The BBC hasÃ‚Â got into bed with Microsoft to provide its planned “download everything BBC TV shows for a week after the event for free” service.
The BBC and Microsoft? Surely the BBC is a public service organisation, digital rights management (DRM) is evil and Microsoft is worse? Why not use Ogg or some similar open-geek format? We’ve already paid our licence fee… surely this goes against the free-to-air ethos that the Beeb stands for?
Not in this case, actually. The Beeb has been forced by its agreements with royalties organisations and other copyright holders  to use secure DRM on its online output, so that the casual user can’t download programmes, burn them onto DVDs and give them to their friends. It’s also working with Apple and NTL to build secure DRM for people other than traditional PC users.
Why not go open-source? There is not yet a consumer-ready open-source DRM application that would reassure rights holders that their content would be protected. There is a question mark for many businesses over the compatibility in principle between open-source and DRM. And rights holders are not willing to allow the BBC to release content for which they hold the copyright unless DRM is used.
As any open source evangelist will tell you, no DRM system is actually secure. Still, this isn’t entirely insane of the rights holders. If a system is strong enough to deter everyone except clever hackers and serious pirates from bothering to break it, it is good enough. Individually ripped TV shows will still be uploadable to P2P networks and sold on pirate DVDs (as they are now from DVD and the airwaves), but using P2P or buying movies from a gangster in a pub is too dodgy and too much effort for the vast majority of users.
The BBC has a choice of either using closed standards to make its wealth of content available on the web, or of not making its wealth of content available on the web. Out of those options, I’m glad it’s chosen the first – even though I’d prefer the impossible option of free DivXs all round.
 My girlfriend played a minor  role in a popular BBC show 12 years ago. She still gets sent the occasional cheque for a few pounds from overseas sales and repeats. Actors unions, reasonably, aren’t going to give up these kinds of rights, no matter how much we’d all like to see a perpetual, legal, free-to-view drama archive.
Ã‚Â A dead minor, as it happens.