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Secret BBC Documents Reveal Flimsy Case For DRM 199

Posted by timothy
from the rationale-irrational dept.
mouthbeef writes "The Guardian just published my investigative story on the BBC and Ofcom's abuse of secrecy laws to hide the reasons for granting permission for DRM on UK public broadcasts. The UK public overwhelmingly rejected the proposal, but Ofcom approved it anyway, saying they were convinced by secret BBC arguments that couldn't be published due to 'commercial sensitivity.' As the article shows, the material was neither sensitive nor convincing — a fact that Ofcom and the BBC tried to hide from the public."
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Secret BBC Documents Reveal Flimsy Case For DRM

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  • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh@gmail.cCOBOLom minus language> on Monday November 14, 2011 @03:13PM (#38051050) Journal

    Arguments for inherently impossible protection system that consumers hate flawed, news at 11.

    • by Raenex (947668)

      Surprise, surprise, a first post that responds to the title only, and not even the summary. The story isn't that DRM is flawed, the real story here is that secrecy laws were evoked to redact commentary from the BBC. Concluding paragraph from the article:

      Welcome to DRM Britain. Our BBC will give privileges to American TV companies that the US government won't give them, and our "independent" regulator won't even tell us why.

      • Re:Surprise surprise (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Moryath (553296) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:04PM (#38051672)

        Britain does this... the US government does this... the fundamental problem would seem to be politicians + businesses + money = corruption, as a definitive formula, no?

        • by peragrin (659227)

          well I always thought it was more like
          (Politicians + Businesses)*(money + perceived power) = corruption.

          I put perceived power in there because most of a politicians power comes from the thought of power that their office holds with what it actually does.

          the President of the United States supposedly the most powerful position on EArth really only has three hammers with which to fix things. Lawyers, diplomats, and Military. He has no other tool. what's worse is his diplomats and Military are partially cont

          • by Bucky24 (1943328)

            the President of the United States supposedly the most powerful position on EArth really only has three hammers with which to fix things. Lawyers, diplomats, and Military. He has no other tool. what's worse is his diplomats and Military are partially controlled by Congress.

            For being so Powerful he really can't do much.

            It's that way on purpose, so that the "most powerful man in the world" doesn't become a dictator.

    • by wildstoo (835450)

      Ok, it seems you're not the only one who gets this wrong, so...

      PEDANT MODE ACTIVATED.

      The term is "Film at 11".

      It comes from the dim and distant past, when news broadcasts from out in the field were recorded on actual film, which had to be cut and processed in studio before it could be aired.

      A story would be announced earlier in the evening, promising the "film at 11", when you could tune in and actually see the footage.

      Get it now, Mr Frosty Piss?

  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Monday November 14, 2011 @03:23PM (#38051154)
    The Entrenched Interests are going to use every means, including illegal ones, to maintain and extend their hold over content that they profit from. When America was established one of the major things that they overthrew (so major that is is part of the original Constitution) was the concept of Forever Copyrights -- and they were better off for it. Those Entrenched Interests never went away however, and they try to chip away at those rights at every opportunity. We are very close to the point, if not past it, where copyright infringement becomes civil disobedience -- if not a civil duty.
    • by Enderandrew (866215) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {werdnaredne}> on Monday November 14, 2011 @03:40PM (#38051378) Homepage Journal

      Content owners do have a right to make money from their content.

      But the argument for DRM is a poor one. It punishes paying customers while not stopping piracy. Even worse, content owners/providers have to pay money to license DRM technology. It is a lose-lose scenario.

      The CEO of Warner Brothers at the time predicted iTunes would fail, because no one would willingly pay for digital content. He compared it to Coca Cola coming out of the faucet for free, so why would someone willingly pay for a Coke?

      As it turns out, people do like supporting things they enjoy, and iTunes is the largest retailer of music on the planet. Frankly, I think Apple has enough clout that they could make a difference here. They successfully sell DRM-free music. They need to publicly make the argument for why DRM is a broken concept so that the big players finally listen.

      The MPAA/RIAA won't listen to Google because they think Google is the devil.

      • by ackthpt (218170) on Monday November 14, 2011 @03:47PM (#38051454) Homepage Journal

        Content owners do have a right to make money from their content.

