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]