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Ofcom opens debate on Freeview HD DRM to punters

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Ofcom has begun asking the public whether the BBC should be allowed to apply DRM to Freeview HD broadcasts.

"This technology," the telecoms and broadcasting regulator said, "would enable broadcasters to control the copying of content from high-definition receivers to other consumer devices and its distribution to others over the internet."

Under law, Ofcom has a tighter grip on terrestrially broadcast digital TV than it has on other transmission modes, and it's this that prevents the BBC simply imposing DRM on viewers. Instead, the Corporation has to ask Ofcom for an amendment to the licence it holds enabling it to broadcast on the Freeview multiplexes.

Ofcom, in turn, has to assess whether such a change would prevent UK citizens gaining "access to the widest possible range of HD television content" on digital terrestrial telly while "not unduly restricting their use of this content and the range of receiver equipment available in the market".

The BBC wants Ofcom to allow it to restrict the availability of programme listing information for HD TV services only to receivers that implement DRM.

So if your set-top box doesn't support the BBC's preferred DRM technology, you won't get to see BBC channels on your Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) and use it schedule recordings - if the Corporation gets its way.

Right now, the BBC has but one HD channel, but its request looks forward to the day when more, if not all, of its channels are beam out in HD.

Its pitch is that without DRM, Freeview HD will not feature as much HD content as other platforms will be able to offer because rights holders won't sanction broadcast the material that can then be copied at will and posted on the internet.

The BBC insists its approach to DRM won't prevent programmes being recorded on DVR, but may prevent programmes that have been copied off those boxes being played back on other devices. That would certainly hinder Torrenters.

So that it doesn't also prevent users from copying a recording to a more convenient playback device - a portable player, say - the BBC said a single copy should be permitted. But that surely also requires such devices to support DRM, or to stop the 'legal' copy ending up on the net. Different playback devices use different DRM schemes, so set-top box makers would need to ensure that all are supported or risk alienating, say, everyone who owns an iPod.

And that's no help to families, who might very well - and quite reasonably - want to copy a single recording onto many family members' devices.

The BBC insisted that the "majority" of its HD content would be DRM-free and that it would limit DRM to programming only otherwise available in paid-for forms - sourced from overseas pay-TV channels, for example, or available on DVD/Blu-ray.

However, we'd note that while it may follow such a plan now, nothing in its proposal would prevent it simply applying DRM to everything at any point in the future.

Ofcom said it is "minded" to accept the BBC's proposal, but noted that this is subject to public consultation.

You can respond to Ofcom's consultation here. ®

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