BBC tries to sneak in ‘Broadcast Flag’ DRM by the back door

Terrific piece by Cory Doctorow.

As the BBC readies itself to begin free-to-air high-definition broadcasts, it has petitioned Ofcom for permission to encrypt part of the broadcast signal – specifically, the data-channel that contains instructions for decoding and playing back the video. The corporation argues that because it isnt encrypting the actual video just the stuff that makes it possible to watch it that it isnt violating the rule against encrypting its programmes.

The encryption keys necessary to decode BBC programmes will be limited to companies that agree to the terms set out in the Digital Transmission Licensing Administrator agreement, something created by a bunch of non-UK companies in co-operation with the Hollywood studios. This agreement includes requirements to encrypt any stored programmes and any digital outputs on the device, so that anyone who wants to make a device that plugs into a DTLA-licensed box will also have to take a DTLA licence. Its a kind of perfect, airtight bubble in which all manufacturers are required to limit their designs to include only those features which make the big studios happy. These limitations – on recording, storing, and moving programmes – are not the same as “what copyright allows”. Rather, they are, “what makes the movie studios comfortable”.

I’ll say it again: the public’s deal with the BBC is: we pay you the licence fee, you give us programmes, we can do what we want with them within the confines of copyright law. The studios promised that they would boycott US free-to-air television unless they got a version of this called the ‘Broadcast Flag’. They didn’t get the Broadcast Flag, and they didn’t boycott. They have shareholders to answer to, and those shareholders won’t put up with corporate tantrums that promise no licensing revenue until the rest of the world rearranges itself to the company’s convenience.

This is important. Time to look out that list of BBC Trust members. And the OFCOM directory.