Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Freeview and DRM: An update

In an earlier blog I discussed how the BBC was requesting a form of digital rights management for its Freeview High Definition service, which is due to begin rolling out in December. In a submission to Ofcom, the BBC said so-called 'content providers', which is widely taken to mean principally US rights holders, would withhold content if such provisions weren’t put in place. Critics such as the Electronic Freedom Foundation argued that these rights holders were attempting to improperly influence the development of future TV hardware and the move would not be in the public interest.

Despite the brevity of the consultation period, in a letter to the BBC Ofcom yesterday put the proposals on hold. It said it had received a large number of submissions, mainly from consumer groups, who had ‘raised a number of potentially significant consumer “fair use” and competition issues that were not addressed in our original consultation.’ (Such groups included the Open Rights Group, a UK based organisation similar to the EFF that campaigns to ‘preserve and promote your rights in the digital age’.) Ofcom ordered that until these issues have been resolved no DRM requiring a licence, which is the critical point in all this, can be implemented.

Given the imminence of the HD rollout this is something of a cat among the pigeons, but then again the BBC only applied for the change in its broadcasting licence at the end of August. And it seems the BBC is suddenly left holding the baby. According to a contributor to the BBC’s ‘backstage’ mailing list, ‘The big shock was that (and I read all of the responses) no “content provider” was prepared to say why they asked the BBC for it in the first place. No PACT. No BSkyB.’

This strange state of affairs seems to speak ill of the whole exercise. Today would be an interesting one to be a fly on the wall in a number of boardrooms.

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Photo credit Ladybeames Permissions

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