        But the argument for DRM is a poor one. It punishes paying customers while not stopping piracy. Even worse, content owners/providers have to pay money to license DRM technology. It is a lose-lose scenario.

        The CEO of Warner Brothers at the time predicted iTunes would fail, because no one would willingly pay for digital content. He compared it to Coca Cola coming out of the faucet for free, so why would someone willingly pay for a Coke?

        As it turns out, people do like supporting things they enjoy, and iTunes is the largest retailer of music on the planet. Frankly, I think Apple has enough clout that they could make a difference here. They successfully sell DRM-free music. They need to publicly make the argument for why DRM is a broken concept so that the big players finally listen.

        The MPAA/RIAA won't listen to Google because they think Google is the devil.

        Back in the days of Mozart, once an opera was performed for the first time it fell into public domain. You were allowed to make money on your first show and by doing the best peformance of said show for as long as the public would support you. You were thus encouraged to keep creating.

        Roll to the present and if you have one good song, you employ copyright to make money from it for the rest of your life, plus 70 years for whatever offspring you had or the profit of whomever you sold the rights to.

        Since Apple is not writing or performing, they'll make money because there's always a new hot song out tomorrow. **AA are terrified they won't have scratch for their lunch money or to keep their stock price up for tomorrow.

        • That economic model wouldn't work today. Most new artists wouldn't be able to make much money from one public showing. And as evil as the record industry is, they do pay for the expensive/elaborate tours.

          I think you can make the argument to shorten copyright, but I think instead of setting a hard/fast length of years, a simpler solution would be an abandonware system.

          5 years from the date of the last retail sale, the content enters the public domain. So long as people are still buying the item (such as the

          • by dmacleod808 (729707) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:13PM (#38051792)
            So I, being Rick Astley, can simply go to the store once every 5 years and buy my own album? And put provisions in my will for my estate to do the same in perpetuity?
            • If only one person is buying a copy, then retailers won't keep it in stock.

              • Ok Itunes or other digital service, It is negligible overhead for them to "keep it in stock"
                • by ackthpt (218170)

                  Ok Itunes or other digital service, It is negligible overhead for them to "keep it in stock"

                  This has been the future of Retailing Music, it is becoming the Retailing of video forms of entertainment.

                  I don't expect to see anyone in the developed world still selling CDs in 10 years time. The bar has vastly lowered for aspiring artists, which is a good thing. Technology now means you can sell or even perform over the internet. You've always had the ability to play live, as long as you can find a venue that'll have you.

              • by Adriax (746043)

                Except then the music companies could just run a small outlet store that keeps 1 of every album they own in stock, and hire someone as a "service quality tester" to go in and purchase one of every album once a year (or once every 2-4 years).

                Make it require independent retail sales and customer purchases? Massive discount to said store owner for the albums so they could keep them in stock, and a running "promotion" where if someone purchases 1 of each album and sends the receipts in they get prize money equa

          • by jonbryce (703250)

            Most people would prefer to have the work performed by the original artist rather than a tribute band, and concert tickets are selling better than they ever have done in the past, so I don't agree with your assertion.

            • by ackthpt (218170)

              Most people would prefer to have the work performed by the original artist rather than a tribute band, and concert tickets are selling better than they ever have done in the past, so I don't agree with your assertion.

              Though I can't cite the source, I did hear or read that bands make far more money on tour (money they get to keep) than they do from album sales (most of which probably go to the record company.) Perhaps this is why bands tour as much as they do.

          • by ari_j (90255)

            That's a bad idea because (among other reasons that others have posted) it requires you to investigate whether any of the millions-every-day retail sales of content that occurred in the preceding 5 years was for the content you will be claiming is now in the public domain. On the other side of the same coin, the artist would have to do the same except for a much longer time period to prove that at least one sale every 5 years occurred in order to retain his rights.

          • by microbox (704317)

            Most new artists wouldn't be able to make much money from one public showing.

            You are under the mistaken impression that artists make art for the money. Why do you think the record companies are able to rip them off so much?

      • He compared it to Coca Cola coming out of the faucet for free, so why would someone willingly pay for a Coke?

        Water comes out of the faucet for free, but plenty of people buy bottled water.

      • by Motor (104119)

        This isn't about piracy.

        It's about all the legally made TVs/videos having to obey bullshit rules - unskippable bits, not allow you to record a show, only keeping it for X amount of time.

