What are Digital Rights Management?
The Internet and other digital technologies have made managing the rights to intellectual properties extremely complex, and have even brought about new forms of intellectual property. Some of these new forms of intellectual property include software designed to prevent or at least slow the unauthorized copying and reselling of recorded songs, movies, software and books.
Writers, musicians and other artists make money by selling the rights to their work to publishers or by retaining the rights to their work and receiving royalties from publishers. Authors sometimes earn money by charging a fee to grant permission to reproduce their work, although these fees are often offset against royalties. Before digital technology made it possible to reproduce songs and videos without losing quality in the copying process, rights management involved tracking how long a musician or writer held the rights to a work and tracking permissions.
Digital rights management (DRM) also tracks expirations and permissions, but when the term digital rights management is used, people usually mean the technology that is used to prevent illegal copying and reselling of a song or video. Some DRM technologies are designed to prevent works from being altered, such as preventing a buyer of an eBook from changing the ending to a novel. Other technologies encrypt a piece of work so that it cannot be easily copied. These technologies make a digital copy of a work unusable and have even been known to cause users’ computers to crash. DRM technologies that prevent copying are now more commonly used to prevent corporate espionage or the copying of proprietary information. Still other forms of DRM are digital watermarks. These allow a publisher to know which buyer illegally copied a document so that they can prosecute the digital pirate.
DRM has given rise to new business models in publishing. Instead of buying records, cassettes or CDs, many music lovers purchase a subscription to a service that allows them to download recordings of songs. In many cases subscribers have access to unlimited downloads as long as their subscriptions are current. If the subscription lapses, however, any songs they have downloaded from the service are rendered unplayable until the subscription is renewed.
One glitch with DRM technology has been that it has often been difficult to deal with exceptions. Libraries, schools and researchers have usually been granted permission to reproduce works for educational purposes free of charge. DRM technology cannot recognize a user as a researcher, teacher, student or librarian.