February 17, 2010 | Jim Killock

BBC iplayer DRM raises its head again: now for the iphone

 The BBC is announcing a new iPlayer iphone app today: providing, they will say, new ways for BBC citizens to access content.

They will apologise for taking time to bring their new application to new plaforms.

They will not, however, remind you that a number of your legal rights are being denied, including several upon which your freedom of speech may depend.

  • You will be denied the ability to record and ‘time shift’ content as you wish, your legal right when content is broadcast
  • You will denied your legal right to take small snippets of programs for criticism and review
  • You will denied your legal right to take small snippets of news and to report those quotes as you see them

Let’s remember when war was declared on Iraq. When Blair made his case, and told the world that the war was legal, and justified, you had the legal right to take that statement from the BBC and use it on your own blog, pro or anti-war website to make your own free criticisms of it.

But with iplayer, and other DRM systems, you are point blank breaking the law if you take that speech and use it – even though you wish to exercise your right to free speech, supposedly guaranteed in copyright law. This is because it is also illegal to get round copy restriction systems.

That’s right. You must break the law to use your legal rights. That’s very wrong. In a world full of bloggers, where free speech is genuinely being exercised publicly by thousands of individuals, these rights really matter.

The ability to time shift is just as important, as a ‘consumer right’, because such everyday activity needs to take place. It may not be a legal right, as content is not broadcast, but it remains an expectation, and your other rights depend on your ability to time shift that content. With the BBC, it is doubly important, as their customers are citizens who have already paid their licence fee.

There is an easy answer, which is to stop using Digital Rights Management, and to provide content through simple, cross platform tools.

Let’s remember, the BBC is a public institution with a duty to the public, to inform and help public debate. It needs to maintain trust – and increasingly closed platforms will restrict debate and undermine our trust.

[NOTE: iphone video apps do not generally allow content to be moved to or from the iphone, this can usually only be done via itunes; so it is possible the actual content would not have DRM, but restrictions would be made entirely though software]

[Further note: this article has been clarified to make it clear that time shifting rights only apply to simultaneous broadcast content on the net]

Comments (15)

  1. Jim Killock:
    Feb 17, 2010 at 01:34 PM

    Paul, fair points, but the BBC's basic commitment to restriction is what I was trying to highlight here.

  2. Nick Reynolds:
    Feb 17, 2010 at 01:56 PM

    People here may be interested in this blog post from the BBC Internet blog. Although it's about DRM in a different context the same arguments are relevant:


    (Surely the "basic committment to restriction" here is from Apple, not the BBC?)

  3. Neil Gall:
    Feb 17, 2010 at 12:43 PM

    Nowhere on the BBC article does it mention DRM. Of course that is a guarantee of nothing but without any attribution or source for your allegations this looks like open-source-fundamentalist fearmongering.

    And why shouldn't the BBC develop iPhone apps as a distribution means, if that's what people want? It's not as if the broadcast TV network is open for all, is it? Get some perspective.

  4. Anonymous:
    Feb 17, 2010 at 12:33 PM

    "Stop using DRM"? Agree 120%

    "Provide content through simple, cross-platform tools"? What, exactly, did you have in mind? A web-browser? That is precisely the user experience you do NOT want to offer. An iPhone user wants to see a dedicated iPlayer iPhone app. There is no cross-platform way to go about that.

  5. Jim Killock:
    Feb 17, 2010 at 12:40 PM

    Perhaps so, but assuming it's the content users are after, if the content is DRM-free, then moving it to a specific device is relatively easy. The iPhone's own restrictions of course make it very difficult to do this from within the iphone - which is another question!

  6. Guy Freeman:
    Feb 17, 2010 at 04:12 PM

    What is the law that makes it "illegal to get round copy restriction systems"? I understand the DMCA applies in the USA; what is the equivalent in the UK? Thanks!

    NB. I also don't see the problem here. If people insist on using a closed-down app like the iphone to watch the iplayer, then they only themselves to blame if they can't access freely access the content [unless I misunderstood the situation]. What do you suggest the BBC does in this case, apart from not offer an iphone app at all?

  7. Jim Killock:
    Feb 17, 2010 at 05:24 PM

    Hi Guy, you and others are right to reflect that the problem is with DRM in general rather than one particular app, whether the restriction's are to do with the platform, or the content. I'm sure it would be far more acceptable for certain distribution channels to be limited in functionality if the key distribution was not.

    The anti-circumvention laws were last amended in the UK Copyright Act in 2003

  8. Jim Killock:
    Feb 17, 2010 at 12:47 PM

    Hi Neil,

    We spoke directly to the BBC this morning, and they did not tell us any differently.

    However, as iphone video apps do not generally allow content to be moved to or from the iphone, and content is usually only moved via itunes; it is possible the actual content would not have DRM, but restrictions would be made entirely though software

  9. Paul Pod:
    Feb 17, 2010 at 01:22 PM

    The functionality of an app should not include every possible use of the content that app uses.

    Surely as long as the same content is available without DRM online, the lack of the software functionality to cut-paste-reuse the content on a specific application for a specific platform is not an issue.

    iPhone specific: I can't even cut-copy-reuse my own online videos that are viewable on an iphone - this isn't a DRM issue, missing functionality is not the same as a restriction.

  10. Tom:
    Feb 18, 2010 at 12:21 AM

    The iPhone is a nice device sold by a company with very restrictive policies on content (Apple). The BBC have written an app for it, so the content is restricted - so far nothing particularly strange. What is strange is the point you make about the BBC's stance generally on the availability and re-use of their online content/material. I've noted this many times myself. "The BBC is a public institution with a duty to the public" - you are right and I had always assumed their main problem was with the fact that it was difficult to restrict the content across international boundaries, and they could be at risk of breaking laws in other countries. However, I no longer think that is the case because they manage to restrict non-DRM content by IP only, so presumably they are doing this purely because they want to prevent individuals from retaining any of the content on their PCs? Odd when you consider how widely available freeview recorders are. I genuinely don't understand it and wonder whether, at least in part, it is yet another example of decisions relating to technical matters being made by basically non-technical people.

  11. Kate:
    Nov 28, 2010 at 11:59 AM

    When you struggle to get informations for you pos then you consider it is normal to be illegal to get round copy restriction systems. Open platforms use different systems and people should learn somehow to respect each other, by respecting the copyrights. But still, we love to be informed, no matter what the sources are. Or am I wrong?

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    Feb 28, 2011 at 06:08 PM

    This really answered my problem, thank you!

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    Mar 01, 2011 at 12:39 AM

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