        It won't do a damned thing to stop copying. If you make TVs you'll need to sign a legal agreement in order to "decrypt the content" however trivial that encruption is. It'll just allow content companies to ensure that THEY control the people who make TVs - and will sue any of them who don't hop into line. They make the rules

      • by Muad'Dave (255648)

        He compared it to Coca Cola coming out of the faucet for free, so why would someone willingly pay for a Coke?

        People willingly pay for water, for Pete's sake, which does come out of a faucet for free. Sometimes it's perception (bottled water seems to taste better), sometimes it's convenience (I'm at an airshow and it's 100 degrees).

        It sounds like Mr. WB CEO has no idea what people want or are willing to spend money on.

      • by Medievalist (16032) on Monday November 14, 2011 @05:01PM (#38052362)

        Content owners do have a right to make money from their content.

        Really? OK, I'll make a movie that nobody wants to see, and nobody wants to buy, and spend my life's savings on it! Society will owe me money! Wooooohoooooo! I'm in the benjamins, baby!

        Absolute statements are rarely correct. In Real Life [tm] a group of citizens have decided to permit certain types of unfair restriction of trade in order to achieve a greater good. But nobody has a "right" in the absolute, moral sense, to make money for painting a picture, recording noise, etc., etc. It is a contrived, fictious legal right meant to serve a purpose, and if it is not serving said purpose it then the law is unjust.

        • by Bucky24 (1943328)
          Good point. The statement probably should be "Content owners have the right to make money when their content is distributed"
          • by drsmithy (35869)

            Good point. The statement probably should be "Content owners have the right to make money when their content is distributed"

            And it would still be wrong.

            What content owners have, ostensibly, is a right to control the distribution of their content.

            It is questionable, however, whether a) this right should exist, or b) that it should exist so expansively.

      • by deblau (68023)

        Content owners do not have a right to make money from their content, and neither do artists. If I, a mediocre musician, toil away for months putting together a crap song that no one will buy, who do I sue for infringing my "rights"?

        The same argument also applies to health care, education, and all sorts of other things (generally called entitlements, lord knows why) that, while useful in a productive society, do not give rise to actual rights. For example, if I had a right to be healthy, I could sue you fo

      • Content owners do have a right to make money from their content.

        Actually no they do not. They have a right to TRY to make money. Just like Bank of America does not have a "right to make a profit" they only have a right to TRY to make a profit.

        It is a subtle distinction but it matters a whole lot and frames the discussions a little differently.

    • by abigsmurf (919188) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:04PM (#38051668)
      Yeah, why doesn't the BBC hold itself to the values upon which America was founded! It's like they don't think the constitution applies to them or something!
    • by russotto (537200) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:04PM (#38051670) Journal

      Those Entrenched Interests never went away however, and they try to chip away at those rights at every opportunity. We are very close to the point, if not past it, where copyright infringement becomes civil disobedience -- if not a civil duty.

      Civil disobedience is defeated. First of all, if you want to commit civil disobedience, you've got to be able to show your situation is at least as bad as Jim Crow, or you'll be sneered at rather than sympathized with. Since no one in the mainstream will believe DRM is as bad as Jim Crow (even if they believe it is bad at all, which is unlikely), you're done there.

      Second, civil disobedience won't work when the result of disobedience is that you are quietly punished. You need to be _noisily_ punished without being portrayed as a mere criminal, which means you need the support of the media... who are your opponents.

      Third, most mainstream people agree with the RIAA's position, when push comes to shove. Oh, they'll violate it left and right, but if you put it to them, they'd agree it's wrong to do so. And they'd see anyone trying to fight about it as merely trying to avoid responsibility for their actions. Authority bias is rampant today; if you can be seen as an authority (as the RIAA is), anyone opposing you is automatically wrong.

      • by mlts (1038732) *

        Nail, head hit. To the unwashed masses, DRM is made to be just like a lock on a vending machine or a fish-resistant guard on a deposit box. It is something that sucks, but people dismiss as part of what they get.

        I doubt this mentality will go away anytime soon. Just like how people compare copyright infringement with theft (or murder). Infringement [1] is more akin to Beavis and Butthead sneaking into an empty theater to watch Twilight than someone shoplifting a DVD of it.

