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Intellectual Property and the BBCs “Video on Demand” proposals

Posted by Mark Harrison on February 2, 2007

On some forums I belong to, there has been quite a lot of discussion recently about the BBC’s intention to provide “catch-up TV on demand”, but restrict this catch-up to a limited time-frame, and Microsoft Windows only (because only it has the required Digital Rights Management) systems.

A common criticism of this BBC proposal has been that “we, the licence-payer, have already paid for this material”. Why should we not have unlimited access? I thought that I’d summarise the argument.

Before you read this, please take a moment to think of your favourite film…

The BBC is not in a position to change the way that law works, or opt-out of international treaties on Intellectual Property.

It is certainly the case that IP law is flawed, and inconsistent, and hard to see how in its present form best meets its objectives of serving the common interest, and allowing creators of material to profit therefrom.

However, that is a separate discussion from “What is the best thing for the BBC to do”, which is where I’ll now concentrate. Let’s just consider the material that the BBC itself produces, not that which it licences from elsewhere:

Which is most “in the public interest”?

  • A: For the BBC to allow ALL its material to be distributed freely over the Internet, accept a loss in revenue of approximately £625m per year (representing material that previously it sold on VHS and DVD), and balance the budget by making about 16% fewer programmes.
  • B: For the BBC to all ALL its material to be distributed freely over the Internet, accept a loss in revenue of approximately £625m per year (representing material that previously it sold on VHS and DVD), keep programming output at the current level, and seek a 20% increase in the licence fee to compensate.
  • C: For the BBC to put in place mechanisms that allow limited download, thus preserving the revenue it gets from VHS and DVD.

I wish that wordpress had a “vote now” mechanism 🙂

Free distribution of software under, say, the GPL [other licences are available] works very well, BECAUSE the nature of software makes it easy to extend, and putting in place a mechanism that makes it incumbent (under certain circumstances) to release those extensions back to the community has led to some great collaborative pieces of code – not least of which is “Linux” itself.

It is harder to see how the economic benefits of redistribution for extension meaningfully apply to, say, movies. YouTube seems full of “mashed” examples of where generally the resultant extended version is significantly inferior to the original product, and vanishingly few where the extended product improves upon the original.

I am aware of video works like “Star Wars Revolutions” that have been released under a non-commercial licence. However, I note that these were released by volunteers who had other sources of income to support themselves and provide the capital equipment used in film production. I am very supportive of this (I’ve been involved in volunteer “Arts Project” movies myself.)

However, this doesn’t provide a mechanism for creative people to devote all their time to creative production… and that favourite film I asked you to think of? Was it a commercial, copyright-restricted production, or have you thought of something open-source?


5 Responses to “Intellectual Property and the BBCs “Video on Demand” proposals”

  1. Dan said

    Really enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work!

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  2. I’ve had a lot of feedback about this by email, with some very interesting points. Including

    – the fact that, for other broadcasters, DVD sales haven’t been impacted by web-downloads anything like as much as I’d naively assumed they might be.

    – reminding me that the public service charter of the BBC would ensure that there was no “race to the bottom” caused by a small reduction in programme output.

    As such, I’m now leaning far more towards the suggestion that the BBC make the vast majority of its material available FOC, and accept that this might mean a 3-4% decrease in the programming output, but at the gain of having the material that WE (the licencepayer) funded available to us when WE wanted it.

  3. Chris Don said

    Hi markharrison,

    I think grid computing is the answer for streaming video distribution.

    Wish to publish high quality streaming video on your web site without having cost burden?

    Try cuxlden for lite server 1.0.3

    This program is based on grid computing(p2p method) to publish high quality streaming video on web page.

    You can check out in below link,

    Good luck,

    Chris Don

  4. Chris,

    Interesting product (and I always like free software.)

    The technologists are, I suspect, going to run ahead of the lawyers and politicians by many years on this.

    History has shown that you can’t fight the future.


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