Category Archives: Digital

The BBC – Combating Piracy In The Digital Age.

Next Wednesday the BBC is hosting a conference entitled “Combating Piracy In The Digital Age.“:

On 6 May the BBC is hosting a conference, bringing together people from across a wide range of creative industries to examine common approaches to combating online piracy.

Rt Hon David Lammy MP, Minister of State for Higher Education and Intellectual Property, will make a keynote address. Media analyst Mathew Horsman will present the latest analysis of how piracy is affecting music, TV, film and other sectors including computer games, business software and publishing. Senior figures from these industries will discuss the right legal approach to tackling piracy; the role that media literacy and consumer education might play; and how new business models could create attractive legal alternatives to what the pirates offer.

I will be going along and I am hoping it will prove to be a productive conference.

My vision and advice for the industry:

Commercial Tools

– The content producers in a digital media world have lost their ability to guarantee the uniqueness of their content.
Content owners have sought to lock their content down with Digital Rights Management (DRM) techniques. These DRM techniques have imposed much greater restrictions on content reproduction and distribution than those present in a non-DRM world. This has led to a desire for those who wish to have their content as free as possible to seek to circumvent these DRM techniques. The past ten years, since the introduction of the DMCA act in the United States in 1998, has seen a clash of cultures between those who believe that content owners have a right to manage the distribution of their product and those who believe that this content is part of culture and should be freely available. The advent of faster network access, improved coding techniques, more powerful computers, new protocols allowing for decentralised, distributed digital media delivery architecture, the rise of Open Source computing and the convergence of consumer media products has created seismic shifts in the digital media landscape. This has resulted in content producers starting to look at distributing their content DRM-free – but without having an alternative system which allows them to maintain some control they recognise that they are in a business model which is doomed to extinction.

– The infrastructure owners, the people delivering digital media content, have no incentive to deliver unique content.
Online delivery methods have developed which are decentralised and open. These have facilitated the free sharing of digital media – where the marginal cost of copying is almost zero. This has resulted in more people wanting greater infrastructure access, faster broadband, uncapped limits, etc. The infrastructure owners have benefited from non-interference in the traffic flowing across their network. Hence there is no gain for them, at the moment, in having one digital copy more valuable than another. They also have no desire to do the content owners job for them. The infrastructure owners recognise that the content producers have painted themselves into a corner with their doomed policies on DRM. They also recognise that by adopting the “do nothing” approach they can continue to benefit from the explosion in digital media content without having to get directly involved in negotiating access to it. There is a lack of trust on both sides. There have been efforts by both sides to legislate and sue the other into compliance. Neither side is enamoured with the other at the moment.

– The key is to develop a Digital Media Exchange to put trust back into the ecosystem and give both content producers and infrastructure owners the benefits of a unique digital media product.

This will require the will of the content producers to try something different – which they are more than willing to do at the moment – and a big carrot for the infrastructure owners. This we can give them as there are a lot of complementary services they could develop, which is what they will need in their competitive market where margins are low and churn rate is high.

The plan would be to digitally watermark content as it enters the Digital Media Exchange to allow for a unique identifier to be attributed to each piece of content. The content will also be in the highest quality format. You can then implement a system which will allow the people who wish to have access to this content – primarily focusing on businesses wishing to sell advertising (and using the content as a vehicle) to begin with – to specify what format they wish to get this in and how they wish to place their logos/messages on the audio/video.

The advantage this gives to the content owner is that they now have a unique product which can be redistributed in multiple format but always with a unique identifier and so therefore with a full audit trail. The advantage to the infrastructure owner is that by having access to a legitimate source of content they can build services around this which they can use to differentiate their offering from their competitors. The advantage to the advertiser is they get access to a whole new world of legitimate content – an untapped market which the content producer now can bring their product to, thus delivering them another benefit.

The input of digital media is the advantage for the content producer. All they need to provide is one high quality copy of the product with appropriate descriptions of the content. After that the system within the Digital Media Exchange assigns the appropriate coding to the file to indicate who it originated from and when and then proceeds to transcode multiple copies in multiple formats – each with its own unique code to identify it.

Within a Digital Media Exchange advertisers can choose the individual files, categories, user profiles, genres, etc. they wish to market to and upload appropriate branding to go with the formats and different market segments can get the same content with different branding, also diffent market regions can get different products targetted at the same demographic.

The digital media buyer can browse the Digital Media Exchange online and choose both file format and branding they would like on their output. If they would like to brand the file with their own specific identity then that facility also exists. So they can have the choice of:












This leads to a world where content producers and broadcasters stop thinking in terms of units sold or ratings achieved and more in terms of relationships formed.

Content producers target specific broadcasters for their market reach. Broadcasters deliver specific content to specific channels for specific market segments. People become fans of certain programmes/genres and they place a certain value on a programme based on the channel they receive it. These are the relationships that exist already between the various parties in the entertainment chain. These relationships get measured currently by specific metrics and these metrics give a value to a distribution chain.

