Digital Rights Management – protection or hindrance?

Part 1 of 2

With improvements in streaming media and compression technology, digital music, images, videos, books and games can be distributed instantaneously across the Internet to end-users. Many digital service providers and individual creators of content are monetizing their content by having it in digital formats (of course) and selling it online. However, without protection and management of digital rights, digital content can be easily copied, altered, and distributed to a large number of recipients, which could cause a huge revenue loss to media companies and individuals alike. For example, Sony (the world’s second-largest consumer electronics maker) has blamed digital piracy for eroding profit at its music business, which in 2011 posted a loss of approximately 10.3 billion yen ($160 million).

Pertaining to the world of asset management, there is a distinct difference to understand the difference between rights management and Digital Rights Management (DRM). So, in this article we will explore DRM.

DRM is usually referred to as a “system” to protect digital intellectual property, avoid digital piracy, prevent unauthorized access to digital content and manage content usage rights. In high profile companies, DRM systems are used to protect high-value digital assets and control of their distribution and usage all over the globe – offering persistent content protection against unauthorized access to the digital content, limiting access to only those with the proper authorization. In most cases, DRM is usually thought of as a complete lock down. However, consideration still needs to be made for the flexibility to manage usage copyrights for different kinds of digital content (music, video, digital books, images) across different platforms (computers, mobile device) and additionally control access to content delivered on physical media (CD, DVDs) or any other distribution method (on-line, in print, mobile).

DRM protects the copyright holders and individuals with the intent to limit the use of digital content. In 1998 the Digital Millennium Copyright Act – “DMCA” was passed in the US to impose criminal penalties to those who make available technologies whose primary purpose and function is to circumvent content protection technologies. While this is great, the use of DRM is (in my opinion) contentious – content can claim, and rightfully so, that DRM is necessary to fight copyright infringement online and that it can help the copyright holder maintain control over their creations and ensuring continued revenue streams. But other areas to examine is that those opposed to DRM argue that there is no evidence that DRM helps prevent copyright infringement, it instead serves only to inconvenience legitimate customers, and that DRM helps big business stifle innovation and competition. As mentioned, DRM applies to ALL intellectual property. Take for example the case of Apple and Samsung lawsuit. I love Apple technology, but doesn’t all technology innovators violate DRM? Also, “works” can become permanently inaccessible if the DRM scheme changes or if the service is discontinued. DRM advocates argue that digital “locks” should be considered necessary to prevent intellectual property from being copied freely, just as physical locks are needed to prevent personal property from being stolen.
Digital locks placed in accordance with DRM policies can also restrict users from doing something perfectly legal, such as making backup copies of CDs or DVDs or even on servers as an archival strategy, lending materials out through a library, accessing works in the public domain, or using copyrighted materials for research and education. Some folks in the space believe that the use of the word “rights” is misleading and suggest that people instead use the term “digital restrictions management”. Their position is that copyright holders are restricting the use of material in ways that are beyond the scope of existing copyright laws, and should not be covered by future laws.

While DRM to its strictest form may hinder innovation – I sure as heck would not want people stealing my hard work and intellectual property, but can that TRULY be prevented?

What’s your stand on DRM? I would love hear how you are dealing with protecting your content; How we can foster innovation by sharing intellectual property; and with the next generation utilizing content so freely, how do you think DRM will hold up with so many ignoring it?

What is the future of DRM?


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