What is digital rights management?
Digital rights management, digital restrictions management, or DRM, is a technology created to protect the copyright of digital content and media assets from being stolen, shared, sold, or altered illegally. Simply put, DRM gives publishers and authors more power over what other parties can or cannot do with their created content.
The development of the digital world and modern technology has led to piracy, which infringes copyright laws and may result in financial or legal consequences. With tools like torrent sites, copyrighted digital assets such as audio, video, or images are easily accessible to the masses.
Although DRM software cannot catch people illegally exploiting copyrights, DRM makes it more difficult for exploiters to steal and copy content.
How does digital rights management work?
The primary purpose of DRM is to protect digital content, such as music, videos, e-books, and software, from unauthorized access, copying, distribution, or modification. In short, it prevents copyright infringement.
Implementation of DRM technologies and policies is usually enforced by codes that restrict copying or limit the time and number of devices on which a user can access particular content. Once digital content is encrypted, only authorized individuals with a decryption key and a digital certificate to verify their identity can access the content.
Different types of digital rights management
Multiple DRM tools offer features that you can use to safeguard your copyrights and manage who can access them within designated content parameters. These tools can help you to:
- Prevent users from downloading, sharing, and modifying your content.
- Retain control of accessibility for specific IP addresses, devices, or locations. For example, making your content accessible only in the US.
- Limit views on your content or set expiry dates to restrict access to content after a certain time.
- Control printing and screenshotting or screen grabbing of your digital content.
- Protect your art pieces and documents with digital watermarking to assert identity and track unauthorized distribution.
Only authorized users can access your content without restrictions as soon as you implement your protection strategy. Even though it may be hard to track anyone who engages in online piracy, you can prevent copying and distribution of your artwork, videos, confidential files, documents, and software in the first place.
Digital rights management use cases
Artists, music producers, video creators, writers, businesses, software developers, and other rightful owners of media assets use DRM to prevent unauthorized use, copying, modification, and misuse of intellectual property. Here are some of the most common use cases of DRM:
- Protect unauthorized usage of artwork. Musicians, painters, designers, and writers use DRM to protect their copyrighted art pieces from unauthorized copying or use for purposes other than their intended idea. Keeping a product safe from prying eyes may even influence the final earnings for the author.
- Restrict software forgery. Software-producing businesses use DRM to ensure that their created computer programs run without any disruption. Applying DRM technology may even help prevent code theft or modification.
- Trace asset leakage. Leaked images of new products before the official launch can have reputational consequences for businesses, create unnecessary competition, or even lead to fraudsters making counterfeit products. Companies use DRM software to trace such pre-release leaks and take them down.
- Stop counterfeit websites. Organizations that sell fake items usually use stolen photos from official websites as a hook to make a seller look trustworthy and genuine to the users. If the images are protected by DRM technology, it is easy to trace their unauthorized use and take legal action against infringers.
- Safeguard sensitive information. Many manufacturing and technology companies store sensitive information in their internal databases, like patents, customer data, software, and sensitive files. DRM software may help those companies protect their data and IP address to avoid theft or modification.
Benefits of digital rights management
Data protection regulations are beneficial for individuals and companies alike. Besides protecting copyrights, it has many more perks — here are some:
- File privacy. Another thing DRM can do is help organizations manage confidential employee data, protecting their customers’ privacy and sensitive documents. The information encoded with DRM technology becomes difficult to access or read by unauthorized users.
- Protecting income. Creating art, filming movies, editing videos, and recording music cost artists large sums of money, which they hope to re-earn by selling the final product. Pre-release leaks or content theft may cause artists to lose money. Therefore, DRM tools are necessary to ensure that only paying users can see the content.
- Copyright education. Many of us don’t even think about intellectual property rights as long as we can freely access the content we want. The application of DRM technology can teach companies and individuals about the importance of copyright by showing what users can and cannot do with copyrighted content.
- Ownership insurance. Content creators must protect their work. DRM technology helps individuals preserve the copyrights of their media assets and prevents prying eyes from copying, altering, and using the content as their own.
- Access restrictions. For example, if you distribute content for people over 18 only, DRM tools will help you ensure that only adults able to confirm their age can access it.
Content protected by digital rights management
DRM-protected content refers to digital materials, like movies, music, e-books, images, and software, that is encrypted to restrict access for unauthorized individuals. Such technology is constructed to ensure that only paying users can access and use copyrighted content and protect the rights of content owners.
For example, music and movie streaming services like iTunes, Spotify, Netflix, or Hulu use DRM strategies to prevent unauthorized copying and distribution of copyrighted content. Online bookstores like Amazon’s Kindle Store use DRM tools to prevent unauthorized copying and modification of books. PC and console games implement DRM systems to avoid piracy.
DRM protects intellectual property, ensures compliance with licensing agreements, provides a revenue stream, and prevents media and software piracy. However, DRM is not without its drawbacks. DRM may create inconvenience for users because you usually need an internet connection to verify eligibility for content access and tech-savvy individuals can circumvent DRM-protected content.
DRM-protected vs. DRM-free content
DRM-protected and DRM-free content are two options for content creators distributing their art, documents, and software. The difference is that DRM-protected content comes with protective measures to prohibit unauthorized access, while DRM-free content is not.
Copyright protection, piracy prevention, and ensuring compliance with licensing agreements are a few of the main DRM-protected content advantages. However, DRM-protected content may limit paying users’ ability to use it however they want.
Therefore, DRM-free content gives users more freedom to use and share content they have purchased while, on the other hand, increasing the risk of piracy and unauthorized distribution.
Considering the pros and cons of DRM-protected content, the decision to use DRM protection or not depends on the specific needs and goals of the content creator or distributor.
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