Links for December 23rd

The BBC’s digital rights plans will wreak havoc on open source software

Last summer, the BBC tried to sneak “digital rights management” into its high-def digital broadcasts.

Now, generally speaking, the BBC isn’t allowed to encrypt or restrict its broadcasts: the licence fee payer pays for these broadcasts, and no licence fee payer woke up today wishing that the BBC had added restrictions to its programming.

But the BBC tried to get around this, asking Ofcom for permission to encrypt the “metadata” on its broadcasts – including the assistive information used by deaf and blind people and the “tables” used by receivers to play back the video. The BBC couched this as a minor technical change, and Ofcom held a very short, very quiet consultation, but was overwhelmed by a flood of negative submissions from the public and from technologists who understood the implications of this move.

Fundamentally, the BBC is trying to leverage its broadcast licence into control over the devices that can receive broadcasts.

Ivor the Engine brought back to life in new book

Cartoon favourite Ivor the Engine is being brought back to life in a new book, 50 years after first appearing on television.

The book, which will raise money for charity, has been written by the son of the late Oliver Postgate, who wrote the original Ivor stories.

It will be illustrated by Peter Firmin, the original illustrator.

The last full length story of the Welsh engine and his driver, Jones The Steam, was made in 1977.

Major record labels gang up and screw over indie record store

A small indie record store owner in Ottawa, Canada, has plead guilty to a charge of copyright infringement for importing rare CDs from abroad. Apparently, these discs (which are themselves licensed, as far as I can tell) aren’t licensed for sale in Canada, and Canadian law (apparently) bans this kind of parallel importation.

But none of these CDs are actually available in Canada. And no one orders rare, expensive imports unless he’s already got the artist’s entire catalog. And, of course, the record labels that went after this record store owner (whose whole purpose in life is to sell their CDs) are presently being sued for $60 billion in copyright damages for ripping off artists, and have admitted to $50 million in liability already.

James Randi, Global Warming and the Nature of Scepticism

It was something of a shock then to see Randi write an article on his site that questioned the scientific consensus that man made activities are responsible for climate change and that dramatic intervention is required. Such views, we tend to think, are the preserve of the ‘denialist’, loon or vested interest. How could Randi do such thing?

Firstly, of course it is perfectly respectable to cast a skeptical eye over the apparent consensus of global warming. There are indeed undoubtedly inflated claims around, and we need to be on our guard. The activities of lobby groups, such as Greenpeace, have done much to damage the scientific credibility of the green agenda over the years. However, the science community has acted independently of these groups and the consensus has emerged from within rather than channeled and gilded by the usual environmental loud mouths.

The media and the message

Innovations, not paywalls, are the future for media companies says regular commentator Bill Thompson.

Ericsson: Keep R&D in Coventry

Unite is campaigning to save communications giant Ericsson’s research and development site in Ansty, Coventry following the company’s announcement in November that it plans to close the plant in mid-2010 with the loss of 700 highly skilled jobs.

Unite is calling on the government to support the UK’s role in innovation and research and development of hi-tech communications which it has hailed as one of the key areas of future growth for the UK economy.

Unite argues Ericsson’s decision to close the site and transfer the work to China and elsewhere is a huge blow to the UK economy and the union is particularly concerned that the closure of the site will reduce the UK’s capacity in this key hi-tech industry.