BBC must reconsider encryption plans

A petition to Sir Michael Lyons, the chairman of the BBC Trust, asks the BBC to reconsider plans to encrypt BBC transmissions that will prevent video recording.
30 May 2010

Dear Sir Michael,


We write in connection with the BBC’s current application to Ofcom to vary the terms of its licence for its HDTV service by encrypting signals using DRM (Digital Rights Management). We have written separately to Ofcom to oppose this proposal but write to you now because we believe it raises several important issues for the BBC Trust.

First, and procedurally, the BBC management’s application to Ofcom raises the question (interestingly identified by Diana Coyle and Chris Woolard in their book for the Trust, 'Public Value in Practice') whether a new application should be made to the Trust, analogous to that for the “bookmarking” function of the iPlayer. We believe that the encryption proposal is so fundamental a change from the original HDTV proposal, and one which raises such fundamental issues for the BBC, that it should be the subject of a new Public Value Test. You will be aware that DRM is a kind of encrypted digital lock used to control access to digital files and signals.  In order to access the BBC HD signal a viewer will require equipment containing the relevant decryption key.

Second, and substantively, the proposal to encrypt the HDTV signal using DRM breaks the clear and, seemingly unequivocal, undertaking made in the BBC’s Building Public Value (published in 2004), and underwritten by the last Chairman of the BBC Governors, Mr Michael Grade, that the BBC would not encrypt its services. Building Public Value stated (p 10) that “the BBC will always be on the side of universal provision, open access and unencryption”.

Third, and also substantively, the proposals to use DRM in the BBC’s HDTV signals breaks from the Trust’s policy, stated (at p 9) in the PVT authorisation of the HDTV proposal, that “Any move from the currently proposed HD standards on picture resolution should not disadvantage consumers who invest in HD equipment which meets the current standards”.

We believe that implementation of the proposals currently before Ofcom will have the effect of disadvantaging viewers who already have bought an integrated HD receiver (TV) and who have a separate PVR (personal video recorder). It appears that the DRM proposed will permit recording only when the PVR is "integrated" with the HD receiver. It appears that the regime proposed will require purchase of a new PVR and the use of that tuner, rather than the one in the TV. This, we believe, not only breaks with the terms on which the Trust has authorised the BBC’s HDTV service but also sets an important, and very unfortunate, precedent whereby the interests of rights holders (and if the BBC's Strategy Review is to be believed, the interests of, at most the suppliers of 2.5% of BBC spend) are prioritised over the interests of UK viewers and licence fee payers.

We therefore urge the Trust to undertake a new PVT in respect of the HDTV proposals which are currently before Ofcom and which we believe depart radically from the terms of the authorisation you earlier granted, break with the undertakings made in 2004 in Building Public Value and undesirably and disproportionately prefer the interests of rights holders over those of licence fee payers.

A fuller statement of our analysis is to be found in our evidence to Ofcom at Please contact Blaine Price ([email protected]) and/or Ray Corrigan ([email protected]) in the first instance should you wish to respond or seek more information in respect of this letter.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the undersigned and do not necessarily reflect those of the Open University.


Yours sincerely,


John Naughton

Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology


Blaine Price

Senior Lecturer in Computing


Ray Corrigan

Senior Lecturer in Technology


Marian Petre

Professor in Computing


Anthony Meehan

Senior Lecturer in Computing


Arosha Bandara

Lecturer in Computing


Mustafa Ali

Lecturer in Computing


Simon Holland

Senior Lecturer in Computing


Mike Richards

Lecturer in Computing


Steve Walker

Lecturer and Staff Tutor in Maths Computing and Technology


Linda Price

Senior Lecturer in Educational Technology


Chris Bissell

Professor in Telematics


Richard Collins

Professor of Media Studies


Ivan Horrocks

Senior Lecturer in Technology Management



Professor of Environmental Systems


David Butts

Senior Lecturer and Staff Tutor in Technology


Shailey Minocha

Reader in Computing


Kevin Collins

Lecturer in Systems and Environment


Jacky Crook

Staff Tutor in Technology, Open University in Scotland


Mirabelle Walker

Lecturer in Communication and Systems


Martin Reynolds

Lecturer in Systems and Environment


Bashar Nuseibeh

Professor in Computing


Linda Robson

Lecturer and Staff Tutor in Maths Computing and Technology


Michel Wermelinger

Senior Lecturer in Computing


Malcolm Jones

Staff Tutor and Lecturer in Technology


Tom Denton

Technology Staff Tutor


Tony Nixon

Senior Lecturer in Information Systems


Doug Clow

Lecturer in Interactive Systems Development


Bernie Clark

Senior Lecturer in Communication and Systems


Martin Weller

Professor of Educational Technology


Roger Jones

Lecturer in Telematics


Neil Smith

Lecturer in Computing


Godfrey Boyle

Professor of Renewable Energy


Magnus Ramage

Lecturer in Communication and Systems


Steven Self

Lecturer in Computing


Alistair Willis

Lecturer in Computing


Adrian Jackson

Staff Tutor in Computing


Janet van der Linden

Senior Lecturer in Computing


Panagiota Alevizou

OLnet Researcher in Institute of Educational Technology


Karen Shipp

Lecturer in Information Systems


Pat Allen

Staff Tutor in Computing


Martin Le Voi

Senior Lecturer in Psychology


Nick Dalton

Lecturer in Computing


Paul Marshall

Research Fellow in Computing


Kevin Waugh

Lecturer in Computing


Shirley Northover

Lecturer in Technology


Roger Spear

Senior Lecturer in Systems


Marc Eisenstadt

Emeritus Professor of Artificial Intelligence

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