The BBC will launch its iPlayer within a week as planned, despite new cracks which have appeared for the Microsoft Windows digital rights management system on which it is based. The original architect of the iPlayer initiative is also leaving the corporation before it launches.
The iPlayer has attracted criticism for its use of proprietary digital rights management technology from Microsoft. Critics contend that no digital rights management system can be completely secure. The Microsoft system was first compromised last year. Microsoft patched their protection system, but a new crack has appeared.
A new tool has appeared on a number of web sites, claiming to uncover the keys used by the Microsoft digital rights management system on an individual computer, together with an updated version of the original FairUse4WM software.
The tool apparently strips the digital rights management from iPlayer programming, allowing it to be freely copied and played indefinitely, rather than with the licence limitations intended by the BBC.
In a statement the BBC said that it would not delay the launch of the BBC iPlayer. “We know that some people can — and do — download BBC programmes illegally. This isn’t the first piece of software to be hacked or bypassed. Nor will it be the last. No system is perfect. We believe that the overwhelming majority of licence-fee payers welcome this service and will want to use it fairly.”
Microsoft has confirmed that it is aware of the latest crack, saying that it has long stated that no DRM system is impervious to circumvention. Microsoft has a renewal system that allows dynamic updates in the event that its security is breached.
While digital rights management systems will continue to be cracked and patched, some argue that they are inherently flawed and ultimately futile. Microsoft has been a keen proponent of digital rights management as a mechanism to retain value in digital media distribution, but many media companies are beginning to question this assumption.
Notably, EMI Music has launched unprotected high-quality downloads across its entire digital repertoire.
Given that all BBC programmes are originally transmitted without any form of encryption, critics have argued that there is no justification for the use of proprietary copy protection system for the iPlayer platform.
The BBC contends that the use of copy protection is required by independent producers, saying: “We will, of course, be taking what steps we can to make sure that the rights arrangements we have agreed with talent are respected.”
The BBC iPlayer project, formerly known as iMP, has taken many years to come to fruition. Ben Lavender, who credits himself on a professional networking web site as “inventor of BBC iMP,” “architect of the BBC’s on-demand strategy” and an “industry recognised expert in pan-platform on-demand secure media distribution,” is now leaving the BBC before it launches.
Ben Lavender will become group digital and product director at LoveFilm International, the online DVD rental and film download company.