        So, we will deal with the DRM c

        • by drsmithy (35869)

          [1]: Infringement on a non commercial nature. Of course, copying someone's CD to sell it is a completely different ballgame and is actual theft (as it removed legitimate revenue from the IP holder).

          No, it's not theft and it hasn't implicitly "removed legitimate revenue from the IP holder".

          It's still Copyright Infringement, it's just a more serious example of it.

    • I'm sorry, what does this have to do with the BBC?
      You talk about the use of means to maintain control over content for profit, but when the owner is itself a publicly owned body, what's the problem if the people in the country in question have free access?
  • by argStyopa (232550) on Monday November 14, 2011 @03:26PM (#38051192) Journal

    ...so if the government were headed with a real leader (ie instead of a toady to their special-interests), they would confront whoever was the HEAD of the board that made such a statement.

    They could discuss the fact that while some government activities necessarily need such protections ("we'd tell you but it's too secret!"), the corrosive and pernicious nature of such justifications when they are revealed to be absolute bullshit makes it critical that any government official resorting to said evasion to protect what is otherwise a weakly-justified decision needs to be punished in the most public and visceral way to show that we (the Government) bears that public trust most seriously.

    And then punch them in the face, knock them to the ground, and fire them - banning them from ever working for the government in ANY capacity, ever.

    What are the odds that would happen?

    As an American, I would love that to happen more here, too.

    • What are the odds that would happen?

      In the same country that has "super-injunctions" and doesn't find them funny or disgusting at all? Somewhere between zero and negative infinity.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Well it couldn't happen as discussed, because _neither_ Ofcom nor the BBC are a function of government. Ofcom is government-approved (but not an arm of the government), and the BBC is wholly independent (with a constitution established by Royal charter, but not under Crown control).

        Our government is wisely engineered almost totally out of this picture.

      • In the same country that has "super-injunctions" and doesn't find them funny

        I think anyone who watches Have I Got News For You finds them quite funny...

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      ...so if the government were headed with a real leader (ie instead of a toady to their special-interests), they would confront whoever was the HEAD of the board that made such a statement.

      They could discuss the fact that while some government activities necessarily need such protections ("we'd tell you but it's too secret!"), the corrosive and pernicious nature of such justifications when they are revealed to be absolute bullshit makes it critical that any government official resorting to said evasion to protect what is otherwise a weakly-justified decision needs to be punished in the most public and visceral way to show that we (the Government) bears that public trust most seriously.

      And then punch them in the face, knock them to the ground, and fire them - banning them from ever working for the government in ANY capacity, ever.

      What are the odds that would happen?

      As an American, I would love that to happen more here, too.

      I think there's a rule somewhere which says you can't punch the Prime Minister.

      Or did you have someone else in mind?

    • ...so if the government were headed with a real leader (ie instead of a toady to their special-interests), they would confront whoever was the HEAD of the board that made such a statement.

      No.

      It is antithetical to the very nature of the BBC for them to give in to government pressure. Ever.

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Monday November 14, 2011 @03:28PM (#38051214) Homepage Journal

    Not really surprised, is anyone? Probably lied for a reason, rather than out of laziness or bull-headed intransigence, but you'll either have to dig a bit more or ask yourself, "Who benefits from this lie?"

  • by Jerry Atrick (2461566) on Monday November 14, 2011 @03:32PM (#38051256)
    Luckily the encryption is simply a 'secret' huffman table and already available for MythTV, MediaPortal and I guess every other OSS PVR software usable in the UK. It's almost as if the secrecy was about BSing the rights holders knowing full well there was no actual protection in place...
    • The story Cory's reporting about is the policies that BBC wants to set for its own programming, and is trying to force everybody else to support technically. It's especially obnoxious because the BBC's content is paid for by the license fees of British television and radio users, so it's trying to sell the public's own content back to the public. And it's especially frustrating because early on. the BBC announced that their policy towards the Internet would be to make everything available for free downloa

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Monday November 14, 2011 @03:32PM (#38051266) Journal

    Guess this might finally convince those who think the BBC is unbiased about how wrong they are. The BBC has been caught out so many times in the past yet people continue to believe they are any more credible then Fox or Reuters. Unbiased != telling me what I want to hear.

    • by DaveGod (703167) on Monday November 14, 2011 @03:59PM (#38051602)

      Right here [bbc.co.uk].

