BBC msPlayer

The BBC recently launched a video-on-demand service called “iPlayer”. To ensure that copyright violators have to invest more time in copying each video, and to make it awkward for everyone else to view content that they're allowed to view*, the BBC decided to encapsulate their content in DRM—officially “digital rights management”, equally accurately “digital restrictions management”.

They chose Microsoft to provide the DRM, ostensibly a good choice, since Microsoft have proven themselves adept at bundling obtrusive unwanted software along with software the customer actually wants—it was for this reason that they were convicted of operating a monopoly in the EU.

Unfortunately, Microsoft's DRM system only works on Microsoft's operating system, Windows; and even then, only on the five-year-old version, XP, which has since been superceded by Vista. Oddly, having better DRM capabilities is one of Vista's selling points. And it's odd that the British Broadcasting Corporation would choose to anoint Windows XP as its favourite operating system, since there isn't even a version of it that uses British English. (There is a Welsh version, because too many Welsh speakers started using Free Software.)

The BBC Trust maintains that it's a good idea to ask a convicted software monopoly to produce software whose purpose is to restrict users' capabilities, and that only runs when using the monopoly's operating system software.

A petition was sent to the UK government to protest against this decision. They've responded; an excerpt:

The BBC Trust made it a condition […] that the iPlayer is available to users of a range of operating systems, and has given a commitment that it will ensure that the BBC meets this demand as soon as possible. They will measure the BBC's progress on this every six months and publish the findings.

iplayer - epetition response

Every six months. They're going to review their progress every six months. The government, the BBC Trust and the BBC don't seem to understand the pace at which technology, particularly internet-based technology, moves. The length of time it's taken the BBC to produce the iPlayer since announcing it is evidence of this. Hopefully such a long delay will harm Microsoft Windows Vista as much as it will harm Free Software.

The BBC shouldn't just make the iPlayer available for a range of operating systems—they should make it open source, so that anyone with the right skills (or who can persuade someone with the right skills to help them) can make an iPlayer for their operating system. Anyone would be able to improve the iPlayer, and we wouldn't be reliant on the BBC to provide fixes for errors. Open-sourcing the iPlayer would instantly satisfy the BBC's commitment.