BBC iPlayer Content Protection Enhancements
A number of our users have expressed concern about BBC iPlayer's recent content protection enhancements. It's a complex area so I asked our techical team for an explanation of what has happened. Here it is:
We make iPlayer content available in a variety of media formats (WMV, H.264, 3GP, MPEG, etc) many of which are open source, or at least not tied to a particular company's products.
In order to respect the rights agreements that allow us to make the content available in the first place, we use a range of content protection techniques and technologies:
- for downloads, we use digital rights management systems (Windows Media, Adobe, and OMA)
- for streaming, we use systems like SSL, RTMP, RTSP, HTTP
Many of these content delivery methods are open-source.
We also implement a range of technologies that attempt to check that our content is being played out in iPlayer, and not in an unauthorised 3rd-party application. This is because we need to be as certain as we can be that our content rights restrictions are being respected.
This is the key to the concerns being expressed at the moment: before we allow a device to access our content we need to check that it is iPlayer and not an application which might break our rules - for example, by storing programmes beyond the 30 day limit, or playing them outside the UK.
We know that a number of applications have been making unauthorised use of some media types and we have tightened security accordingly - this was done for several of the formats and content delivery types, not just for Flash. The result was that some applications that 'deep link' to our content may no longer work.
It's important to note that this has nothing to do with Flash, and it's nothing to do with support for open-source. In fact we continue to make our content available as H.264 or SSL, both of them open standards that have nothing to do with Flash or with Adobe. It's simply that the first people to be affected by this change happened to be linking to our Flash streams, which now have similar protection levels to our open-source streams.
The discussion around this issue suggests that two different uses of the term "open source" are being conflated:
a) we continue to make our content available in a range of open-source formats
b) unfortunately one of the applications that stopped working was XBMC, an open-source media player.
But the two "open sources" are quite different to each other - we have no particular attachment to Flash over open-source formats. In fact most of iPlayer is built on open-source products. However, we do need to protect our content from applications that threaten to make unauthorised use of it, even if those applications are themselves open source.
To answer Mo's comment, of course the BBC does not want people to download content illegally. That's precisely why we have built rights related constraints into BBC iPlayer. If an application becomes broken, people will be able to find alternatives which are legal and that we support. BBC iPlayer is already available on many, many devices and platforms which are legal and supported and in the coming year we will be adding as many new ones as we can.
Ian Hunter is Managing Editor, BBC Online