The CBC and DRM

Inside the CBC, a new blog on the CBC, contains a discouraging post on the CBC Radio's Internet streaming activities.  The posting includes background information on why the CBC streams with Windows media, explaining that it met the CBC's four requirements, including the availability of digital rights management technologies.  The posting has led to a robust discussion with several critics sounding off on the pro-DRM approach and raises questions about why the CBC has not instead used OGG or MP3 as a more open format.  Tod Maffin, who runs the blog, defends the CBC's use of DRM, arguing that DRM is required under its commercial music broadcast licenses and that the CBC invites lawsuits if it fails to adequately protect its streams.

While I'm a big fan of CBC's streaming services, the suggestion that CBC must use DRM is plainly wrong.  First, there are many other public broadcasters who not only reject DRM, but have adopted open licenses (RadioBras in Brazil makes all of its content available under Creative Commons licenses).  Second, there is no legal requirement to use DRM under Canadian law.  If certain rights holders demand DRM use, the CBC has an alternative.  It can reject those demands and choose instead to use only music that rights holders permit to be broadcast without DRM. 

There is no shortage of such music.  In addition to the hundreds of thousands of Creative Commons licensed songs and the thousands of classical music recordings in the public domain, the majority of Canadian independent labels reject the use of the DRM.  Those labels are responsible for 90 percent of new Canadian music, so it seems to me that the CBC will have lots of Canadian content to choose from in its broadcasts and streams.  Most of the music that may require DRM protection is likely that from foreign labels promoting foreign artists.  While it would be great to include them in CBC broadcasts, Canada's public broadcaster should be rejecting DRM and moving toward as open a platform as possible.  The inclusion of greater Canadian content and the ability to truly meet its mandate to be as accessible as possible to all Canadians make this the obvious path to take.


  1. Brian Carnell says:

    Talk about obfuscation. The simple fact still remains that to a) play the music it currently plays and b) avoid lawsuits then c) it must DRM the streams.

    “Change your format” isn’t that helpful of a suggesetion.

  2. Brian Carnell says:

    Sorry, should have been more clear about why I don’t think your suggestion is particularly helpful.

    Take e-books. I love e-books, buy them all the time. Most come with DRM. Your solution is akin to saying, “well, don’t buy books with DRM. There’s plenty of century-old books in the public domain that you could read instead of any new books. Or you could stick to reading only books that are CCed, etc.”

    True, but I no more want to curtail my reading habits for some level of non-DRM purity than the CBS wants to limit its music playing habits.

  3. Hi,

    A radio station broadcasts copyright content, both their’s and third party stuff. No DRM requirement there.

    CBC seems to have capitulated to the vendors without considering the interests of its audience, or the artists represented by the vendors. Not to mention the implied lock-in to WMA.


  4. Protecting who?
    Brian, the question is who is being protected?

    That needs to align with the CBC’s mandate.

    Micheal’s suggestion is that a DRM approach will protect the big labels and established names. Allowing the easy spread of American culture…

    Further, he suggests that CBC needs to protect and promote Canadian artists. This is most easily done via open formats, as the open formats are most widely accessible.

    And one small point, I hate ebooks as they generally cover trivial subjects by B-list authors. You’re paying for the perceived cache of being technically advanced.


  5. Matt Livingstone says:

    A Shameful Misuse of Taxpayers Money
    THe CBC is a PUBLICLY FUNDED government agency and should not be allowed to use any format that is closed or requires a particular set of closed or proprietary players, tools or technology.

    The CBC should be reminded that Microsoft is NOT a standard. It is a monopoly that uses update technologies and and tools like Windows Genuine Advantage to FORCE users to update various Windows components that ensure customer lock in.

    Proprietary and lock in technologies should be banned from the PUBLIC INTERNET! Period. If it’s NOT open than it should not be allowed. And YES Apples’ walled garden iTunes included.

  6. Re-read his robustness requirement. Although he says that DRM is not currently implemented, the capability was a requirement in selecting an audio format. Presumably they will ‘flip the switch’ and turn on the DRM in (near?) future.

  7. Je pense que radio canada serait plus receptif a vos idees. Ce serais formidable d’avoir des clips mp3 ici –

  8. The CBC says “that DRM is required under its commercial music broadcast licenses.”

    Strange, because I don’t have any DRM-enabled FM radios in my car, cottage or house. So by that logic, doesn’t that mean that the CBC is infringing on it’s licences thousands (if not millions) of times a day?

    This looks like the CBC caving into the ridiculous demands of the record labels.

  9. Yes, there is a lot of CC music out there. But imagine the outcry if the CBC music programming decisions were driven by the need to (say) only use CC licensed materials.

    It would not change how the big labels license their music and would mean that the CBC would (probably) no longer reflect what is going on in the music industry.

  10. Apart from the DRM thing, I thought that the CBS gave pretty good reasons.

    To be frank, the vast majority of users want to click on the audio and listen. They do not want to download players.

