BBC activates iPlayer Flash verification – Locking out open source – Update
The BBC have activated a protection mechanism on the Flash based streaming system used by iPlayer, stopping open source media players from legally playing BBC content. The protection mechanism, known as SWF Verification, sends a “ping” message to the player software after one or two minutes of a stream being played. The player software is expected to identify the Flash version in use; if it does not, or if it’s response doesn’t match a list of authorised players on the server, then the stream is disconnected.
Previously, iPlayer had not sent SWF Verification pings, and media players such as XBMC were able to include open source plug-ins which could play the content. Now, these plug-ins stop working after one or two minutes.
Content is streamed using the RTMP protocol, a licensed specification published by Adobe in early 2009, which did not detail Adobe’s protection mechanisms, such as SVP verification. In May 2009, Adobe served a cease and desist notice on SourceForge who hosted rtmpdump, a project which can dump RTMP and its encrypted version, RTMPE. It also implemented support for SWF Verification, and given Adobe’s actions, there is uncertainty over the wisdom of implementing it in the XMBC plug-in. The issue is currently recorded as a bug in XBMC and is being discussed in the project’s forums and in a protest thread on the BBC web site.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which Adobe used against SourceForge, only applies in the US and it is possible to host the relevant code in other countries. However, there is a level of complexity in managing how users and developers get access to that code. At present rtmpdump is hosted on a Hungarian domain. Some open source plug-ins get around SWF verification by transparently dropping the stream, reopening it and seeking to where it was before the “ping” came in, though this is potentially punishing on servers.
Update – The BBC is currently consulting on its online services and provides a survey through which members of the public can participate in the process. The public are also invited to send their comments by email or by post. The consultation closes on the 12th of March.
The BBC Trust approved the current online services in April of 2007 with the promise of a performance review 24 months after launch.
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