Friday, May 21, 2010

Open University Academics Object to BBC DRM Proposals

Following up on our recent open letter to Ofcom on the BBC HD DRM proposal, a large group of Open University academics has written to the Michael Lyons, the Chairman of the BBC Trust, notifying him of our objections to the idea. The full text of the letter is below.
We write in connection with the BBC’s current application to Ofcom to vary the terms of its licence for its HDTV service by encrypting signals using DRM. We have written separately to Ofcom to oppose this proposal but write to you now because we believe it raises several important issues for the BBC Trust.

First, and procedurally, the BBC management’s application to Ofcom raises the question (interestingly identified by Diana Coyle and Chris Woolard in their book for the Trust, 'Public Value in Practice') whether a new application should be made to the Trust, analogous to that for the “bookmarking” function of the iPlayer. We believe that the encryption proposal is so fundamental a change from the original HDTV proposal, and one which raises such fundamental issues for the BBC, that it should be the subject of a new Public Value Test. You will be aware that DRM is a kind of encrypted digital lock used to control access to digital files and signals.  In order to access the BBC HD signal a viewer will require equipment containing the relevant decryption key.

Second, and substantively, the proposal to encrypt the HDTV signal using DRM breaks the clear and, seemingly unequivocal, undertaking made in the BBC’s Building Public Value (published in 2004), and underwritten by the last Chairman of the BBC Governors, Mr Michael Grade, that the BBC would not encrypt its services. Building Public Value stated (p 10) that “the BBC will always be on the side of universal provision, open access and unencryption”.

Third, and also substantively, the proposals to use DRM in the BBC’s HDTV signals breaks from the Trust’s policy, stated (at p 9) in the PVT authorisation of the HDTV proposal, that “Any move from the currently proposed HD standards on picture resolution should not disadvantage consumers who invest in HD equipment which meets the current standards”.

We believe that implementation of the proposals currently before Ofcom will have the effect of disadvantaging viewers who already have bought an integrated HD receiver (TV) and who have a separate PVR. It appears that the DRM proposed will permit recording only when the PVR is "integrated" with the HD receiver. It appears that the regime proposed will require purchase of a new PVR and the use of that tuner, rather than the one in the TV. This, we believe, not only breaks with the terms on which the Trust has authorised the BBC’s HDTV service but also sets an important, and very unfortunate, precedent whereby the interests of rights holders (and if the BBC's Strategy Review is to be believed, the interests of, at most the suppliers of 2.5% of BBC spend) are prioritised over the interests of UK viewers and licence fee payers.

We therefore urge the Trust to undertake a new PVT in respect of the HDTV proposals which are currently before Ofcom and which we believe depart radically from the terms of the authorisation you earlier granted, break with the undertakings made in 2004 in Building Public Value and undesirably and disproportionately prefer the interests of rights holders over those of licence fee payers.

A fuller statement of our analysis is to be found in our evidence to Ofcom at Please contact Blaine Price begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting ( and/or Ray Corrigan ( in the first instance should you wish to respond to or seek more information in respect of this letter.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the undersigned and do not necessarily reflect those of the Open University.

Yours sincerely

Update: Ofcom have changed the link to our submission to

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