    If the CBC has an open infrastructure to deliver the audio, then it should be easy to change this later, so who cares?

  11. The problem with DRM
    is that it forces you into one set of tools in order to listen to “public” content. If you DRM, you should have a responsibility to hit all users, not a subset. If CBC starts to use DRM to protect content so that I can’t listen to it, then CBC loses its value to me … substantially.

    There are plenty of music sites that sell the music without DRM, there is plenty of radio and TV available without DRM. If the CBC is concerned with lawsuits regarding content they play, they should not play that content.

    Buying eBooks … talk about an industry in its infancy. Sure, seems like a great idea until you spend all that money only to find you get to repurchase it all when you change the player. Have fun with that (been there, done that with Apple iTunes).

    iTunes DRM is useful while you use Apple products. It doesn’t open your options, it closes them. The more you like your music, the more you buy, and the less likely you will want to change players. Although there are ways around Apple DRM, they reduce the quality of the music you bought.

    We pay taxes to help fund CBC, I don’t like them deciding my operating systems and CPU chipsets for me. I don’t like being forced to use one brand, especially with Microsoft’s current direction of putting advertising on everything.

    When they DRM their broadcasts, its no longer available to all. Its not public, since the audience is a select subset of the intended audience, who largely pay the bills. If CBC decides to DRM, they should do so without any form of government funding, or they should ensure that all operating systems and players support their particular format all of the time.

  12. If CBC’s mandate is indeed to promote the creative work of Canadian artists and labels, avoiding DRM would seem to better fulfill its mandate than using it. I have no reason to doubt Geist’s claim that many Canadian songs are available without DRM. Playing such songs without DRM would better fulfill CBC’s mandate because more Canadian works are thereby aired. However, I personally am not sure what CBC’s mandate is. If it’s more along the lines of playing what the Canadian public wants to hear, opting for a non-DRM framework may not be in the public’s best interest–simply because the public may want to hear music that is available only with DRM.

    I am not convinced by Matt Livingstone’s comment that because the CBC is funded via the Canadian people’s taxes, it must use an open, non-DRM framework. I think we have to examine CBC’s mandate to see whether DRM should be permissible. Depending on whether it is to promote Canadian artists or to satisfy the Canadian audience’s interests (which may contain a desire to listen to music that is available only through DRM), CBC’s decision to use DRM should be guided by its mandate. Whether CBC receives taxes from the Canadian public to fulfill its mandate is not in and of itself a sufficient reason for its not using DRM.

  13. I agree that as a taxpayer funded organization the CBC should not be requiring listeners to its audio streams to also have a license to use a particular software vendor’s operating system.

    The Windows Media Player is a component of the Microsoft Windows operating system. No Windows operating system, no Windows Media Player (they’ve stopped development of WMP for the Mac and they’ll never do it on Linux).

    The CBC is acting like a pimp for Microsoft.

    The BBC at least streams in Real Audio…which at least is “cross-platform” and has an open source player (Helix Player).

    Many NPR stations stream in the MP3 format…which again isn’t an open source format, but at least has wide “cross-platform” availability.

    So any argument that the CBC “has” to use WMP is pure unadulterated bullshit.

  14. Cobolhacker says:

    I tend to agree with Mark. As a public broadcaster, they have a responsibility to make their content as accessible as possible to the public. This is one of many reasons to choose as free and open a standard for the broadcast as possible.

    In the case of a CBC radio show, broadcast, podcast, or whatever, the content is largely paid for by the Canadian public anyway. There should be no reason to protect it from re-distribution and no need to consider DRM because there is no profit to be made from the content. It’s publicly owned — there was never money to be made from it. The only reason the CBC has advertisements is to fund the creation of more content.

    They are free to use Windows Media I guess, but they can never, ever use it to impose restrictions. So why even bother? Using Ogg and Theora and other open standards is like a public pledge of openness. It’s like saying, “I’ll never try to hide this from you.” I expect no less from the public broadcaster.

    And as for music publishers… they should learn to suck it up. DJs have always been allowed to play what they like on the air. If they publishers really have a problem and want to call up the lawyers then maybe the CBC just won’t bother to air their so-called “intellectual property”.

  15. There is no DRM requirement according to Blake Crosby’s blog.
    “Rights Management. Unlike with the MP3 or Ogg format, Windows Media allows us to apply digital rights management rules to our live streams. Although no such rules currently exist, it does leave the possibility open in the future.”
    [ link ]

  16. ms
    DRM violates copyright laws, and is in fact anti-copyright by nature, copyright being a vehicle to material to the public, and in fact violates the Canadian constitution. DRM circumvents a democracy and thus is a treason related crime. Due to its violation of the constitution how can cbc consider it to a necessary evil, when it is a crime. If the government sanctions DRM it is violating its employment contract with the public and committing treason. If a judge declares it acceptable, he or she is committing a crime.