By allowing users to store content centrally, the broadcaster becoming the facilitator of access to that content and the content producer being the primary source for renewal or upgrading of that content then you begin to build a new ecosystem that allows digital files to become unique as they begin to have a value that comes from the relationships.

This may not be to everyone’s liking – or people may want more immediate results – but if you begin to accept the realities of digital distribution then you recognise the need to think and act differently!

ISP to disconnect paying customers on a whim.


Now – Pwned!

The Financial Crisis: an Historical Perspecti

Why would you want to be a pirate?

BBC iPlayer – On a road to nowhere…

Road To Nowhere

Photo: Tom Blackwell. Used under Licence

Anthony Rose, Head of Digital Media Technology (or Head, Online Media Group depending on which bio you read) has a post on the BBC Internet blog entitled “BBC iPlayer goes portable” which depresses me. I thought Anthony Rose was going to be one of the new breed of BBC people who would fix some of the issues with the iPlayer – but this post breaks my heart! 😦

The most telling piece is this:

As part of trying to make the download experience as easy as possible, we’re not using P2P for these portable downloads; the files are served as direct HTTP downloads from our servers, which means you don’t need to install any software – just click the Download for Media Players link and save the file.

This is wrong on so many levels:

Firstly – he has just spent the preceding half of the post trying to explain which platforms will play the DRM’ed files, how to check if your media player may be one of them, what to do if it’s not and how downloading a file may not be enough to get it to work first time on your portable device – and yet he says he is – “trying to make the download experience as easy as possible“. Aaaaaaaarrrrrgggghhhhh!!!! Hint no. 1  – don’t use DRM.

Secondly – The fact that the BBC is not “not using P2P for these portable downloads” means that one of the core technologies that defined the original concept of the iMP/iPlayer is now redundant. The fact that the BBC is not using P2P is a sign that as a technology it’s failing. There is no reason not to use it, as the whole previous  discussion in the post is about “sideloading” the DRM’ed content onto a portable media player – so it would still require a Windows PC to get the content in the first place. So now, one of the principle reasons why Windows DRM was used in the first place – because P2P was the technology being used to distribute the content – is gone and therefore, with it, the reason for using Windows DRM – but instead of recognising this opportunity, Anthony bemoans the fact that Apple won’t let the BBC DRM it’s content! Aaaaaaarrrrrgggghhhhh!!!! Hint no. 2  – don’t use DRM.

Thirdly – Because it’s not using P2P then Anthony goes on to say “the files are served as direct HTTP downloads from our servers, which means you don’t need to install any software“. I have no idea why he thinks HTTP is significant here – it’s just a protocol. Whether it’s being FTP’ed, RTSP’ed or NNTP’ed is irrelevant, if you are delivering the whole file to me in one go then I have it all in one place. The significant thing here is the fact that it’s not using a P2P protocol – because this means my upstream back to my ISP isn’t being used. So this looks like a compromise for the ISPs. So now you’re looking after the ISP by dropping P2P and the content owner by DRM’ing the content. Who have you left compromised? The licence fee payer. FAIL! Why? Because this is technologically, in effect, exactly the same as the streaming offering, which is DRM free – but the BBC made a magical agreement with the BBC Trust and PACT that somehow streaming was different from downloading and now the only reason for continuing to use DRM is to keep this charade going! Aaaaaaarrrrrgggghhhhh!!!! Hint no. 3  – don’t use DRM.

Your life would be a lot simpler and you wouldn’t have to try and do these verbal and technological gymnastics if you just admit to the Trust and the rights owners that “streaming” is technologically the same as “downloading” and what you do with the streaming option – GeoIP restriction – hasn’t caused the end of the world – so it may well be worth trying the same with the download option. 

Photo: juicyrai. Used under Licence

Sometimes if you’re on the wrong road, the best thing to do is to stop, turn around and start again in a different direction. You may find it saves you a lot of heartache in the long-run! 🙂

Requiem For A Day Off


Just Genius.

How the BBC should provide a digital public service.

Nick Reynolds has asked some questions – directly and indirectly – in a post entitled: Freedom? Open Source? Show me how!.

Indirectly, he refers to a myCBBC post on the BBC Internet blog which asks:

– should broadcasters like the BBC allow users to collate other material alongside BBC assets?
– and if so, how do we technically guarantee that content is appropriate for younger users and doesn’t cross the line with third party rights agreements?

which I addressed previously with this idea:

Ultimately though, in my opinion, the BBC should be seeking to get content from the public and then act as a “store and forward” publisher, along with contributing some of its own content into a Digital Commons. Imagine if the BBC gave you the tools to publish your data/content wherever you wanted to from a central location. You could upload your images/video/text/audio to a space the BBC provided for you as part of your “digital licence” fee and once there you could have a suite of tools available which would allow you to publish that content to any other platform. Part of the job of the tool would be to pass the content through a BBC stamping procedure – which would allow for the content to be tracked across the Internet. This would let the BBC maintain quality control and manage any legal issues. Maintaining an area as a Digital Commons would mean that anyone wishing to play with BBC content could do so quite easily with the full knowledge that any content the BBC placed in a Digital Commons was public domain – a digital public service!

