The Guardian just published an investigative piece I’ve been working on since the summer: “How the BBC’s HD DRM plot was kept secret … and why.” It contains the previously secret text of a memo that the BBC sent to the UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, explaining why they wanted to put DRM on publicly funded broadcasts.
The British public overwhelmingly rejected this approach, as did archivists, tech companies, activists, scholars, disabled rights groups and others. But Ofcom granted permission anyway, saying that the BBC’s secret memo made a compelling case for DRM being in the public interest. Both Ofcom and the BBC refused to disclose what the BBC’s arguments had been, declining both press queries and Freedom of Information requests.
Essentially, the BBC and Ofcom were saying that DRM was in the public interest, but it wasn’t in the public interest for the public to know why. I acquired a copy of the secret text and, as I think you’ll see, it does not contain any sort of compelling evidence in support of DRM. Rather, it makes flimsy and sometimes laughable arguments (for example, the BBC says HBO demands DRM on its programming, but HBO has an exclusive deal with BBC rival Sky, so it won’t be licensing new programming to the BBC, with our without DRM). What’s more, the BBC’s claim that this material was “commercially sensitive” doesn’t bear up to scrutiny — is it really “commercially sensitive” for the BBC to publish the fact that people like to watch movies on TV?
At the end of the day, I’m left with the impression I got the first time I met with Ofcom about this: that Ofcom wanted this and the BBC wanted it, and regardless of the public interest, the evidence, or the law, they’d get it. In my opinion, the secrecy that Ofcom and the BBC deployed here was only there to allow them to say, “Well, it seems difficult to understand why we’re doing this, but that’s only because we can’t tell you about the important, secret stuff.”
Here the BBC discusses its plan to accommodate educators, critics and archivists. It plans on establishing a confidential marketplace for more powerful “professional” TV receivers and recorders that can defeat its scrambling system. This bizarre system – creating an entity that would have to manufacture and distribute these devices, after approving the credentials of archivists, critics and scholars – is meant to be kept secret because it makes it clear that it would be easy to defeat the scheme.
So here you have the BBC claiming in one breath that its partners want effective protection from copying, and in the next breath saying that this won’t be very effective protection.
Funnily enough, “this will be easy to defeat” is a point that many of the individuals and institutions who formed the majority opposed to this plan made in their statements.