BBC + iTunes

BBC tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones announced a while ago that he is

“too old to Twitter and too mature for Myspace. Some things are best left to the young”

Now he’s talking about the BBC+iTunes deal, saying that

once you’ve handed over your credit card details, buying a programme from iTunes is an awful lot easier and more reliable than hunting it down on the web and trying to suck it into your computer

which is similarly nonsense. The comment thread is pretty interesting, and gives a sense of how strongly people feel about content they rightly love, and want to consume in a way that makes sense to them. Here are snippets from just the first three responses:

  1. gillick says …if you buy a program from iTunes then you will only be able to watch it on Apple approved devices. Whereas you can buy the DVD, rip it and then watch it on any device…
  2. Daniel Delahoyde says …yet more evidence of the BBC’s commitment to and promotion of DRM and proprietary media players and formats. … Those who want access to the BBC’s content online should not have to pay Apple for the privilege or have to use a Microsoft operating system and media player to view the programmes they want to see.
  3. Ewan says …It’s strange that you refer to being “able to pay £1.89 to download and own a programme”, when ownership implies a degree of control that simply doesn’t exist here … This isn’t ownership, it a limited and controlling lend back of something we already paid for…

I can see why the BBC might want to investigate new revenue streams to support their work. They already sell DVDs, and nobody I know has a problem with that. I love the fact I can buy a DVD and watch it wherever and whenever I want. The reason this move is controversial is that, as outlined in the comments above, it’s providing people with less value, not more. I don’t mind if the BBC charges for alternatives to live broadcast. Give me the choice. Give me a way to buy content I love and I’ll take it, but make it easier, not harder, for me to put it on my choice of computer and device. The first stage will be to drop the fallacy that DRM is going to help.

If you’re new to this argument, you might want to go back to what was being said by Cory Doctorow last year (and be sure to read this amazing discussion which broke out on Euan Semple’s blog).

4 replies on “BBC + iTunes”

  1. There’s an awful lot of specious arguments about paying for BBC content, most of which are simply made on the basis of no facts.

    For example, Ewan’s point: exactly the same is true of DVDs, and of programmes broadcast over the air. If you buy a DVD, you don’t have “ownership” of it – you can’t, for example, duplicate it and sell the duplicates, which you could with many other “owned”things. The same goes to things which are broadcast. You have a right to record them for yourself: you don’t have a right to record them and sell copies of the tape, even though you own the tape.

    Which leads on to Gillick’s point, which is simply wrong. You can’t – legally – do what he describes. You might be able to physically do it, but there are numerous examples of things where I can physically do it, but it’s illegal. Walking into Gillick’s house and pissing on the carpet is physically doable, as I could pick his locks: but it’s rightly illegal.

    The fact is that what the anti-copyright brigade want isn’t something the BBC could give them: all the content it has ever made or commissioned, for free, in any format that they demand. The rights holders, who are numerous, won’t go for it. But as far as the anti-DRM crowd are concerned, that doesn’t matter: What’s important is *their* principle, not whether the BBC is actually offering a new and useful service.

    The real argument against DRM is that it doesn’t work, as it doesn’t prevent people who actually want to copy something from doing so – it simply makes it less convenient. All the other arguments I’ve ever seen are either specious, false or contradictory. Or, even worse, based on a world-view which would insist that all services have an “ideologically pure” stamp of approval on them.

    I would always advise removing DRM, but that’s not because I have some god-given right to someone else’s content: it’s just that it fails to function as advertised. All other arguments are bunk

    And that includes many of Cory’s arguments. Cory’s statement on the fact that the BBC doesn’t have the rights to do what he wants is basically to shrug his shoulders and say they ought to only create content for which they have full, eternal rights with no residuals. That, of course, would mean reducing the BBC to a single television channel, as the cost of paying for rights like that (up front) wouldn’t leave much else left in the budget. For Cory, that’s fine – because he’s coming from a particular ideological perspective. But would he, or anyone else, like to explain to the sizable chunk of the UK population who don’t even have broadband why they suddenly lost lots of the television and radio they know and love – for no return at all? Would he then campaign for the BBC to pay for them all to have PCs and broadband? After all, like the Linux users who complained about DRM on iPlayer, they’re “locked out by a commercial decision which favours one platform”. It’s just that this platform is the internet, rather than Windows.

    Telling them that they’re getting less choice of content because a bunch of people who hate the idea of copyright thinks it’s good for them “in the long run” would be interesting.

    /end rant. :)

  2. One last point: if wonder about the complexity of rights in TV, ask Kim about the size of rights clearance documents for a TV show. It’s not far off the same thickness as the yellow pages. This is the stuff which Cory etc wants the BBC to wave a magic wand and go away.