Directly, in his post he asks two questions deriving from two meetings he had. I’ve posted a comment on his site answering these:

“Why should the BBC let anyone use its brands or assets for nothing?”
Once content goes digital then people using your assets for “nothing” is an issue you have to confront. Your content is beyond your control when it is in a digital state – but if the purpose of broadcasting that content, in the first place, is to build a relationship with your audience and provide a public service, then these functions are still within your control – you just have to see people using your assets as being a good thing and a way of building relationships with your audience and a public service. The key thing to focus on is that this is about your content going digital. It’s not about being on the Internet – the Internet is just another distribution channel. On the brand issue – anyone using your brand without permission is seeking to subvert your efforts to build relationships and is “poisoning the well” – your brand is important and to be defended.

“He wants people to be able to come to the BBC and know instantly what assets they can take away and how they can play with them.”
It’s digital content – that’s how it works. The Internet is just the part of the broadcast chain with the lowest barrier to entry for production and distribution i.e. very few teenagers have their own broadcast studio with editing suite and terrestrial/satellite transmitter but quite a lot have a PC with a webcam and an Internet connection. Now if your content is being distributed digitally then it becomes part of the lingua franca of the Internet. The questions now are 1) How you maintain a link between the content and its source as it flows around this global network and 2) How do you build a relationship with this global audience?

Which leads us to your questions.

How are you going to do it?
The key is to maintain a link with the digital content and through that link build a relationship with the audience. Which is exactly the opportunity seeks to exploit. I left the BBC to start up this company as there is a win-win scenario here for content producer and distributor if they can be facilitated in working together. The alternative is the music industry!

And how are you going to persuade the people with the power that it should be done?
This concept is something UK plc must adopt – strategically it’s the digital equivalent of the Silk Road and the nation state that adapts by taking over the trade from the pirates and legalising (taxing) the goods that flow along the distribution chain reaps the reward.

Ps Andy Burnham’s pronouncements are to be seen in the same light as French governments in terms of a three-strike policy. No one believes such a localised law would survive a European Court challenge – but it makes for good headlines!

So there you go – get out there and build relationships by digitizing your content with a view to maintaining a link with it as it travels across the network – and where you are building a community around this content put tools and processes in place which allow the provenance of it to be traceable.

My work is done here!


Penny Arcade SecuROM

Penny Arcade:

The one topic upon which there is any consensus at all is that SecuROM copy protection barely deters piracy, and makes life more difficult specifically for paying customers.

So true.

I say, I say, I say. Any of this “loot” yours?


Independent article.

A spectacular collection of jewellery, Renaissance paintings and millions of pounds in cash were seized from the locations in Park Lane, Hampstead and Edgware. The ill-gotten gains – believed to be the proceeds of major organised crime – had been kept hidden in 7,000 deposit boxes for some of the country’s wealthiest individuals.

Whilst admitting:

Yesterday, armed police remained outside the safe depositories in the capital as officers continued to remove a treasure trove of valuables. It will take days to remove every box and prise it open, using specialist equipment, before its contents can be taken to a secret, secure, storage facility. Working day and night, officers have been logging each item, examining the goods found within every container – which range in size from shoe-box holders to walk-in vaults – to recover forensic evidence. Meanwhile, experts were yesterday trying to establish the authenticity of the works of art and whether some of the jewels may be legitimately owned.

They go on to say:

The Met Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who led the investigation into the “cash for peerages” affair, has said the centres could be linked to criminal activities from paedophilia to drug trafficking.

With the kicker in italics at the end:

Those wishing to collect their items should contact the police call centre on 0800 030 4613

Magnificent 🙂

The BBC – a Digital Commons.

1908 Berlin Balloon Race from the Bain Collection
Photo: Library of Congress. Public Domain.

Confirmed this morning – I’m off to the BBC/TechCrunch debate next week.

Mike Butcher has focused the discussion on the BBC as a common platform – i.e.:

Steve Bowbrick, who is chairing the debate, and I have subtitled the debate ‘a common platform’ which is a phrase that seems to suggest the potential for the Corporation (and other players like 4ip) to build a shared space for citizens, organisations, institutions and businesses to use.

Steve Bowbrick has a blog post which deals with this in more detail:

So what I’m talking about is building a big, generous, accommodating public platform that runs code and community and content – making life easier for creators and communities in Britain. A kind of giant shared computer that exposes useful assets like public data, educational content, archives and library catalogues, health data and democratic and community tools… The whole range of useful and enabling content and services that comes from state providers like the BBC, the Ordnance Survey and the Public Records Office and also the good stuff that comes from the commercial and third sectors.

