New and Improved News

by Maria on February 22, 2007

Last week I posted rather breathlessly about the amount of content the BBC is putting online for free downloads. At the back of my mind, I had a little niggley thought which I chose not to pursue; wasn’t the BBC doing something a while back to get its whole archive online so that any member of the global public could rip, mix and burn? And hadn’t Cory Doctorow of EFF/BoingBoing been doing some work on this at some point?

That very day, a post on BoingBoing had the following to say;

“The BBC had so much promise a few years ago, back when it was talking about delivering real, world-class public value to license payers by doing the hard work of clearing the footage in the archive and letting the public remix it. Now that vision has been reduced to a sham — the BBC iPlayer, a steaming pile of DRM that restricts you to being a mere consumer of BBC programming, downloading it to your PC for a mere seven days.

For a minute there, the BBC seemed like it would enable a creative nation. Now it’s joining the jerks in Hollywood who think that media exists to be passively swallowed by a legion of glassy eyed zombie audience members. ”

The Beeb’s excuse is that it’s looking for an ‘open standards DRM’, an inherent contradiction if ever there was, and also that it can’t clear its archive. Doctorow points out the weakness of the latter claim; if BBC was so worried about past clearing archival footage, it would be working to “prospectively clear everything in its production pipeline, something that could have been done five years ago”. As he says, the BBC exists to make its content maximally available to the public.

BBC consultation on ‘on demand’ services here (boingboing link to it is broken). BBC Backstage podcast of a discussion on BBC and DRM here.



leederick 02.22.07 at 7:06 pm

“As he says, the BBC exists to make its content maximally available to the public.”

No it doesn’t. The purpose of the BBC is not to use tax extracted from the British public to provide non-residents with free stuff. It’s in their charter.


Tim Sullivan 02.22.07 at 7:57 pm

Given hopes and ambitions for the semantic web, it seems ludicrous for big organizations to hold onto content in order to . . . what exactly? Maintain control of something? Whatever the motivation, as data becomes more machine readable, searchable, and intelligent, locking material up, limiting its possibilities, will make the organization in question a much less significant player in all of those aspects of culture mediated by the internet. That seems a huge price to pay for short term control.


nick s 02.23.07 at 5:03 am

I count Cory as a friend, but he’s being disingenuous here, and he knows it. The iPlayer initiative was always a separate development from the Creative Archive, addressing a different audience and offering different content.

The people within the BBC who’ve worked their arses off to open the archives have had to deal with all the problems of a generic large corporation, plus the special problems of the BBC’s position and structure, plus the specific problems of the BBC’s top-level management in recent years. In short, it took a long time to work something up to satisfy Greg Dyke, then he was forced out; and the post-Hutton restructuring put them back at square one.

Shooting spitballs from the position of a privileged outsider is fine and dandy, and perhaps Cory thinks he’s helping the people who’ve been fighting turf battles inside the organisation for a number of years. But I suspect he’s doing the opposite. If the people running the Beeb’s internet strategy had the power in their hands, and the ability to dictate terms to rights-holders, everything would be out there, in the open, DRM-free, right now.


Steve 02.23.07 at 11:33 pm

As always when Doctorow is on the topic of DRM, it’s worth checking the facts for yourself. He doesn’t always seem to understand the details of what he’s talking about, and he’s much more of a ax-grinder than a straight reporter on this subject.

For instance, as far as I can tell, the latest mention of the matter from says that the BBC Trust “requires the BBC to develop an alternative DRM framework to enable users of other technology, for example, Apple and Linux, to access the on-demand services” within a “reasonable timeframe”. His claim that the BBC will force a Ubuntu-loving U.K. to purchase Windows would seem to be nonsense.


nick s 02.24.07 at 12:59 am

It looks as if the first round of feedback has been helpful in that regard: though I’m an expat, I know my way around the Beeb’s schedule enough to make suggestions on things like ‘series bundling’ that won’t scare the horses too much.

On the archive, it’d be great if the corporation had the flexibility to adopt the classic tech strategy of ‘seek forgiveness, not permission’: that is, just bloody well do it and clear up any mess later once the rights-holders a) see that the genie’s out of the bottle; b) realise it’s not necessarily a Bad Thing. YouTube could do it, somewhat under the radar; but the BBC is not YouTube. While an outsider sees at least half a century’s sunk costs in the BBC archives, those within the corporation see rights-wrangling that could keep them occupied for the next half-century, ready to kick off as soon as they twitch in that direction.

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