What is DRM? A Crash Course in Digital Rights Management

J.M. Lesinski

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In the digital world, entertainment and software are often subject to the system of bureaucracy like every other product. The internet provides many sources of both legal and illegal methods of acquiring a song, book, or movie. Those who acquire media in legitimate practice are often faced with digital rights management.

Digital rights management, or DRM, is a system of access control regarding computers and associated media that allows only limited use of material that has been purchased legally. In any online media, like eBooks, video/mp3, or software, certain products are equipped to be kept in one format or private to certain programs/devices. The amount of control placed on product enable with digital right management varies in security, but most often does control all rights, not just the digital content.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a law set in place to criminalize any production of programs or systems that find loopholes or ways around a digital rights management-controlled product. With the law set in place, there are very few legal ways to get around having only one copy of certain media, minus educational or specially-permitted reproduction.

The most common attributes of digital rights management content control are extremely controlling. There are a number of ways media can be DRM controlled as well. DRM is most typically implemented by embedding code that prevents copying and specifies a time period in which the content can be accessed, where it can be accessed, or limits the number of devices the media can be installed on.

By embedding code to prevent copying, the digital media is limited to one device, and though the media is legally purchased the usage is limited to one device. In addition to device limitations, if the media’s source is ever taken offline or the corporation goes bankrupt, then the purchased files would be deleted from the owner’s device without back-up.

Opponents of digital rights management argue that a number of elements around the practice are unjust. “Industry supporters of DRM refer to it as 'digital rights management' as if they are the ultimate authority to grant us our rights, as if they are the ones who should have complete and total control over how we use and interact with our media.” (defectivebydesign.com).

The practice of digital rights management was initiated as a way to help control rising piracy rates. However, if digital rights management has done anything it only encourages piracy since the universality of computer file types can be burned and copied freely.

Additionally, digital rights management is a contributing factor to increased electronic waste. Constant computer and platform upgrades create an overflow of outdated technology, such as DVDs, CDs, and e-Readers. Instead of the media being transferable, the new format is in demand and by definition the old media is junk.

Digital rights management is well-intentioned, as digital media is essentially unprotected on the internet. However, many of the digital rights management practices and methods used by companies such as Amazon, Apple Inc., and Microsoft create policies that make sharing difficult, if not impossible and technology increasingly exclusive.

Ultimately, digital rights management roots itself to protect the intellectual property of artists and the inventors of certain products but ends up leaving the buyer dissatisfied with only one limited copy of media. Many opponents of digital rights management argue that corporations are controlling the media in such a way as to not only ensure larger profits, but eventually take complete control of media distribution. Ethically we are inclined to purchase and share media in a legal manner, but certain rights are definitely challenged with digital rights management.

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Professional journalist for over five years, covering topics all up and down both coasts of the United States, including arts, music, food, politics, and culture. I have a B.A. in English from SUNY Fredonia with minors in Psychology and Creative Writing, as well as an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from California State University, Fresno.

Buffalo, NY
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