Page last updated at 14:47 GMT, Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:47 UK

BBC looks to copy protect content

Elephant under water
BBC HD has proved extremely popular

BBC plans to encrypt Freeview HD data have come under fire from critics, who say it will effectively lock-down free BBC content.

Under plans submitted to regulator Ofcom, the broadcaster has requested that it be allowed to encrypt certain information on set top boxes.

Only trusted manufacturers would be offered the decryption keys.

Opponents, including Labour MP Tom Watson, say that, if the move is agreed, it will limit consumer choice.

The BBC argues it will prevent piracy.

The BBC said it made the request to Ofcom in response to pressure from rights holders to offer copy protection on all its high-definition broadcasts.

Under licensing rules, the BBC is not allowed to encrypt the actual video or audio streams.

So instead it is requesting that it be allowed to encrypt the data associated with TV listings without which set-top boxes are not able to decode the TV content.

"We are committed to ensuring that public service content remains free to air i.e. unencrypted.

"However, HD content holders have begun to expect a degree of content management on the Freeview HD platform and therefore broadcasters have recognised that a form of copy protection is needed," read a statement from the BBC.

Consumer interest

Tom Watson, Labour MP and one of parliament's most tech-savvy members, is not convinced such a step is in consumers' interests.

"In an attempt to satisfy the fears of powerful rights holders, the BBC will prohibit millions of people from programming their existing set top boxes.

If implemented this will make it difficult to view or record HDTV broadcasts with free software. Where's the consumer interest in that settlement?" he said in his blog.

Some set-top boxes use open source operating systems such as Linux, and this has meant they can be offered much cheaper to consumers.

Open source software is generally free of charge and the underlying code can be modified by anyone without fear of trampling on intellectual property or copyright.

Critics of the BBC's request say that open source licenses are incompatible with the regulations because DRM locks down software so that it cannot be altered by the user.

As a result, it would be harder for manufacturers which use open source software to obtain the necessary permissions from the BBC, effectively pushing them out of the market.

Mr Watson is also not convinced by the piracy argument.

"If you're a hardcore pirate, you'll still be able to continue doing what you do but if you want to watch the latest EastEnders, you'll have to purchase new stuff," he wrote.

The deadline for responses to the proposal closes on 16 September and Ofcom will then consider its response.

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