    But then again, campaigning for something you know you can’t have is so much more emotionally engaging that trying to incrementally change something. :)

  3. I think the real issue here isn’t the delivery mechanism at all, that just a technical challenge which can be easily solved – it’s the content. As a TV license holder, the deal is that I have provided a portion of the funding for all content which the BBC is currently producing.

    From the point of airing, and for a reasonable time period after that point, I should be able to obtain a copy of any of that content to consume however and where ever I want. As others have pointed out, the only reason the DRM should be added to that content, is to ensure that only the people with a TV license (BBC content consumer license) can consume it. You are an authorised user when you can prove you currently own a valid TV license. There’s obviously a technical challenge here too, but not a impossible one – similar authorisation issues are dealt with in business everyday.

    This leads on to the fundamental question of what is the reasonable time period after airing that the content should be available.

    In a real world scenario, if a friend, who I know owns a TV license, asks me for a copy of an episode of a BBC TV series which I happen to have on my PVR, would I burn off a DVD with that content ? Yes, without much hesitation.

    So, I am tempted to say the time period should be forever, the archival costs of storing and providing all the content are substantial (though falling rapidly every day) but spread over all TV license fee payers – probably economical – certainly if archived digitally … I actually think the P2P aspect of the iPlayer software is good in this respect, as it meant that much of the archival and provision costs weren’t actually met by the BBC – effectively, as a fan of a particular collection of content, you supported it by making it available to other authorised people. I think the BBC’s mistake was not to be explicit about the P2P method and explain it like that.

    Some will argue that if the time period is forever, then it will result in reduction in the popularity of new content – well to be frank, if the older content is serving the entertainment needs of the TV license holders, to that level, then maybe that new content shouldn’t actually be produced – and a greater portion of the TV license revenue should be spent on the archiving of that content for all future TV license holders to enjoy too.

    I don’t actually believe a significant proportion of the content will actually meet that criteria, a lot of the content is really only relevant now and for the next year or so at most – BUT a select set of very popular content (measured by long term consumption figures) will and that should be archived to form a historic view of UK culture. My observations on the accessibility of content on P2P networks, suggest that they would meet those requirements almost perfectly, so again, I think the BBC should be frank with users and explain the reasons for going with P2P as a storage and delivery method.

  4. Ben says: “From the point of airing, and for a reasonable time period after that point, I should be able to obtain a copy of any of that content to consume however and where ever I want.”

    But the thing is, Ben, that this isn’t the deal you currently have – and you never have had it. You have never had the right to obtain a copy of BBC programming within a limited period, to consume however you want. The BBC has broadcast programmes, which you have a right to watch “live” when broadcast. You also have a limited right to “time shift” this programme, as you have with all broadcast TV.

    What you don’t have a right to do, and never have, is then move this content onto another platform – say, on to a computer from VHS for permanent archiving. Far from preserving existing rights, what you’re asking for is an extension of rights which removes rights from content creators.

    And this question of compensation for the removal of rights currently enjoyed by content creators shouldn’t be ignored in your argument. At present, if I write a script which ends up on the BBC (or any channel), after the seven-day broadcast window I am entitled to a payment every time that programme is shown, plus additional payments for copies sold on DVD or other formats (including, of course, copies sold via iTunes or anywhere else).

    Now under your system, if I wrote an addition of “allo allo” in 1990, I would no longer receive any income from that script, despite my existing contract. In effect, either the BBC would be breaking its contract with me, or it would have to directly compensate me for every copy made over the network, whether downloaded directly from them or copied through some kind of P2P system. Every copy would need to be tracked, accounted for, and ultimately a payment would need to be made.

    And the same would be true of many rights holders per episode: actors, some technicians, writers, producers and directors are all due residual fees. They usually amount to pennies individually – but overall, they add up. As I mentioned above, the rights clearance documents for an average TV programme are enormous.

    So, put simply: the amount of money that it would take to “pay off” residuals for existing content in perpetuity probably adds up to more than the BBC’s budget for the next ten years. So that means you can forget any idea of including archive material in your scheme.

    So what about future content? Well the best estimate that I’ve seen is that, in order to pay for all future rights for all BBC programming, you would need to increase the license fee to £800 a year. That, of course, hardly presents good value to the majority of the current audience – and, in fact, such an increase would never be allowed politically, by any party.

    Plus, to add to the issues, a sizable chunk of BBC content, by law, has to be made by outside production companies who, of course, negotiate broadcast rights with the BBC on a tight basis. This is why not all programming is available on iPlayer: the BBC doesn’t have the rights. There is no guarantee that these independent companies would ever agree to allow the BBC or anyone else to put their content on a free system of any kind.

    So while the argument that you’ve paid for the content so you should have it for free is seductive, it’s actually false. You’ve paid for limited rights to see it, not to see it in perpetuity.

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