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BBC HD copy protection: Abject failure

The BBC recently took time out of its busy schedule to explain -- in graphic form -- what copy protection is, and how it will affect us. We spotted a problem

The Big British Castle recently posted some handy tips on its blog about copy protection in our wonderful new digital world. Danielle Nagler, head of BBC HD -- Auntie's high-definition channel -- explained what restrictions were in place, and how some new features would affect the consumer. She laid down some home truths about why you're only allowed one copy of its precious HD goodness. Clearly, copy protection is required by content producers such as the Beeb and crucial in keeping programmes off the Internet.

So mission accomplished then. Um. No.

This is a terrific example of how rights holders and content distributors fail to understand anything about digital content. BBC HD uses a method of protecting content that's very similar to managed copy -- a feature that allows you to copy content a proscribed number of times from a Blu-ray disc to use on another device. It's never been implemented on prerecorded Blu-rays, because content creators apparently hate freedom and want to subjugate their customers into an ecosystem that suits only their bottom line.

The BBC HD flag allows a hi-def programme to be copied once from, say, a freesat recorder to a secure storage system -- such as an AACS-protected Blu-ray. Broadcast movies, incidentally, aren't included in this scheme and can't be copied at all.

The BBC's system is especially comical, because freesat is a platform built on free-to-air distribution. What that means is the broadcast comes to you via a satellite, in a form that's in no way protected from copyright theft. Anyone with a computer, a DVB-S capture card and a tiny amount of cunning can take the BBC's broadcasts, save them to a computer and distribute them using any method they like.

Yet the BBC makes a point in its graphic, below, of telling consumers they won't be able to distribute shows online.

The thing is, most normal people aren't interested in sharing TV shows online. Joe Public hasn't even heard of a newsgroup, let alone the inclination to capture a show, segment it into equally sized RAR files and post it on one. If anything, old Joseph just wants a little flexibility. Of course, HD on iPlayer is supposed to provide this -- but it isn't really HD. It's certainly not anywhere near as good as the 1080i picture from BBC HD. Plus, only giving people a short amount of time to watch -- a week, typically -- removes most of that flexibility.

And has any of this prevented illegal downloading or file sharing? Has it 'eck. You can download any BBC HD programme you want from a torrent site, newsgroup or IRC channel. You could say it's about as much use as the DRM on Blu-ray movies, which managed about a week before it was utterly scuttled by those pesky pirates. When will they learn?