Posts Tagged ‘open source’

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?

“You are not a gadget”

April 17, 2010

“I’m not anti-open source. I frequently argue for it in various specific projects. But the politically correct dogma that holds that open source is automatically the best path to creativity and innovation is not bourne out by the facts.”

Says Jaron Lanier on page 126 of his book “You are not a gadget“, which was recently given to me by my friend Simon Hopkins and which I’ve just finished reading.

If you’ve read the book you’ll appreciate that writing a blog post about it seems wierd since one of Jaron’s arguments is that individual creativity (indeed individuality itself) is being restricted by social media sites like Facebook or perhaps indeed WordPress.

But the book did seem relevant to the continuing arguments about DRM (which will doubtless flare up again when I publish this).

One thing that struck me is how American the rhetoric of “open source” and “freedom” is. You won’t hear the word “freedom” bandied about with religious zeal much in the UK general election. This country tends to be more pragmatic, consenual and closed in its approach to culture and politics. And one of the things I liked about the book was its pragmatism.

So pragmatically: where’s the gain in removing all forms of content protection? More specifically in the context of iPlayer – if you did remove all DRM or copy protection from iPlayer (which is not going to happen) what would be the benefit?

Is the pain worth the gain? And what is the gain anyway?

This is a question that I’ve asked before… but seems to be the hard one for people to answer.

“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.

Saving The BBC By Linking

October 10, 2008

It was nice of the Guardian to devote most of their media section on Monday to thoughts on how to save the BBC.

To me, it’s simple.

Anyone who wants to save the BBC should just write to the Culture Secretary and politely ask him not to top slice the licence fee.

For all the kind words in the Guardian though, I’m not sure if the arguments progressed any further and I found it hard to disentangle ideas (certainly new ones) from emotions.

For example the comments on the Guardian’s blog post are too familar:

“The BBC is great and we love your programmes and content” (Thank you very much)


“You’re just a lunch of lefties, and you should be closed down” (You’re entitled to your opinion, you’re wrong but thank you very much)


“It’s all the executives’ fault” (Well, it probably isn’t actually)

So far, so predictable.

A more interesting perspective was provided by a colleague of mine Tom Scott on his personal blog.

Entitled BBC public value in the online world what’s different about Tom’s thoughts is his attempt to see developments in digital media alongside the very heart of what the BBC does: its’ public purposes as outlined in the BBC’s Charter. Here’s a quote:

By joining BBC data, in this fashion, with the rest of the web the Network Effect is magnified yet further. That does benefit to the BBC, but it also benefits the web at large and that is important. The BBC has a role that transcends its business needs – it can help create public value around its content for others to benefit from (assuming, of course, there remains one, non-discriminatory, free and open internet).

Tom is on to something.

In the old world of television the “mixed schedule” was one of the ways the BBC delivered its public purposes. The thinking went (and I summarise crudely) “If we put Panorama next to Eastenders then some people might watch both”.

I don’t think the mixed schedule is dead. But in an on demand world where people can just watch Eastenders whenever or wherever they like it’s clear the BBC needs some new methods of bringing people wonderful things they didn’t know they liked or needed.

And on the internet the method is clearly the link.

How a linking journey that took you from Eastenders to other drama to Shakespeare?

Or that took you from watching Dr Who online on to buy a ticket to see David Tennant in Hamlet?

Or from BBC music content to Wikipedia music content? (Oh yes I forgot the BBC music beta does just that and that’s why it’s such a breakthrough for the BBC).

Let’s take a look at a couple of those public purposes again:

Sustaining citizenship and civil society

(How does citizenship get encouraged – surely by sharing? A citizen has a stake, a link to other citizens?)

Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK

(Sounds like linking to me)

And linking is a lot easier than other ideas like sharing assets, creative commons or ideas around open source as Jemima suggests and common platforms (as the BBC’s blogger in residence Steve Bowbrick suggests – disclaimer – Steve works for me). All these are complex and most bump up against the brutal political realities of the rights regieme and the rights holders’ understandable desire to hold on to their intellectual property.

But links don’t feel like intellectual property or at least they’re not valuable enough for any body to care (yet). And in order to link all the BBC has to do is change its’ culture, not change the law (difficult but easier than facing down the rights holders). And everybody agrees The BBC should link more.

Linking the country together sounds like a tall order.

It also sounds like a job for the BBC.

Freedom? Open source? Show me how!

July 22, 2008

“So the philosophical questions remain:

  • should broadcasters like the BBC allow users to collate other material alongside BBC assets?
  • and if so, how do we technically guarantee that content is appropriate for younger users and doesn’t cross the line with third party rights agreements?”

So says Marc Goodchild of CBBC in this post on the BBC Internet blog (disclaimer – I am the editor of the BBC internet blog).

Marc’s post opens up a pandora’s box of questions which need to be answered if the BBC is to make any progress in the wonderful world of the internet.

Last week I had two meetings.

One was a coffee, really rather than a meeting. It was with a colleague who I respect very much and works in the same part of the BBC as me. He’s a great bloke and chatting to him over many years has helped me learn about what’s going on. He has a legal background and has I think its fair to say not much truck with many of the more fashionable nostrums of the open source/freedom movement in technology and on the net.

“Why should the BBC let anyone use its brands or assets for nothing?” he says (I paraphrase for effect). “What benefit does the BBC get out of it? Why let people play around with our stuff? The brand has a commercial value and a public service value. We need to protect that, not give it away”

A contrast with my other meeting. This was a proper meeting (well, no coffee and in a room). A Controller and someone who wants the BBC more open with its data. The Controller (as they say) “gets it”. He wants people to be able to come to the BBC and know instantly what assets they can take away and how they can play with them.

Easy to say. Tough to do.

As Anna wisely said at the Techcrunch Open BBC event, it’s all very well expecting the BBC’s Director General to “get religion” but that would require the BBC Trust, regulators, rights holders, government, the opposition and the European Commission to get religion too.

And if anything the mood music from all of them is getting tougher. We still seem to be making the same arguments as we did thirty years ago. This recent speech from the new Culture Secretary asks this question:

Have we said content should be free?

(The “we” here is rather important. And the “we” is not the small number of people who might read this blog)

and tellingly:

The music industry has been the canary in the internet coalmine in terms of the consequences of piracy and illegal file-sharing. There is a lot of thinking yet to be done on this question. But we have signalled in our creative economy programme that if the policy and creative industry insiders don’t solve this problem, we will bring the same values of the real world – the values that say shoplifting of a CD is unacceptable – to the internet.

So Marc’s questions are practical challenges to those who think the BBC should open up its assets.

How are you going to do it?

And how are you going to persuade the people with the power that it should be done?