On the panel is Azeem Azahar who wrote previously about a BBC Public License – which would:

* Use BBC content, build on it, add value, build audiences and personal relationships with it;

* Use BBC code, improve on it, make a business from it, give spin-offs from it away or sell them;

* Use BBC services to develop digital society, because the BBC can provide things that the market can’t;

A digital commons concept
Photo: Philippa Willitts. Used under licence.

These ideas are along the lines of the digital commons concept I was proposing:


I floated a few ideas (in the New Ideas Symposium and the Innovation Forum) in my days at the BBC.

Their essence lay in the fact that the BBC, historically, had been given a slice of scarce spectrum and in return provided a public service, but that in the digital era where spectrum was plentiful the BBC needed to focus and seek to act like a “commons” and provide an area where people could gather and share ideas and thoughts openly and creatively, with the BBC adding to the discussion (not seeking to lead). Part of this required a re-imagining of what the licence fee funded/was for.

As it stands people equate the licence fee with paying for the BBC, whereas I was agitating for a digital licence to fund content creation and for the BBC to offer a commons area where this content could be shared freely. The main intent was to move away from the idea being of funding access to an individual playout device – the television – and to be seen to be an organisation that simply made its content available to the nation, who could creatively use it after that.

I don’t think the licence fee is a bad way to fund the BBC (as long as the BBC keeps to it’s public service remit!) but I do think that it has got conflated with simply funding television viewing and as such it needs to be “replaced” and a new digital licence introduced with a new mission statement of what the BBC does.

I’m looking forward to this debate as it may be the birthplace for some interesting ideas!
Birthplace of the stars
Image: NASA. Public Domain.

The Nazi Monkeys ©

Nazi Monkey

Photo: sindicato de la imagen. Used under licence.

Paul Carr recently did a blog post entitled Mentioning the Arctic Monkeys to prove a copyright point is the new Godwin’s law which states:

Seriously – can anybody send me a link to a single decent argument for reforming copyright law in favour of thieves? Just one. Or better still, does anyone who argrees with Arrington/Welsh want to write a guest post on the subject for this blog?


First convincing economic argument wins. Closing date – I dunno, whenever. I suspect it might take a while for someone to prove Arrington right on this particular subject. Those pigs aren’t going to teach themself to fly.

I’m sure Mike Arrington can stick up for himself and I’m equally aware of the link bait/book promoting aspect of Paul’s post – but needs must.

To look at the economic argument, you must first understand how the rules of the game have changed and why, therefore, existing norms now need to be updated to these new circumstances.

So what has changed?

0. The network is the computer
It’s become a precondition of technological devices to have computer and/or Internet connectivity.

1. The production chain has gone digital.
Audio, video and text production is now possible to produce in an end-to-end digital chain.

2. The distribution chain has gone digital.
Moving digital voice, video or text is only a matter of how fast you can do it.

3. The means of production and distribution have been decentralised.
The rise of the PC and the Internet to connect them.

4. The cost of digital storage has fallen.
Cost per MB now makes storage of vast quantities of data seem reasonable.

5. The speed of broadband has risen.
Moving vast quantities of data now seems reasonable.

6. The open source model has given developers an open platform.
If no one owns the platform then no one controls it.

7. The open standards model has given innovative companies a level playing field.
Open standards allows new ecosystems to develop and grow unhindered by incumbent players.

8. The increase in instant communication and social networking tools.
We now live in a world where the mobile phone, instant messaging and sharing links to data is the norm.

9. The use of digital content as cultural shorthand.
YouTube, Dailymotion, Flickr, Photobucket, WordPress, Blogger, etc.

Combined these have lowered barriers to entry, encouraged innovation and allowed data to be shared freely.

How have these changes affected the cultural environment?

What do you see as the digital future?

5 years out – Explosion in cheap consumer products that theoretically allows you to have digital content “anytime, any place anywhere”. Network architecture that doesn’t. Spectrum sale warms up. Computer gaming continues to grow as the pastime for teenagers. Convergence of electronic products is the norm. Fracturing of channels accelerates with growth in “online only” broad/pod/vod/IPcasters. Sky and BT merge. IPTV starts to be seen as a viable distribution model. Mainstream broadcasters content struggles to compete with online user generated content and consumers find access to content not an issue but finding the time to watch it the constraint. Branding imperative to “tag” your content, as people may well consume it without ever using your delivery vehicle. Standards and DRM come to the fore as delivery companies try to tie you into their preferred platform. Mobile delivery considered to be the next big thing (and this time we mean it!)

