Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/03/01/no_bbc_trust_probe_iplayer_swf_verification/

BBC Trust won't probe iPlayer open source gripes

Tells users to 'Have Your Say' via online survey instead

By Kelly Fiveash

Posted in Media, 1st March 2010 09:30 GMT

Exclusive The governing body of the BBC has no plans to investigate the Corporation's decision to block open source implementations of RTMP (real-time messaging protocol) streaming in the iPlayer, despite grumbles from many UK viewers and listeners of the service.

"The decision to block open source plugins is a matter for BBC Management. The Trust has not received any complaints on this issue and has no plans to look into it further at present," a BBC Trust spokeswoman told The Register.

As we revealed last week, the Beeb applied the update to its online video catch-up service on 18 February, and shortly after BBC forums were awash with complaints by Blighty-based iPlayer users who could no longer access the service.

The tweak meant that free RTMP plugins offered by the likes of the XBMC community - whose code is based on the GNU General Public Licence v2 - were prevented from streaming iPlayer content. The latest iteration of XBMC’s plugin was created in May last year and was being used by UK viewers to play TV and radio catch-up content from the BBC’s iPlayer service.

In effect, the Beeb shut the door on "unauthorised" video player applications by applying Adobe's SWF verification, which locks down the iPlayer in Flash, to its system.

"The Trust is currently consulting on the BBC's 'on demand' services which covers some iPlayer functions," said the spokeswoman.

That consultation is set to end on 12 March, at which point the trust will mull findings in the report before publishing it at the end of this year.

The BBC Trust spokeswoman also dismissed suggestions that the corporation had once again slammed the brakes on open source development within, or indeed, around the iPlayer.

She added users could access the service not just online but across a range of platforms including Virgin, Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 3, which demonstrates well the Beeb's commitment to deliver the iPlayer to as large an audience as possible.

However, as we were first to report last week, the BBC Executive (which, to be fair, has rather a lot on its mind right now) told El Reg that "content protection" was a key technology built into its service.

"We periodically review the level of security to protect BBC programmes, brands and trademarks," it said.

Sadly, for openistas at least, that decision has left free RTMP plugins out in the cold, while iPlayer users are increasingly being forced down a Flash-only plug hole.

Meanwhile, anti-SWF verification feelings continue to run high.

Mad Men and English dogs go out in midday sun

"This is about excluding some classes of device and some platforms, and locking users in to specific technology. The piracy argument is moot because the pirates will continue unhindered, and the only people being punished are the legitimate users," argued a commenter named Lens on the BBC's internet blog.

"I feel that this is about content providers stamping their feet because they didn't realise people could watch content through a TV, and the 'new delivery channel' dollar signs faded from their eyes. This is why I feel it is important to understand why the Wii is considered to be acceptable."

The BBC's Nick Reynolds responded to some of the gripes about the XBMC plugin last Friday afternoon in which he explained that it was the corporation's policy to check for "unauthorised third-party apps that may or may not respect BBC content rights."

The Beeb only allows a device access to its content after checking that such a plugin isn't taking a stealth download to either keep the data for more than seven days or allow for a download outside the UK. However, that system isn't altogether foolproof. After all, as many have noted, there is a work around for users who want to circumnavigate the SWF verification.

"Recently a number of applications were identified making unauthorised use of a number of our media types, and so we implemented enhanced security - importantly this was done for several of the formats and content delivery types, not just for Flash," said Reynolds. "The result was that a number of applications that ‘deep link’ to our content may no longer work.

"I'm told that most of iPlayer is built on open source products, so this isn't about the BBC being anti open source. However, BBC content needs to be protected from applications that make unauthorised calls to it, even if those applications are open source."

Needless to say, this is a debate that will run and run. But, as the BBC Trust told us in its statement on the matter, iPlayer users who complain about the open source plugin exclusion during the current consultation process shouldn't expect a response anytime soon. ®