Losing British Airwaves to Hollywood

The BBC is moving to encrypt public broadcast signals with lovely lovely DRM.

In early september the BBC submitted a petition to OFCOM to be allowed to encrypt the public airwaves. If it is allowed to go through manufacturers of receiving devices will have to apply for a licence if they want their products to be able to store or output the content it receives to another box as the content will have to be encrypted. This means that every box you have in your home media set-up will have to be compliant with the encryption or none of it will work together. Who has determined these licences? The same people that created the ‘Digital Transmission Licensing Administrator Agreement’; the US studios.

As it stands our current public airwaves are just that, public. Broadcasters are free to use them but in return we are allowed to do what we like with the content, as long as it doesn’t violate copyright laws. We can record it for later viewing, move it around to different devices or cut it up and play with it. If the content is encrypted we can’t do this and suddenly our public airwaves are just another proprietary conduit for US media that hate to see a distribution network that they don’t control.When I saw the Doctorow article that informed me of the BBC encryption it reminded me of a story from April this year.

After getting fed up with poor internet service from Time Warner Cable, the residents of Wilson in North Carolina set up a city run broadband network. It was high-speed and low cost and everyone loved it, Apart from Time Warner. Rather than improving their service and lowering their extortionate prices – like the city requested of them before they went ahead with an alternative – they instead thought the best option was to lobby for the outlaw of community ISP services; their argument being ‘we can’t make a profit’. The issue is still as yet not resolved, but the fact that it could even be considered an issue worth debating is rather unnerving.

As I have mentioned multiple times before, my firm belief is that the attacks on so-called ‘illegal pirate networks’ are not about copyright but about control of publicly produced systems of distribution. The media industries have had dominance over the conduits of media delivery and they don’t like the competition. This has become even more prominent when the industries move to close down legitimate public distribution systems as well as the supposed illegitimate.

The very awesome Open Rights Group has already set to work opposing the encryption scheme, head over and support them if you can.


Engadget –¬†Time Warner and Embarq can’t compete with city-owned ISP

Daily Tech – Time Warner, Embarq Fight to Outlaw 100 Mbps Community Broadband

The Guardian – The BBC is encrypting its HD signal by the back door

How to DRM the News?

It’s generally possible to lock down a media such as music or video because it requires equipment to actually play it. This is how many DRM systems work, by having security measures in both the media and the media player (Cory Doctorow gives a great run-down of how this system will always make DRM crackable).

What about news though? Twitter is becoming somewhat a secondary newswire these days, with media outlets cobbling together stories from information picked up off of Twitter, ‘breaking’ the story hours after the Twitterverse has moved on. This can also work in the other direction: ¬†Twitter can spread one factoid to thousands within minutes and could be the BitTorrent of news in a world where news is a paid for commodity.

If I paid to access the information behind the WSJ pay-wall, does that make that information private? If I reveal some of that information to others on the web is that theft of content, or copyright infringement? Granted if I lifted the thing verbatim and reposted it onto my cleverly named http://www.freewsj.com then fair enough, but what if I just found something interesting and quoted it, or discussed some figures that I saw. At what point am I giving too much of the subscriber content away to be fair use?

From the publisher’s perspective, do you control this? If so then how? Do you try to enforce some sort of screening algorithms to pick up on anyone writing something too close to your protected content? Or do you allow it in the hope that it will drive more traffic and more customers to the originating article? If you see it as viral marketing then how much should you allow out, and is there an issue if so much talk is generated that the whole article is essentially available in pieces anyway? How do you lock down something that is communicable across so many different platforms (and if we really have to, then without a technical platform at all)? The whole endeavour seems impossible. I hope it is.


European publishers want a law to control online news access – Ars Technica