10 years out – Network architecture catches up. Sky/BT have their 21st Century Network in place, the BBC is delivering digital-only content (Except for FM still!) and shooting everything in HD – so is everyone else – network architecture falls behind again. Those who bought the freed up spectrum try to sweat every bit of content for as much revenue as possible to get a return on investment. Online archive of past week’s linear broadcast available on-demand and can be streamed as live. Channels fracture some more as IPTV allows for thousands of channels. Spectrum no longer the scarce resource, so BBC’s Unique Selling Point is primarily it’s quality. Mobile delivery considered to be the next big thing (and this time we mean it! No, really we do!)

20 years out – Network architecture catches up. Online archive of past year’s linear broadcast available on-demand and can be streamed as live. Ultra High Definition on the horizon – network architecture falls behind again. Mobile delivery considered to be the next big thing (and this time we mean it! No really we do! You just watch!)

What is really happening with the convergence of electronic appliances is not necessarily the shifting of all content to one platform but the freedom to substitute one digital good for another, both of which are in competition for the scarce resource – time.

The marginal cost of production – where a digital reproduction is claimed to have a zero marginal cost, as you still have the original but I have a perfect copy for free, as the cost of storage heads to zero, – is missing the point as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t wish to consume something only because it is free.

When the substitutable alternatives available to me are free of cost but require my investment of time then I have no incentive to add a monetary cost to the equation.

If what you have to offer costs me in monetary terms and time then you need to add value in a way that turns the substitute good into a complementary one.

The trick is to recognise who in the market are playing by the economic rules (mostly the consumers on the Internet) and who are seeking protectionist measures (mostly the rights holders – DRM etc.) and to show those seeking protection from the market how rational the market actually is behaving and that if they innovate, they can reposition themselves from being protectionists in a declining business model to being on the growth curve in a new business model.

Once your stuff goes digital you have to compete with free.

Free is not a bad/good thing in itself but it is important that you recognise it as your starting point.

Adding value to the experience is where the sweet spot is in terms of being on the upward growth curve.

I won’t jump into the straw man argument of arguing for reforming copyright in favour of thieves but I will make the case that any law which states that format shifting is illegal – thus making everyone with an MP3 player guilty – is one which is being infringed on such a scale as to make it meaningless. 

TED | Talks | Erin McKean: Redefining the dictionary (video)

2009/04/30 – Redid this with the new embedding of TED talks on WordPress!

Original post.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Tools

Maslow – he of the Hierarchy of Needs Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs fame – accurately describes the desire to make the problem fit the solution:

I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.

Abraham Harold Maslow
The Psychology of Science: A Reconnaissance

Maslow's Hierarchy of Tools

Why is this relevant?

Well judging from this CNET report on the recent Digital Hollywood conference the film and music industries are still seeing nails:

“At a time when the top recording companies appear to be phasing out digital rights management (DRM), the RIAA is predicting that the highly controversial software will make a comeback.

“(Recently) I made a list of the 22 ways to sell music, and 20 of them still require DRM,” said David Hughes, who heads up the RIAA’s technology unit, during a panel discussion at the Digital Hollywood conference. “Any form of subscription service or limited play-per-view or advertising offer still requires DRM. So DRM is not dead.”

….Fritz Attaway, executive vice president at the Motion Picture Association of America said: “We need DRM to show our customers the limits of the license they have entered into with us.””

Well done Eileen!


My sister, Eileen, won best actress at the Tribeca Film Festival last night for her performance in the film Eden.

Here’s a review (RealPlayer) that the arts programme, The View, did of the film.

My twin sister, Catherine, had played the same role in the play.

Eileen was interviewed on Irish radio this morning and was surprised to find out she won!

If you get a chance to see the film or the play, go see it. It’s excellent!

Marginal cost of zero or substitute goods – Redux!

(Or how I learned to stop worrying and love economics AGAIN!)


Following my original post – which induced some head scratching in some BBC people – I’ve revisited this idea in more detail:

If I have only a set number of hours in the day to watch/listen/read what you have to offer and I can now carry/sit at/watch a device which allows me to do any or all of these functions, and more, then the scarce resource isn’t the spectrum required to deliver the audio/video or the printing press required to deliver the text – but the scarce resource is my time. Using DRM to try and create a scarce resource (which is what DRM really tries to do) where there is none is flawed – more so, when there is a valid scarce resoruce already to hand!

Why is my time the scarce resource?

If I have a device which lets me treat all of these separate functions like one act – instead of having to decide whether I buy this newspaper or that one, whether to listen to this radio station or that one, whether to watch this programme or that one – I get to decide whether to read this newspaper or watch this programme, whether to listen to this station or read this article, etc. – then I can switch between one digital version of content and another without distinguishing between them as being completely different media. So I can substitute one for another.

Now the guys in the audio business are in competition with the video and text guys as well as the other guys in audio for a limited slice of my time. The video guys are in competition with the audio and text guys as well as the other video guys for a limited slice of my time. The text guys are in competition with the audio and video guys as well as the other text guys for a limited slice of my time.

