Bad idea to copy 

9 November 2009

BBC’s plea for anti-piracy measures on Freeview is turned down

It seemed rather strange that the BBC of all broadcasters should suddenly propose something that could restrict an individual’s right to record and keep a television programme, especially considering all the effort that the BBC has made in the past to distribute content free to licence fee-payers.

Indeed it’s commercially-funded broadcasters like ITV and Channel 4 that theoretically have more to lose from the copying of any programme-related content, because they inherently rely on the revenue obtained from commercials and sponsorship. (And pirated programming usually has this sort of content cut out of them.)

Several facts need to be borne in mind at this point, most notably that other countries have already adopted terrestrial HD broadcasting (Australia and France being two of them), with free-to-air broadcasts that don’t impose any additional restrictions on the copying of content.

Also the very notion of high definition broadcasting being “very valuable” isn’t going to stay that way for long; some US broadcasters now insist on HD for all of their programming, and virtually all new BBC commissions are now being made in HD along with established favourites including Doctor Who and the next series of Top Gear.

Indeed within five years it’s likely that standard definition broadcasting will be predominantly associated with channels showing repeats (such as Dave) together with small specialist channels who can’t afford the bandwidth; this will be especially true on cable and satellite platforms where bandwidth is less of a premium.

Plus the idea of “premium content” is not new by any means; it dates back at least to the 1960s and the birth of cable television, when specific programming like boxing matches was offered optionally for a fixed fee, and Sky has been offering a subscription TV service in the UK for the last 20 years.

All this comes at a time when the BBC is now actively being discouraged to avoid being involved in bidding wars for such things as sporting events and US imports, and not just to allegedly avoid putting up the price for commercial competitors (cost doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue for BSkyB…) either.

We can only conclude that someone within the BBC’s commercial division had effectively placed pressure on the corporation, perhaps with a (likely to be unjustified) fear of losing out on imports/sporting rights to satellite and cable channels which are encrypted therefore are able to offer so-called ‘additional’ security for rights holders.

But any lack of copy protection (or encryption) in the past hasn’t stopped the BBC gaining the rights to key US imports such as Heroes or sporting events such as Formula 1, and there’s no obvious reason why this state of affairs is going to change any time soon, as long as free-to-air broadcasters hold their nerve and don’t bow to external pressures.

So all things considered there strictly speaking isn’t any need for “a degree of content management” as envisaged by the BBC’s proposal, especially when such a relatively weak protection method isn’t going to stop copying for determined pirates. (It only takes one person to somehow make a file available for others to copy.)

Therefore such a method of so-called content management will only serve to make life difficult for the manufacturers of receiving equipment as well as for licence fee-payers who want to lawfully record and copy programme material for their own personal use as opposed to being dictated to by the programme makers.

Thankfully it’s now very likely that the BBC will have to quickly back down over this proposal if pressured into doing so, because Freeview HD broadcasts are due to commence from Winter Hill next month (spreading elsewhere from 2010 onwards), therefore the Freeview HD specification will need to be finalised by the end of this year.

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Liverpool, Thursday 18 April 2024