Linux, the BBC and Your Rights

Imagine a world where you were told how to think, feel, and act. You were told what to buy…told what not to buy. Having trouble imagining these things? Maybe I can help. Check out a short story I wrote on the subject of Digital Rights Management (DRM).

We’re not as far off as you may imagine.

Websites we visit tell us what browsers we must use to visit. Software tells us what operating system we must use to install it. CD’s tell us that we cannot use music that we’ve bought and own. Televisions will soon tell us that we must have cable as over the air broadcasting of free television ceases in 2012. Your Miranda rights no longer exist according to the Patriot Act; they only have to label you a terrorist and you can be held without charge indefinitely.

It’s a wide scope of things to swallow that ranges from technology to social, political and economic portions of our world. How does one combat these issues? How do we make a difference? While I cannot speak for things of which I don’t know (mainly, political and socio-economic things) I can speak of some technology issues that we can adress.

A recent issue that has cropped up is with the BBC. The BBC is a publically funded broadcast corporation in the United Kingdom. That means the general public in the UK may elect to pay a fee resulting that they have access equally across the board to view content. Content here will mean any content whether online or broadcasted. The BBC takes money equally from all people regardless of race, creed, color, AND regardless of what operating system they run. As such, all people should have an equal opportunity to view said content.

Recently, they announced they would be creating an online video player that supports all operating systems, only to backpedal and state that Linux would not be supported. Now they’re also including DRM in much of their web based content. No problem? Actually, yes, there is a huge problem.

THE PROBLEM

I’m fairly fond of pointing out the blatantly obvious. What is obvious to me is that the BBC is making a HUGE mistake by not making their platform OS neutral. First off, they’re requiring that all users purchase and use Microsoft Operating Systems. This means that even those that cannot afford the 300 plus USD price tag must somehow find a way to get it…most will pirate it I’m sure.

Contained on the BBC’s info page is a nice quote:

The BBC is run in the interests of its viewers and listeners.”

That is, unless you’re using Linux and Macs…then your interests do not matter. Why don’t they matter? Because the reasoning behind why the BBC won’t support Mac and Linux platforms makes no sense…that reasoning is (paraphrasing) money is tight and we don’t have enough Linux/Mac users visiting the site to provide for.

Right.

So, using this logic, operating systems shouldn’t be built with support for the handicapped either…because there are more people who aren’t handicapped (blind, deaf, or other which hinders OS interaction). So, the BBC shouldn’t support that minuscule % of users. But of course, they can’t do this as eliminating support for these people would be first, incomprehensible and wrong, but also because they have an obligation to the public which they serve to provide this service.

They have that same obligation to users of different operating systems.

I know for a fact that it’s easy to provide for users of all operating systems (part of my job is making sure webpages and code are standards compliant). I know it’s easy to provide for users of multiple browsers. You follow something called W3C standards, you’re set. You design a player in Flash or Java which is cross platform and you’re set. It seems this is a bit difficult for the BBC to grasp which is very sad.

Instead, they adopt a schema for DRM and embed them into all of their videos. Fantastic! Not only do they alienate their users by providing a Windows-Centric experience (locking their users to an insecure platform chock full of Trojans, spyware, and virus’) but they also control the media they offer for download that users have already paid for!

It’s like buying a car and being told you can only drive on certain roads at certain times. You’ve paid for the car, but someone else is trying to tell you how you can use and operate the car. The BBC is using DRM and subsequently by doing so, will be lumped into a group with all the others out there that use DRM to control users and content.

THE RESPONSE

The latest blog entry on the BBC apologizes to Linux users…but still tries to justify DRM. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong. There is NO justification to DRM at all. There cannot be. You are managing something that is not yours to manage. You cannot tell me that if I buy some type of goods/service from someone that you should control how I consume or use that good/service. That’s because, in doing so, the enforcer of said “Rights” becomes a Central Planning entity. DRM is just like Communism. Absolute DRM corrupts Absolutely. The BBC should not be synonymous with DRM.

If you were the BBC and all it took was to make a standards compliant cross platform iPlayer or even to sponsor a community developed one, wouldn’t you do it? What would it cost? Well, probably less than the direction that the BBC’s head Ashleigh Highfield is saying they’re going:

“I will also kick off a piece of research to look into the size and more importantly the growth of the open source community within the UK, and what role the BBC could and should have in promoting it.”

So instead of actually having foresight and just creating a cross platform, cross operating system program, you’re going to waste money by creating some form of investigative committee or outsourcing study of the number Linux/Mac users to see when the number of users finally crosses some invisible threshold to be given no discrimination as to what operating system they run. Do you think that sinking money into having more people continually investigate this will be less than doing it right the first time? I don’t think so.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The ultimate reason they’re wrong is that they’re a provider of a service…television. Essentially, they’re telling their users what brand of television they need to hook up in order to watch their content. They’re reaching their hands into the homes of 17.1 million users and demanding they use a certain type of operating system or they cannot use the content when it is simple to provide for everyone using open formats and cross platform, cross operating system tools and programs.

As a comment posted on Mr. Highfield’s blog entry states, “The BBC Charter runs for ten years. Can you really say you know what OS and platforms people will be using in a decade? That’s a rhetorical “no” by the way.” The BBC is digging itself into a hole with this move. Their ultimate goal should be to serve the public through neglecting no one. Instead, they’re severing the public through rights control. Everyone who pays the license fee has thus equal rights to access that content and the BBC would do well to remember this instead of trying to walk on this right.

The BBC should be told why this is wrong. Do you have something to say to them? If so, send them why you feel what they’re doing is wrong. Contact them here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/

This content is published under the Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

  • morgan cox

    I am really annoyed at the BBC.

    I would prefer to contract Aids rather than use Windows on my PC but I want to obviously see the content which my license fee has paid for.

    How about we start a campain to withhold a certain a certain percentage of our license fee until Linux is supported – why should we pay for Windows users.

  • Sam Duncan

    [quote]That means the general public in the UK may elect to pay a fee resulting that they have access equally across the board to view content.[/quote]
    No, it’s worse than that. If you own “equipment capable of receiving a television signal” you [b]must[/b] pay an annual fee, regardless of whether you ever watch the BBC, or even whether that equipment is capable of receiving the [b]BBC’s[/b] television signal.

    The Television Licencing Authority, the arm of the BBC responsible for collecting the cash, is ruthless in its pursuit of non-payers. Stories abound of the harassment of people who don’t own a TV because, hey, [b]nobody[/b] doesn’t own a TV, right? People can – and do – go to jail for non-payment.

    [quote]So instead of actually having foresight and just creating a cross platform, cross operating system program, you’re going to waste money by creating some form of investigative committee or outsourcing study of the number Linux/Mac users to see when the number of users finally crosses some invisible threshold to be given no discrimination as to what operating system they run. Do you think that sinking money into having more people continually investigate this will be less than doing it right the first time? [/quote]
    It won’t cost less, but that doesn’t make it a bad idea in BBC-land. This is typical. It likes to call itself one of the world’s biggest media companies, but it isn’t a “company” at all; it’s a tax-funded bureaucracy. Success is measured by how much money is spent.

    Frankly, I’m [b]glad[/b] there’s no Linux iPlayer, because I bet the BBC can’t wait to start “licencing” computers.

    (By the way, your spam blocker comes up with some excellent band names: I like the sound of Patsy Suicide and Budgetary Guerrilas! :-) )