The launch of the BBC's new media player will not be delayed by a new crack for the digital rights management features of Windows Media Player, the corporation said on Tuesday.
The iPlayer, which is based on Microsoft's media player and DRM technology, is due to be launched on 27 July. It has already attracted controversy and criticism over the decision to use proprietary technology for a platform supposedly catering to all licence-fee-payers — at its launch it will work only on computers running Windows XP — but the recent reappearance of FairUse4WM, a utility that can strip the copy protection from Windows Media Player content, threatened fresh problems for the scheme.
FairUse4WM first appeared last year. Microsoft hastily patched Windows Media Player against it, but Viodentia, the anonymous distributor of the utility, cracked Microsoft's patch. As a result, Sky had to temporarily shut down its broadband movie download service, which was based on Windows Media Player. A revised version of FairUse4WM reappeared on forums late last week, and the utility now effectively strips the DRM from iPlayer content allowing it to be copied and played into perpetuity rather than for the limited period intended by the BBC.
On Tuesday the BBC issued a statement insisting that the crack "won't delay the launch of BBC iPlayer". The statement continued: "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."
In its statement, the BBC also maintained that the iPlayer would be "a service for every licence payer in the UK", and defended the principle of attaching copy protection to content by pointing out that DRM was desirable to the independent producers making a third of the BBC's content. "Their future depends on distributing it outside the seven-day rights window," the statement added. "We will, of course, be taking what steps we can to make sure that the rights arrangements we have agreed with talent are respected."
Microsoft also responded to the crack on Tuesday with confirmation that it was aware of the issue and was in the process of verifying the circumvention. A spokesperson told ZDNet.co.uk that: "Microsoft has long stated that no DRM system is impervious to circumvention", and its content partners were aware of this position. "That is why we designed the Windows Media DRM system to support dynamic updates, should an issue like this occur," the spokesperson continued. "This update mechanism, referred to as renewal, does not require a new release of the Windows Media Player or the Windows Media Format Software Development Kit."
But some continue to argue against any inclusion of DRM in the iPlayer. Becky Hogge, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said on Monday that, although the BBC was including DRM at the wishes of rights holders, it was questionable as to whether DRM was suitable for its audience. "Most people in the technical community understand the cat and mouse game," she told ZDNet.co.uk, adding that it was "unfortunate" that the BBC was launching the iPlayer with DRM just as those in the recording industry — a reference to EMI and Apple's recent decision to move away from copy-protected music tracks — were realising it was a "flawed methodology".