The BBC iPlayer shambles

Cory Doctorow isn’t impressed

In a recent podcast, Ashley Highfield, director of Future Media and Technology for the BBC, remarked on the difficulty of creating an “open source Digital Rights Management system”. This is a system of software locks that prevents unauthorised copying, while still being “open” in the sense of allowing users the freedom to take it apart, understand it and improve upon it.

Highfield is right: you can’t make a free and open DRM system. That’s because DRMs (which some like to call “Digital Restrictions Management”) treat their users as untrusted parties who have to be policed lest they transgress and make naughty copies. DRMs are designed to resist user modification and “tampering” because users might just open them up and remove the prohibitions they impose. For example, the BBC’s iPlayer DRM prevents you from watching a show more than 28 days after you downloaded it. By contrast, shows that you record on your VCR or PC can be watched forever…