The Open Rights Group blog posted about a public hearing in England where the head of the BBC was grilled for why the BBC is insisting on encumbering all its video with DRM (Digital Rights Management). The myth of DRM is that it can ensure that only people who have legitimate rights of access can enjoy digital works, but in reality not only does it fail to deliver on that promise but its major feature is that it actually prevents people with legitimate rights of access from enjoying digital works. Hence the recent hearing where the BBC was queried on why it insists on hiding publicly-funded programs behind proprietary digital players that much of the public can't run on their computers.
Of course, not only is the British public directly harmed by this DRM policy, but it's also indirectly harmed when it walls off so many of these quality creative efforts from the rest of the world. I wrote about this in my recent London travelogue post but commented about it more succinctly on the Open Rights Group post:
It doesn’t do the English economy any good for its television to be locked up behind DRM. Much though I like a lot of British television (I’m an American) I refuse to “upgrade” my computer to have a compatible player in order to be able to watch the vast amount that hasn’t otherwise managed to make its way over here.
Fortunately for the English economy there’s YouTube and enterprising fans who are willing to take the time to upload so many great and otherwise unavailable shows. Last month I was all set to enjoy a holiday in France, but as it happens I’ve recently been on a Stephen Fry kick and, thanks to YouTube, got to enjoy enough great English television (QI, Kingdom, etc.) that I was inspired to go visit England instead.
In other words, because of “piracy,” the English economy reaped the financial benefit of all my transportation, food, entertainment and lodging costs, and, in the “what about the artists, how ever will they afford to eat?” department, profits and royalties when, for souvenirs, I bought several books by English authors in local stores. You know, books - those nice, DRM-free works of creativity that can be enjoyed by anyone anywhere...
It should be noted, of course, that I purchased not a single DVD for any of that coveted English entertainment. After all, why bother? It was England so all those DVDs on sale in English stores were set for Region Two, which I'd never be able to play on my American Region 1 equipment.
So let's analyze this as a business decision: DVD producers are so worried that people won't buy their DVDs that they have made it impossible for people to buy their DVDs. They must be laughing all the way to the bank as they count all the pennies I didn't spend on their product. After all, they've shown me! All that region-encoding DRM'll teach me not to pirate video and buy only legit copies instead. Er, wait a minute...
Edited: A point of clarification: The show Kingdom I referred to in my comment - a really, really excellent show, and I don't just say that because Stephen Fry plays a lawyer - is actually an ITV production, not a BBC one. So you don't have quite the same policy argument about locking up publicly-funded behind specious DRM. On the other hand, as a commercial venture the level of idiocy rises to new heights, given how ITV has decided to prevent people from viewing it over the Internet. Not only must you run Microsoft's largely and rightfully scorned Internet Explorer, and not only must you run its DRM ActiveX component, but in order to view it you also must be in England.
Silly me. Here I was, so impressed by the show, that I was about to suggest in entire seriousness that people write to Rebecca Eaton at WGBH and specifically ask that she bring it over for rebroadcast in the US, but like any writing campaign its success would be dependent on enough people knowing what they were talking about to be motivated to pick up a pen (so to speak). But I guess ITV doesn't care if America ever gets to watch the show, or any revenues such an airing might provide, since there's no way for Americans to even find out if they'd like it enough to lobby for it. Except, of course, by watching "pirate" copies through YouTube. But, really, should we even bother to go to that effort? Yes, the show was wonderful - perfectly cast, written, acted, and shot with sympathetic characters, gorgeous scenery, and well-balanced and thematically substantive scripts - but since ITV doesn't think we should ever get to see it, why fight it? Let people and their television remain on their respective shores. So what if the world is poorer for it, financially and culturally. At least we won't have *gasp* people enjoying things for free.