late 70s and early 80s. Remember how Beta-Max and VHS was going to kill movies back then? They did not – rather they became a major revenue opportunity!

    Note further that the revenue stream from VHS was *complementary* to the “piracy” of home taping.

    Indeed, this raises a further point. If you want to “monetise” these internet streams (not the BBC should have this concern, despite which Rose clearly does), you need to make it easy to create an *industry* around them. This requires industry *standards*, so that companies can operate independently without having to be bottlenecked by having to communicate with a gate-keeper.

    E.g. imagine if every TV and movie company had insisted it would only release its content on its own proprietary video tape systems, so as to ensure consumers could not copy them easily via widely available VHS technology. Would there then ever have been a lucrative market in selling video tapes to rental shops, to rent to consumers? Clearly, no.

    Similarly, if you want to maximise the number of legitimate, rights honouring “internet TV” devices, you are going to *have to* openly specify “internet TV”. If you don’t do so, you will *minimise* the number, and so you will make piracy attractive.

    As a practical example, TVs now all contain computers, and are starting to gain ability to connect to internet. They use a variety of embedded “System on a Chip” (SoC) designs, which tend not to have much CPU capacity (my TV has a 200MHz STMicroelectronics SH4-based CPU). They run quite a wide of software – certainly taxing, if not impossible, for Adobe to support. They are manufactured by a wide range of vendors across the world.

    Do you want those TV makers to be able to effortlessly offer products that can access BBC iPlayer, and hence make iPlayer more valuable to everyone (inc the BBC and other commercially driven parties), or do you want to ensure that many such future TVs and STVs will *NOT*?

    • Paul Jakma Says:

      “imagine if every TV and movie company had insisted..” <- should be "every TV and movie content producer".

      "or do you want to ensure that many such future TVs and STVs will *NOT*?" <- should be "or do you want to ensure that many such future TVs and STBs will *NOT* have that capability".

  4. Paul Jakma Says:


    Copy protection does not stop ignoramuses.

    Back when I was young, I often would buy “bootleg” tapes off the streets, taped from official media or recorded discreetly at concerts. I didn’t have the hardware to copy tapes en masse, but those people certainly did. I bet you’ve done this too.

    Similarly today, even if most are not capable of breaking copy protection themselves, a sufficiently large number of people can and they will make it available via file sharing. And most people quite clearly *can* use file-sharing.

    This seems to be a point you simply refuse to accept, despite history and evidence. So I just give up on trying to impress you with it.

    Finally, it’s worth noting that book publishers have always had to compete with the 2nd hand book market, similarly with vinyl music publishers. The audio casette music publishers had to compete with bootleggers. The video cassette publishers had to compete with home taping.

    Any media industry executive who thinks that digital media will somehow be different, that it will somehow give them near complete control over distribution, is utterly deluded. The sooner they disabuse themselves of this notion, the sooner they can start to take advantage of the opportunities..

    • Paul Jakma Says:

      Oh, the thing to note is that back when I would buy cheap bootlegs is also when I spent the most money on /official/ music.

      Studies have shown the same thing applies generally today with downloading: those who download the most are also the industry’s best customers (at least wrt music industry).

  5. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    “TV has had time-shifting ever since the late 70s and early 80s.”

    But TV has never had a windows regieme like the one laid out in the service licence. There’s no mention in the service licence for BBC ONE for example of windows of 7 days.

    • Mo Says:

      So what?

      (The availability window is just that, incidentally: it’s how long the BBC makes the content available for; BBC ONE doesn’t have an availability window because the nature of the medium means it’s available one frame at a time for the length of that frame, and then no longer available: and yet).

      The length of time the BBC makes content available and the length of time somebody keeps a copy in their house for their personal later viewing do not have to inexorably linked (indeed, in the case of iPlayer Desktop, they’re actually not), save for the fact that to obtain a copy legally, you need to do so during that availability window.

      Going beyond “how long it’s made available” and into “it will be removed from your devices automatically whether you like it or not, whether you have watched it or not” is crossing a line. It doesn’t apply if I bother to set up a PVR in advance, so why should it if I forget and want to take advantage of the catch-up service? It’s nonsensical from a consumer perspective.

      It’s all very well and good saying “but that’s what the service license says”, but that isn’t a justification for why the service license says that, nor is it justification for the means by which that is implemented, and it’s definitely no cost/benefit analysis, which if one has ever been performed on these mechanisms, is likely on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.

      • Paul Jakma Says:

        The reason why, obviously, is cause the technology shift means content providers, publishers, broadcasters, etc.. all have to negotiate new contracts. This gives certain parties the opportunity to try grab more rights than they had before with older media formats.

        All they have to do is convince the public and whatever regulators to accept these new norms.

        The “why” of it is simply: if they can get away with it, they will.

        Personally, I don’t quite understand how those at the BBC can go along with this attempt to change the norms of the social contract between media producers and public. The BBC has the luck of not having to worry terribly about funding. I don’t understand how the BBC benefits from alienating segments of the public – younger ones particularly. It seems a risky path..

  6. Mo Says:

    “I have been known to copy CDs occasionally. What I haven’t done is either copy lots and lots of them and sell them on the local market, or put the files on a website for other people to share (and sell advertising on it).”

    HEY wait a second, I never said anything about redistribution. I asked you if you ripped CDs. That’s it. As in, filled up your {iPod,Walkman,Zune,whatever} with the contents of music you had legally purchased on a different format media.

    I ask this, because you pooh-poohed my references to the Gowers review which urged the Government to drop the portion of copyright law which makes it an act of copyright infringement to format-shift (and indeed the Government promised to enact it, but hasn’t yet, though the regulators are very mindful of the ability to comply when it). Ripping a CD into your iTunes/Windows Media Player/RhythmBox/whatever library is format shifting, and currently copyright infringement. The number of people who defend format-shifting as constituting infringement is rather tiny (even the BPI doesn’t, and they’re one the most out-of-step-with-reality groups I know of).

  7. Mo Says:

    WRT copy-protection on CDs: it pretty much doesn’t exist any more, because the music industry, after several years of irritating customers who had legally obtained music, realised it was doing more harm than good, actively encouraging piracy, and costing not entirely insignificant sums in research, development and implementation for no tangible gain.

    • Paul Jakma Says:

      Note that a circular, shiny disc that has content protection is NOT a CD in the “TM” sense. Philips even sued some large music distribution company to prevent them claiming it was a CD.

      Those copy-protected shiny non-CDs had lots of problems with compatibility, particularly with car CD players, for some reason. They were awful, all they were good for was destroying the “brand” image of CDs being things that worked everywhere without problems – hence the Philips suit.

  8. Mo Says:

    If rights-holders demanded that all BBC staff must wear their T-shirts as a pre-condition for them supplying you with content, would that be okay? What if it was only the on-demand team who had to abide by that — would it be okay then?

  9. Paul Jakma Says:

    Oh, to answer your final question about whether open format + content protection, I think I already answered them on that recent epic BBC blog entry on iPlayer. See comments 174 and 179

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