This morning I came across the following;

>Subject: Re: [GeekUp] Fwd: [ORG-discuss] iPlayer DRM is over?
>From: "Tim Dobson" <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
>Matt Lee has written a howto for dummies here:
>it is less verbose and more onpoint than the flickr entry

Basically, its a how-to describing how you can go and grab the videos being 
made available to iPhone users by the BBC via iPlayer, from pretty much any 
machine, the bonus being that the process and end result are all achievable 
using free software.  The process should be fairly familiar to most people 
receiving this, but it boils down to; "find the actual media source and 
download it".

Now, a number of things concerned me.

Firstly, the fact that the BBC are providing DRM free video, even though I was 
under the impression that this was not possible due to rather complex 
contractual, licensing and policy issues. A statement made by the BBC in June 
2007 seems to confirm that,

"In order to maximise public value, the BBC must balance extending access to 
content with the need to maintain the interests of rights holders and the 
value of secondary rights in BBC programming. Without a time-based DRM 
framework the BBC would not be able to meet the terms of the trust's PVT 
(Public Value Test) decision."

Well the new iPlayer for the iPhone appears to be DRM free, available to 
anyone, anywhere (if my rather quick and dirty look using US proxies are 
anything to go by). Moreover using the process detailed in the how-to, it is 
easily downloadable and indefinitely viewable. 

My second concern is that those of us who are using free software may use this 
method to download the shows we want to watch.  Others will use it to grab 
and immediately re-distribute this BBC content.  Of course this is already 
potentially possible on Windows based machines, by removing the DRM the 
downloaded shows are easly shared.  

With DRM free content now being made available, it may appear that any future 
unauthorised redistribution of this material is somehow related to those of 
us that use free software or asked for a DRM free service.  There is already 
enough confusion about the free software message and the aims of the anti-DRM 

So if the BBC are entitled to distribute this material DRM free for the 
iPhone, why are they not providing it for other platforms? I'm sure 
Mac/Linux/Windows/$other users would quite like DRM free, non-expiring media. 

In addition, I have to wonder about the legality of ripping the BBC's iPlayer 
streams in the manner described in Matt's how-to, it works, and works well 
(or at least it did at around 18:00 today), the end result would be ideal for 
many people in a variety of circumstances.  

If the BBC are not entitled to distribute this material in the manner they are 
doing then how are the BBC going to justify this rather large lapse, a lapse 
caused by trying to support a very small if rather trendy minority group?

The statement made by Anthony Rose to clarify why the iPhone has been singled 
out is,

"We started with iPhone because it is the device most optimised for high 
quality video currently available"

I'm not sure how credible that is, given the raft of multimedia capable mobile 
devices out there (many more capable than the iPhone), I'm surprised that 
this service wasn't geared toward all mobile devices, or even all non-windows 
machines, after all, without a DRM component, it will presumably work on 
quite a few devices and pretty much any modern computer.  (As an addendum, 
I'd love to see the numbers on how many BBC employees' have iPhones... 
although I assume that would be outside the scope of any viable FOI request.)

I note that the service for the iPhone is intended only to be used when the 
iPhone is connected via a wifi connection, in future if it were available via 
the mobile networks there would be a rather large additional concern. 

The iPhone (which is only available on one network in the UK and largley from 
a single provider) would have a rather unique selling point, a benefit that 
would be rather nice in commercial terms for the iPhone's supplier (even more 
than it is currently).  

I am already rather put out that the BBC requires that I use a Windows PC to 
get the full use out of iPlayer (which I cannot and will not do), I'd be even 
more annoyed if it required me to use a specific handset tied to a specific 
mobile carrier to get the best out of its mobile services as well.

I have some stats from earlier in the year that I wanted to look at to see 
exactly how many people using non-windows devices were using the BBC's 
various web services, one thing that struck me (apart from the fact that 
there were in excess of 1 million hits from identifiable Linux users) was the 
sheer number of mobile devices in use.  Now clearly many of these will not be 
multimedia capable devices, but there is an obvious demand for mobile content 
from the BBC. 

From a totally personal point of view, if I could reliably determine that this 
was legal, I would be tempted to see if I could automate this process to some 
degree and then make use of my IPAQ (a Hx4700 running free software) to watch 
the resulting DRM free files when I am on the move.  My PDA's 4' VGA screen 
makes it an ideal mobile media platform, the fact that I have mplayer 
installed and a 2Gb CF card means I could quite reasonably use it when 
travelling to catch up on my favourite BBC content.  Obviously it would also 
mean that I would be able to watch content on my PC (running Debian) whenever 
I wished.

Anyway, to sum up, I am pleased that the BBC is offering DRM free material, it 
is the right thing for the BBC to do, (if that is what they intended).  I am 
rather less pleased that it is not easily usable for those of us without an 
iPhone.  I have some questions about how this new source can be used legally, 
and I wonder how long it will survive as a BBC service.

I'd love to get some comments from the BBC, or other interested parties with 
regard to the issues I have raised (apologies if they have already been 
addressed elsewhere). I'd also like to point out that this (rather larger 
than intended) commentary is not intended as a criticism of the BBC in 
general, the BBC provides me with a large amount of my daily news, 
entertainment and commentary and it does an excellent job doing so.



Andy Halsall

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