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Response to BBC DRM Consultation


As has been reported by Tom Watson MP, Cory Doctorow, the Open Rights Group, Danny O'Brien at the EFF, and the BBC itself, the BBC has petitioned OFCOM to be allowed to encrypt metadata in over-the-air digital terrestrial broadcasts. The BBC plan to use the encryption key for this data as leverage against manufacturers of decoder devices; if they want to be able to use DVB-T2's automatic tuning, Electronic Programme Guide (EPG), interactive teletext and other features, they can license a copy of the encryption key -- but only if they also promise to implement various optional anti-features into their products.

This is exactly the same mechanism that the DVD Copy Control Association used to force all DVD player manufacturers to implement region-coding restrictions, various (ineffectual) copy protection techniques, and those annoying unskippable bits that you get at the start of a film.


As a result of the BBC's request, OFCOM have opened a short two-week public consultation on the matter which closes on Sept 16th 2009. This is my response:

From: David McBride <redacted>
To: Andrew Drumbreck <Andrew.Dumbreck@ofcom.org.uk>
Subject: Re: Consultation on amendments to DTT high definition multiplex license

Dear sir,

This is a response to the consultation currently being run by Ofcom on the subject of amendments to the BBC Free to View Ltd DTT high definition multiplex licence -- specifically, regarding the proposals to encode using a secret key the SI components of DTT broadcasts:


I am making this response as a private citizen, and not as a representative of any other organisation.

The BBC have relayed a request from content rightsholders, that OFCOM allow the BBC to use a combination of technical and legal measures to force DVB-T2 decoder manfuacturers to implement the optional content-management facilities specified in the DTG D-Book.

As justification, rightsholders are making the argument that "content management applied in the receiver after reception helps prevent mass piracy."

Firstly, this argument is manifestly and clearly untrue. No content management system ever deployed has ever successfully withstood scrutiny, nor have any combination of such systems been effective at preventing the redistribution en masse of published copyright works.

There are numerous examples of enormously expensive public failures, ranging from the Content Scrambling System (CSS) employed on DVDs, to the AACS employed on HD-DVDs and Blu-ray disks, to the Fairplay system implemented by Apple, to the equivilent technologies developed by Microsoft. Even hiding secret keys inside silicon chips in embedded devices such as games consoles manufactured by Sony, Nintendo et al has proven ineffective.

Despite all of these measures, any commercial content published by anyone, anywhere of any significance is readily available for illicit download on the Internet. Any claims to the contrary flies in the face of all the evidence, and must be substantiated if it is to be given any credence whatsoever.

Secondly, the changes proposed here by the BBC would be a violation of the long-standing principles and history of open broadcasting standards in the UK.

Betraying this principle in this case would not achieve the stated aims of preventing unauthorized re-distribution of commercial content. Moreover, such a change would be contrary to the public interest, as it would allow content creators to exert undue influence over content distribution channels.

It is not possible for those outside of the industry to be fully aware of the effects of this change; the latest revisions of the DTG D-Book -- which specify the content management capabilities which receiver manufacturers will be called upon to implement -- is not available to the public for review. Therefore, it is not clear exactly what additional content-control capabilities rightsholders will be able to exercise.

For example, it is entirely plausible that these controls will include: time-limits for how long recordings may be stored; playback-limits governing how many times recordings may be rendered; capability-limits governing exactly what kinds of audio/video interfaces content may be rendered towards; playback restrictions preventing the skipping of interstitial advertisements; and so on.

Rightsholders (read: US media conglomerates) are pushing the BBC to implement a non-standard protocol hack in order try to force hardware manufacturers to implement copy- and playback-protection anti-features that they and their customers do not want.

I strongly suspect that the BBC doesn't want to implement these changes, but are under enormous pressure to do so from these third-party rightsholders, from whom they're obligated under their charter to obtain a substantial proportion of their programming.

There is precedent in these matters; see also the case of the Broadcast Flag that the US FCC were lobbied to introduce: here, rightsholders threatened to withhold broadcast of "premium" content if their demands for additional control over distribution channels wasn't met. The FCC denied their request.

I believe that the public interest would be best served if OFCOM were to follow in the footsteps of the FCC and unambiguously refuse permission for these requested changes. I therefore counsel you to do just that.

Kind regards,
David McBride