Once content people start to realise that to make their content compelling they have to ensure that the text they have also has the appropriate audio and video links and vice versa, then they too realise that each bit of content is in some ways a substitute for the other – but by putting it all together in one space it makes the need for me to substitute one for another unnecessary. Make this offering compelling enough and it means I just use you for all my audio, video and text needs (free and paid-for) – thus instead of substituting one content/provider for another I see all your offerings as one complementary piece.

The convergence of electronic devices doesn’t mean I will eventually use only one device for everything but what it does mean is any of the devices I will have will be able to display all the various types of media and either I will swap the digital content between them quite easily or the digital content will live in the cloud and all the devices will be connected continuously to the cloud and to each other.

This gets more disrupted by some of the digital content being free of any economic cost. Therefore, because I can substitute one offering for another – I can read the blog entry which has the YouTube links to what I’m interested in or I can pay to read your article which has links to the official video which I also must pay for (and is in a proprietary format which will only play on one of the platforms I move my media around on) – you had better makes what you have worth paying for because there is no incentive for me to pay, if both cost the same amount of my time.

Now some make the case that all information should be free but that is not what my argument is. Just because something is free doesn’t make it worth spending my time on – but when all digital content (audio/video/text) can be reproduced and put online for little or no cost then your offering must compete with free. There is no point ignoring this concept or hoping to sue it or technologically defeat it out of existence.

What you can do is recognise that free is your starting point and then add value to various offerings that you have that make investing economically worthwhile – so you can have a free low quality version which has a link to the free medium quality (nagging) ad supported version which has a link to the paid-for high quality, personalised download from the content producer’s distribution system.

With the rapid growth in storage capacity, for a much cheaper price per megabyte, then people are making the argument that the cost of a digital reproduction is, in effect, zero – two much repeated examples at the moment are Chris Andersons’s “Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business” and Kevin Kelly’s “Better Than Free”

Both build their arguments implicitly on the demise of geographically restricted rights agreements – which is premature. But what they do correctly show, is that by taking the thing that makes the Internet so scary for rights holders (anyone can copy my stuff) and make that into a virtue (anyone can copy my stuff) then you begin to use the Internet, it’s community and your digital content to great effect.

Another article that gets repeated is a TechDirt one – “Saying You Can’t Compete With Free Is Saying You Can’t Compete Period”. I think the assumptions in this are flawed – but it does use “the marginal cost is zero” argument.

Once your stuff goes digital you have to compete with free.

Free is not a bad/good thing in itself but it is important that you recognise it as your starting point.

Adding value to the experience is where the sweet spot is in terms of being on the upward growth curve.

And that is the argument I was making.

Marginal cost of zero or substitute goods?

(Or how I learned to stop worrying and love economics)

Dr. Strangelove (Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb)

(Update 07/04/2008 – See this post for a plain english version)

I have one hour to spare

Do I:

Listen to a live broadcast in the hope of serendipity or the podcast I have lined up?

Click on the YouTube and DailyMotion links I have in an email or go to the on-demand offerings from the broadcasters to catch the programme I missed last night?

Follow the links in a story I’m reading online or do I catch up on the RSS feed?

Post a blog entry or update my Flickr photostream?

Listen to the podcast or watch the YouTube/DailyMotion videos?

Read the links in the story or update my photostream?

In economic terms:

Is it that all digital information must be free or that all digital goods are perfect/imperfect substitutes and if one is free then this is your price floor?

Is it the average cost versus the marginal cost of a digital item or the average cost of one item versus the marginal cost of another where all goods are perfect/imperfect substitutes?

Is one digital good a perfect substitute for another or is it that the scarce resource is time and the choice of goods determined by the lowest barrier to entry where goods are imperfect substitutes but the means of delivering them makes substituting one for another more advantageous than the pursuit of the original?

What value can you add to a perfect/imperfect substitute to make it a complementary good?


What is really happening with the convergence of electronic appliances is not necessarily the shifting of all content to one platform but the freedom to substitute one digital good for another, both of which are in competition for the scarce resource – time.

The marginal cost of production – where a digital reproduction is claimed to have a zero marginal cost, as you still have the original but I have a perfect copy for free, as the cost of storage heads to zero, – is missing the point as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t wish to consume something only because it is free.

When the substitutable alternatives available to me are free of cost but require my investment of time then I have no incentive to add a monetary cost to the equation.

If what you have to offer costs me in monetary terms and time then you need to add value in a way that turns the substitute good into a complementary one.

The trick is to recognise who in the market are playing by the economic rules (mostly the consumers on the Internet) and who are seeking protectionist measures (mostly the rights holders – DRM etc.) and to show those seeking protection from the market how rational the market actually is behaving and that if they innovate, they can reposition themselves from being protectionists in a declining business model to being on the growth curve in a new business model.

