iPlayer On, iPlayer Off

The BBC's iPlayer has long been a thorn in the side of the Open Source community. Since it entered public beta in mid-2007, the BBC has consistently flip-flopped between completely ignoring FOSS users, serving them third-rate pacifier versions, and begrudgingly granting access to what Windows users have had all along. And the flipping continues.

The latest round of iPlayer headaches comes under the guise of SWF verification, a form of DRM used by Adobe to prevent unauthorized use of streaming content. Until recently, iPlayer — which uses Adobe's Real Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) for streaming — did not utilize SWF verification, allowing non-Adobe media players to stream iPlayer content. This has given users the choice to avoid proprietary applications while still having access to BBC content — content paid for out of their pocket. (Because it is paid for by a public tax, iPlayer content is only available to viewers in the UK.)

As of the 18th, however, that is no more. The developers of XBMC, an Open Source media player, appear to have been the first to uncover the BBC's activation of SWF, which was reported via the project's bug tracker the following day. XBMC relies on the LGPL-licensed librtmp library for RTMP streaming, which does not implement SWF verification due to legal concerns. (Well-founded concerns, it would seem, given that Adobe has used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act against at least one RTMP-related project in the past.) As a result of the change, XBMC users — and any other non-SWF implementation of RTMP — have been shut out of the BBC's stash.

The BBC's Internet Blog has acknowledged the issue — and woefully under-represented the scope of the outrage — but offered no comment. A lively thread on the subject is ongoing in the iPlayer forum, with dozens of users indicating their dismay at the change. It appears that one or more BBC employees have commented (their identities have not been confirmed), with one offering the bizarre explanation that the Terms of Use for the iPlayer's RSS feeds are to blame.

A post to the XBMC blog on Thursday expressed the projects disappointment with the decision, saying "While we understand the BBC’s reasoning for the decision, we surely don’t agree with it." The post went on to note the DMCA issues involved, and encouraging users to make their opinions known. A discussion of some form appears to be in the works, as evidenced by Twitter postings between XBMC and bbcbackstage, the BBC's early-adopter network.

iPlayer content continues to be available on all platforms with Adobe support, both through site-based streaming and the service's iPlayer Desktop, a cross-platform Adobe AIR application. Those adverse to Adobe's proprietary nature, as well as those on platforms unsupported by Adobe, will unfortunately remain out in the cold.

In what may turn out to be a happy coincidence, the BBC Trust is conducting a review of the service's on-demand offerings, which it agreed to do after twenty-four months when the new services were first approved in 2007. (That thirty-five months will have elapsed when the review concludes seems to have been overlooked.) As part of the review, the Trust is soliciting public comment, and if the current publicity is any indication, they can expect quite a lot of it.

Image courtesy of schmilblick.


Justin Ryan is a Contributing Editor for Linux Journal.


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.


Kevinpt's picture

Can someone please explain how the DMCA applies in the UK? I don't see why XBMC can't legally implement SWF. If there's some British law that this would run afoul of then state it and stop blaming the DMCA.

I pay for it

D@ve's picture


It says i pay for "BBC website (bbc.co.uk)" are they going to block me if i
use a Sharp tv instead of a Sony one?

XBMC Contacted by the Beeb

TheUni's picture

We've indeed been contacted by someone at the BBC backstage, but it doesn't look like they have enough influence to change this kind of thing. I'm afraid it will take an aggressive bad-press campaign to shake things up. Keep posting those links...

Don't forget the iPlayer converter

Anonymous's picture


Bezoar's picture

Malapropisms aside that was one of the most poorly written articles that I have ever had the misfortune to read. Is English the writer’s mother tongue? "And the flipping continues." Is that supposed to be "And this flipping continues."?

"This has given users the choice to view avoid proprietary applications while still having access to BBC content...". Como? "view avoid" is this a phrase I am not geek enuff to understand?

This is from the one, the only "Linux Journal"?

Running "Spell Check" is NOT proofing.

You may not like my grammar, spelling or delivery but I am not being paid to write for your journal either.

Certainly, if this is any example, I am not going to pay to read it either.

Bezoar - While spelling and

Anonymous's picture

Bezoar - While spelling and grammatical errors also annoy me to no end, I'm surprised that your outrage was about that rather than the subject of this article. Were you so distracted with these errors that you could not understand the implications of BBC's iPlayer shutting out paying consumers? Or that the DMCA is yet again being used to create walled gardens by companies like Adobe?

Yes, the free content they

bradbear's picture

Yes, the free content they post here is just too expensive for me too. (???)

This mag gives back a lot to the community, and throwing stones at them over a typo seems a bit unnecessary, if you ask me.

Thanks for catching that

Justin Ryan's picture

Thanks for catching that typo, I've corrected it.

I'm sorry to hear you didn't enjoy the article - perhaps you'll enjoy the next one.

Justin Ryan is a Contributing Editor for Linux Journal.