Page last updated at 12:05 GMT, Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Ofcom knocks back BBC DRM plans

baby panda, filmed in  HD
HD content has proved a hit with viewers

BBC plans to copy protect Freeview high definition (HD) data have been dealt a blow by regulator Ofcom.

It has written to the BBC asking for more information about what the benefits would be for consumers.

Initially it looked as if Ofcom would approve the plans but, during its two week consultation, it has received many responses opposing the plan.

Critics say a Digital Rights Management (DRM) system for Freeview HD would effectively lock down free BBC content.

In its submission to Ofcom, the Open Rights Group argued that such a system was DRM by the "backdoor" and that it would prevent things such as recording HD content for personal use.

"Ofcom received a large number of responses to this consultation, in particular from consumers and consumer groups, who raised a number of potentially significant consumer 'fair use' and competition issues that were not addressed in our original consultation," the letter from Ofcom to the BBC read.

It asked the BBC to clarify the benefit to citizens, as well as outline how it proposes to address the "potential disadvantages" and offer alternative approaches to the issue.

In response to the letter, the BBC said it "remains committed to the launch of HD on Freeview as it will deliver choice in terms of platform and availability of HD content for audiences across the UK".

Under original plans submitted to Ofcom, the broadcaster had requested that it be allowed to encrypt certain information on set-top boxes, using a method known as Huffman compression.

Consumer choice

Because licensing rules prevent the BBC from encrypting the actual video or audio streams, it instead requested 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.

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.

"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.

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

Digital rights organisation the Open Rights Group, was one of those to submit objections to the the scheme to Ofcom.

It said the plans would give the BBC "absolute power to control who may access its HD services".

It added that third-party equipment makers would find it difficult to comply to the new licensing regime and that its proposal also threatened disabled access.

It welcomed the move by Ofcom to seek more clarification.

"The fight isn't over. We will continue to fight for peoples' rights to record material off of the TV for personal use as they have done for decades," said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group.

There is a very limited amount of time left to agree the specifications for set-top boxes.

Freeview plans to launch its first HD services next month, from a transmitter which serves Liverpool, Manchester, Lancashire, Cheshire and north Staffordshire.

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