Links for substitute goods:

Links for complementary goods:

Links for marginal cost

Links for average cost:


RTE_DAB_Gold_Mux, originally uploaded by mike.walsh.

RTE, the state broadcaster in Ireland, extended their DAB broadcast this weekend to Cork and Limerick.

I captured the settings for the various digital channels and put them up on my Flickr phototstream. See:


Getting a jump on Spring!

Although it’s not Spring yet, I felt a little spring cleaning was in order, so I’ve given the Digital Rights Manifesto website a bit of a spruce up.

Have a look and tell me what you think!

DRM philosophy update

I have been letting my brain quietly get on with formulating a proper concept of what I think a Digital Rights Management philosophy should be.

Then, last week, I posted a comment to a blog entry Kent Newsome had done.

Kent kindly followed a link to my manifesto and had a read. It was, he says, something that he “generally agree with, except that I will not accept any form of embedded DRM.

Which prompted me to comment in the post:

“Thanks for the nod Kent!

On the issue of “…. except that I will not accept any form of embedded DRM.” I guess I didn’t explain myself properly.

I think I will revisit the wording on this as it’s not meant to be DRM as a technological solution but DRM as a social solution. By this I mean rights are rights. The rights that you possess with a tangible, physical product should automatically transfer to a digital version of the same thing. Thus, secondary sale rights, freedom to share, etc. should be something we are free to do with digital versions.

All technological solutions seek to protect the content, whereas I would make the case that we should agree what we consider to be the social norms for dealing with a digital version of a physical product are and then use existing legislation to punish those who break these on an industrial scale.

My initial effort was an attempt to subvert the meaning of DRM by taking its existence and turning it back on itself – to support the idea of DRM – but to turn it from a technological solution to a social solution.

My earnest belief is that rights are important and anything that promotes this idea is a good thing. Technological DRM solutions have sought to go way beyond the bounds of existing copyright law (it doesn’t have to be like that though, as watermarking is a form of technological DRM which can be used to protect rights without depriving one of the other parties of theirs) and seek to hand all the rights to the copyright owner and none to the audience. This is fundamentally wrong. Unfortunately most of the copyright owners I have talked to have been blinded by their belief that a technological solution is the panacea to all their ills in a digital future. They have lost faith in their audience and have been hoodwinked into seeing everyone as pirates and thieves. Thus my attempt to talk to them using terms that they are comforted by but seeking to rob those terms of their existing meaning and infuse them with a more realistic connotation.

Some other postings I’ve done which flesh this out a bit more in a real world situation:


At which point I thought – “Well there it is! My DRM philosophy”.

So I shall rewrite the website over the next couple of weeks to incorporate this.

Ps – one of the links I posted in the comment to Kent  gave a weird character error – hence why I reposted the original post again with a slightly different heading.

BBC iPlayer, DRM, cross platform support and Peer-to-Peer Part II.

The BBC is getting an ass-kicking in the technological playground that is the Internet at the moment. This is mainly because it’s playing by the rules whilst others are playing fast and loose (, YouTube to name just two) with the legal niceties.

My own personal opinion is that the BBC made a decision to go with peer-to-peer technology as a means to distribute their content online and as a result of this they ended up having to implement a proprietary DRM solution (and thus took away the ability to be cross-platform) to try and satisfy some of the competing stakeholders, which naturally ended up disenfranchising other stakeholders. Somebody had to make the unenviable call as to who would lose out (possibly just in the short-term with a view to meeting their requirements in the long term) – but there was always going to be a loser.

Now, if it were up to me I would have gone with centralised distribution of high quality audio/video via multicast, low bitrate DRM-free downloads (i.e. the poor man’s BBC) and a “streaming” Flash 30 day catch-up service. Why? – because soon the problem won’t be getting to see content online but being able to find the quality from the tidal wave of content that is coming. With plummeting storage costs and soaring broadband speeds the amount of content that can be stored and moved around the Internet will only increase exponentially.

This would have caused a problem with rights holders but I would have worked with them to bring them into the Promised Land – as they will thank the BBC in the long run when they realise that getting your stuff found online is going to be their biggest headache – when Google/News Corp/Microsoft/Yahoo become the gatekeepers. The BBC have little text links beside their news stories (some might dare to call them ads) to take you to the appropriate website of an individual or organisation named in the article. Having a 30 day catch-up service that had a URL to take you to the rights holders’ commercial offering or a low bitrate download which had embedded html links or a watermark which “linked” you to the rights holders high bitrate offering would be a massive service to the rights holders and simply an expansion on an existing practice.

Now they may have not gone for this but I would have tried something else and then something else and then something else – because I fundamentally believe it would have actually been in the best interests of the rights holders (even though they may not have recognised it immediately) in the long run.

