Ofcom has today agreed to allow the BBC to limit the full availability of its and other broadcasters high definition (HD) Freeview services to receivers that control how HD content can be used.
What does this mean in practice? Well, this, for a start.
Let’s be clear about something, because it’s quite important. Beyond the rhetoric and bluster, this has little — if anything at all — to do with Internet piracy. Only somebody who has no understanding of how broadcast content is redistributed illegally on the Internet could possibly think otherwise.
Why? Well, because the people who actually engage in that redistribution (the people who upload content for others to download) are quite clever. This scheme doesn’t even need somebody who’s quite clever in order to circumvent it. The BBC enabled exactly the same scheme of content protection on Freesat and the “decoding table” (which is required by the scheme in order to unscramble the EPG data) was reverse engineered very quickly indeed — and that’s if you want to bother decoding the EPG in the first place. If you’re just wanting to rip the stream sent over the airwaves (which has to be sent in the clear in any case), there are ways to do it anyway.
Moreover, there are two key groups who really really want to protect their content who are threatening to withhold it from the broadcasters unless these measures are implemented: US broadcasters and sport.
Anybody who’s been anywhere near a filesharing network in the past five years knows that the US broadcasts have been distributed illicitly for ages, and on the whole arrive on filesharing networks before they air in the UK.
Sport is a slightly different matter, but as this doesn’t prevent piracy, this won’t help them much in achieving that end.
This scheme is about one thing, and one thing only: controlling what ordinary consumers do. That is, people who buy branded Freeview HD boxes (because those boxes must be crippled). I know this scheme is about this, because it can’t actually be about anything else.
All thanks to the unique way the BBC is funded: by you, the licence-fee payer.