In case you read books and listen to music, it is likely that you have come across DRM protected eBooks and music albums. Let us go ahead and take a look at what is DRM, does it really prevent piracy and other things that you need to know about DRM.
What Is DRM?
DRM stands for Digital Rights Management and it can be broadly defined as any technology that seeks to protect copyrighted content by preventing people from copying, modifying, sharing or distributing digital content.
In general, most DRM protection systems work by encrypting content and setting up a system to access copyrighted content using encryption keys.
In order to prevent misuse, the encryption key is tied to the ID number of the user’s machine. The key works only when the DRM protected file (eBook, music file, etc.) is accessed from the computer on which the file was originally installed.
In case of software programs, the protection key resides on the server of the vendor. When anyone installs a protected software program, the user’s computer contacts the vendor’s server for a verification key and permission to install the program.
When the software program is installed on a computer for the first time, the server readily grants permission to install the program. However, when the user tries to install the program on a friends computer, the server denies permission and asks the user to contact the vendor.
DRM Is Controversial
Those who oppose DRM define it as a tool for imposing restrictions and controls on things which people can do with their legal purchases. DRM restricts users to specific devices which is seen by DRM opponents as an example of anti-competitive trade practice.
DRM opponents point to the way DRM can lock in authors, artists, producers and customers to a specific platform, making it difficult for them to switch platforms, in case they wanted to.
Proponents of DRM argue that the technology protects copyrighted content, prevents piracy and ensures continued earnings for authors and artists.
Does DRM Really Protect Piracy?
Piracy can be defined as the act of making copyrighted content freely available, either for profit or for the heck of it.
Going by this definition, DRM has not proved effective in preventing piracy. There are many software programs that can help bypass DRM protection and numerous file download sites that offer DRM stripped content.
DRM Prevents Casual Sharing
Casual sharing of digital content can be defined as an act of sharing interesting, informative or entertaining content with someone that we personally know.
DRM has proved to be an effective tool in preventing casual sharing, as most people are unlikely to go to the extent of stripping DRM protection, in order to share content with others.
Since, people in general are likely to trust recommendations from known people, it can be argued that DRM is probably hurting new authors and artists by limiting exposure and denying them the opportunity of free publicity which casual sharing could have provided.
Is it illegal to Remove DRM Protection?
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act 1998 makes it illegal to disable DRM in the United States. In-fact, the same act also makes it illegal to purchase or download any product that enables you to bypass DRM restrictions.
However, in the real world it is difficult to prevent real people from doing things with digital content, especially if they have paid for it and do not like the idea of restrictions being placed on things that belong to them.
Even if people are found stripping DRM, it does not make much sense for companies to go after individual cases of DRM violations, considering legal costs and the potential for negative publicity.
Can DRM Make Computers Insecure?
In general, DRM programs try to restrict or control file access, prevent copying, altering, sharing, printing and saving of digital content.
In order to exercise such controls, DRM programs need to reside somewhere within your computer, either within the operating system or as non-removable program files on your device.
This makes DRM as susceptible to malware and security threats as any other software program in the world. In-fact, opponents of DRM protection point to the possibility of DRM protection programs being more vulnerable to security threats, compared to popular software programs.
Since it is illegal to tamper with DRM, white-hat hackers would be unwilling and unlikely to report security flaws and holes in DRM programs, even if they come across something of serious nature.
DRM and User Privacy
There is really no set or standard method of enforcing DRM protection on digital products. Hence, different companies use different methods and different types of software programs to enforce DRM.
Opponents of DRM point to the way DRM protection programs can be used to do much more than just protect copyrighted content.
In 2005, MediaMax software program used by Sony for DRM protection was found to be tracking user activities, behind the scenes and without providing any indication or disclaimers on the CD.
While there is definitely a need to prevent piracy and protect copyrighted content, the technology used for copyright protection must try to address some of the legitimate concerns of those who oppose DRM in its current form.
Authors, artists and producers would greatly benefit, if someone comes up with an easy to use simulation model which can provide a comparative analysis of potential sales, if a book or music album is released with and without DRM protection.