Rights should be protected. Starting with the consumer’s. If the BBC had started from this premise then it would have won more advocates – as it is it has continued down the dead-end of using DRM to protect the content – which is doomed to failure, as the very notion of DRM protecting any content evaporated with FairUse4WM being updated before the iPlayer soft launch and allowing all the files to be cracked – resulting in press releases stating that all DRM is going to get cracked – thus making the whole process invalid and pointless. The thing to remember though is that the guys designing the iPlayer system would have implemented DRM for the rights holders, whose wishes are in direct conflict with the licence fee payer’s rights whose wishes are in economic conflict with the wishes of the industry players, etc – so it was always going to be in conflict with one interested parties wishes.

Rights should be protected. Starting with those of the licence fee payer, those of the content creator, those of the copyright holder, etc. They may need to stop calling it Digital Rights Management though – as I’m sure most people now interpret this as some kind of “Microsoft knows best” and “We will only let you watch/listen/print/etc what we want you to watch/listen/print/etc”. So instead it may be worth rebranding it as Digital Rights Protection and start from the point of wishing to protect peoples rights – those of the licence fee payer, those of the content creator, those of the copyright holder, etc. and not worry about how you protect the content for the moment – to be fair it hasn’t been a huge success up to now (unless you’re selling a DRM solution, but even then those days are numbers as evidenced by SONY rootkits and Amazon/Virgin Digital/Google Video all pulling their DRM offerings) and when in a hole the best thing to do, to begin with, is stop digging!

Anybody who thinks they’ve got the answer – they don’t! They just have a way of satisfying their needs/requirements/desires – but this means that someone else will suffer –  as at the end of the day the BBC is comprised of a group of competing wishes and desires and operating in a competitive marketplace where it has the added impediment of government oversight et al.

There are very, very smart people working at the BBC. They are fully aware of all of the ins and outs of the arguments. Sometimes someone makes a decision and it’s the wrong one in the long term, but in the short term it is absolutely the right one – as it deals with the immediately biggest hurdle, which if it isn’t surmounted then all the subsequent little hurdles matter not a jot. The important thing to remember is the BBC does not operate in a vacuum, not only does it’s actions have repercussions on the industry but also because it’s looking to play in the online environment, then stuff can come out of left field and completely scupper it’s best laid plans. It’s a giant in the historical broadcasting era but it’s just another player, for the moment, in the online world.

The iPlayer Reality Distortion Field is obviously nature’s way of balancing out the Steve Jobs RDF! Just as Steve Jobs continues to make silk purses out of sows’ ears, so the iPlayer continues to be King Midas in reverse. Eric Huggers, ex Microsoft, had nothing to do with DRM on either iPlayer or iMP – and since he joined the BBC announces that it will be “streaming” content via Adobe flash – yet he is held up as an example of the Microsoft disease in the BBC.

Anybody who says this has never worked in the BBC. There is a corporate desire to use the pervasive platform versus the creative desire to use the most versatile and inspiring versus the engineers desire to use the most robust and most technically solid versus the news/vision/audio and music/nations and regions/etc divisions desire to use their application– this is the same in any creative organisation I would imagine – but if you haven’t worked there then you would just assume that what is rolling out the door is some “BBC” master plan but it isn’t – what you get most of the time is a compromise.

Points off the top of my head:

1. Good people on iPlayer working against competing goals – rights owners versus licence fee payers versus industry players versus government restrictions versus industry watchdog versus governors/trustees versus changing marketplace

2. Agreement with PACT for 30 days – the Trust says 16???? WTF?

3. The Beethoven downloads were done without consulting and MIA by OFCOM specifically legislates against classical music downloading – a real-world example OFCOM had to work with or an opportunity to set an example as a warning to others? Either way this is an example of the law of unintended consequences.

4. The iPlayer service is the on-demand service BUT there is also an iPlayer application. The iPlayer service is the important thing – which establishes the BBC’s right to deliver content over IP. The iPlayer application (the thing with the DRM) is the uncle we shall not speak of.

5. The Trust coming along and saying that they recognise that 80% of people submitting an opinion didn’t want DRM but they were going to ignore this??? WTF?

Yes the BBC should do good – as the current funding model allows it to operate in a way that should free it from the day-to-day hubbub of corporate politics – but the changing media landscape means that some attempts at adapting will be wrong, not through any malice or nefarious plan, but simply with so many competing interests to satisfy taking a punt on one possible solution is guaranteed to piss somebody off but at least it is worth it if the market is going in the same direction. All that’s happened with the iPlayer at the moment is that someone made a call but the market has gone in a different direction, the BBC will now need to re-align to the new playing field.


As long as people care then the BBC is in rude health. I know this can seem like a huge annoyance when you have to listen to people spouting their vested interest with no regard for others interests, but the fact that people still think their voice counts means they are still investing in the BBC. When people stop caring is when you’re screwed.

Part I

(Update – this is a reposting of an original entry.)