BBC defends Freeview HD copy protection

Wednesday, September 23 2009,

The BBC has defended its plan to ensure that all Freeview HD equipment will be equipped with more stringent copy protection technology.

Earlier this month, Ofcom said that it is likely to permit the BBC's scheme for ensuring compliance with protection standards on the upgraded Freeview HD multiplex.

The corporation wants to compress service information data, which boxes need to understand the TV services in the data stream. It will offer its decompression algorithm without charge to all manufacturers who implement the technology.

However, Labour MP Tom Watson used his personal blog to criticise the BBC's proposal, which he said would render all existing Freeview PVRs "obsolete".

He wrote: "In attempt to satisfy the fears of powerful rightsholders, the BBC will prohibit millions of people from programming their existing set top boxes.

"If implemented this will make it difficult to view or record HDTV broadcasts with free software. Where's the consumer interest in that settlement?"

Writing on the BBC Internet Blog, BBC head of distribution technology Graham Plumb stressed that "no existing Freeview boxes will be affected" by the scheme.

Plumb said that the BBC wants all public service content to remain unencrypted on digital terrestrial television, but some form of copy protection is "required to enable us to launch Freeview HD to audiences in early 2010".

He claimed that the current technical specification for content management on Freeview HD equipment "places no restrictions whatsoever" on copying SD content or recording/viewing stored HD content on a PVR.

He explained that even the "most restrictive" arrangement still enables one HD copy to be transferred to Blu-ray, such as the current situation with BBC content on Pansonic Blu-ray recorders.

Plumb continued: "We want to make our content as accessible as possible but we have to balance this with the amount of content we have the ability to show. We could have said no to the content owners' request and delayed the launch of Freeview HD, but we had to balance this with the fact that respecting the request for content protection should result in more programmes and hence a better viewing experience for our audiences.

"We are confident that Freeview HD will be great, and you'll always be able to copy programmes for personal use. Most people will probably never know that any form of content management exists since they'll not be prevented from the normal home enjoyment or recording on PVRs, DVD and Blu-ray recorders.

"The only actions that may be prevented, and only for certain programmes, are retransmitting the content in HD over the internet or, in some cases, from making more than one digital copy of the highest-value content on to Blu-ray."

After Ofcom's deadline for formal responses to the BBC's plan passed last week, the regulator is now expected to communicate further on the proposal shortly.