      On this new Guardian piece? Not that I can see yet. But having read the piece, why would they? There's nothing new in it. The Guardian now get to add some quotation marks to exact wording for things which were all described before.

      Worse, they quote plain-English paragraphs then paraphrase it and tell you what you should interpret from it. All supposition, opinion and subjectivity.

      DRM on BBC broadcasts is an arse, but so is this article.

    • by abigsmurf (919188) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:10PM (#38051742)
      How exactly does this show bias on the BBC? It was a matter that directly and primarily affected their programming. They were always going to have to pick a viewpoint and stick by it. If being in favour of DRM was a biased viewpoint, so is being against. As the whole issue centred around them, they couldn't pick the middle ground either.

      The BBC is more than willing to be incredibly critical of itself, if you'd have seen their coverage of the Hutton Inquiry, you would've known that. I've never seen any news agency quite so willing to cover news stories that damn themselves.
  • Reasons that spring to mind for such a flimsy case:

    Is someone getting a future payoff (going to work for these 'rightsholders')?

    Is someone just so crap at negotiating, they can't even understand that these US rightsholders don't use DRM in their own countries and so have no real leverage to insist on it elsewhere - admittedly, this would require incompetence of the highest order, but we are talking about BBC management, which has proven both spineless and ineffectual in any number of areas.

    Regardless of the

  • Secret laws ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Monday November 14, 2011 @03:40PM (#38051376) Homepage

    and finally, the full rules set out by DTLA for its DRM were governed by confidentiality agreements, which meant that UK manufacturers would be ordered to comply with a set of secret rules that the public wasn't allowed to know.

    So, I'm of the opinion that any law, regulation, or treaty which the public isn't allowed to know the specifics of should be null and void.

    You simply can't have "secret laws" in a free society.

    And, once again it seems the US-based media companies are trying to get laws abroad they can't have domestically. Then they'll point to those laws as something that needs to be done domestically in order to keep pace with the rest of the world.

    At this rate, the "rights holders" will be the ones who dictate to us how technology can be used on the assumption that everything everybody does is "stealing" from them. (My god, two people could watch this show and nobody would know!!)

    • by jonbryce (703250)

      The law itself, that broadcasters are required to use DRM for HD transmissions, is freely available from legislation.gov.uk . What is secret is the reasons the BBC gave to parliament as to why it should be implemented.

  • by ChumpusRex2003 (726306) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:17PM (#38051842)

    The technical issues behind this fracas are even more banal, and so trivial that it's already been reverse engineered. In effect, the "DRM" was purely a closed specification, and not a technological measure such as encryption.

    Unsurprisingly, the specification has already been deployed in popular open-source projects.

    For those interested, the technical extent of the "DRM" and "encryption" was the use of a pre-calculated Huffman table, which must be embedded in the receiver firmware, in order to obtain the programme guide.

  • It's a con trick (Score:5, Interesting)

    by badfish99 (826052) on Monday November 14, 2011 @05:26PM (#38052666)

    It's a con trick by the BBC.

    No-one wants DRM on the BBC's broadcasts; not even the BBC themselves. But many content providers, especially American ones, are trying to insist on it. So the BBC have devised a very clever way to con the content providers.

    The trick is to put DRM into the broadcast version of the program guide, that tells you what is on when. This was announced with great fanfare as "the BBC is adding DRM to its broadcasts", with no mention of the small technical detail that the actual video and audio will have no DRM. So the content providers think that they have got their way, but there will be no impediment at all to (for example) capturing a broadcast off the air and making a torrent out of it. Articles like TFA are part of the con: they help convince the content providers that they have got what they want, which in turn induces them to sell stuff to the BBC that we might otherwise not see.

    The commercial set-top-box manufacturers don't care, because they have to cater for genuine DRM on the commercial channels anyway. And the hobbyists who are running software such as MythTV don't care, because they download the program guide from the BBC website, which conveniently provides it in machine-readable form with no DRM.

  • Whether the tyrant is a corporate thug or a bloated bureaucrat, that jack boot goose-steps just the same. It is time for us to forever alter the conversations surrounding wealth, competition, social and global benefit, altruism and enlightened self interest. More important, just as we gave up slavery as an acceptable social practice, its time for us to give up political and economic blind self interest. Accommodating corporations of any type, at the expense of human justice is a crime against humanity.

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