your birthday. Someone gives you a DVD of your favorite movie. In
anticipation of a long train ride you're going to be taking soon, you decide
to make a copy of the DVD that you can download to your
MP4 digital media player.
You pop the DVD in your
desktop computer and try to
rip it. But it doesn't work. The DVD plays on your
DVD player and on your computer.
Welcome to the world of DRM, one of the most contentious issues in the
digital world today. Say you don't know what DRM is? Read on.
What is DRM?
DRM is short for Digital Rights Management (although some say it means
Digital Restrictions Management). It's a set of technologies that's
restricts how you can use digital content like music, video, and software.
DRM is designed to stop or limit you from copying, converting, or accessing
DRM can block you from viewing something like an ebook on a device other
ebook reader. It can stop you from ripping a CD or converting an audio
one format to another. Or, it can prevent you from installing software
(like games) on multiple computers.
it works is fairly simple. DRM applies encryption, in the form of a
digital signature, to a file or a piece of software. The signature is
like a unique stamp, telling the hardware or operating system software that
whether or not it's OK for them to play together.
If the device or operating system on your
desktop computer or
laptop computer doesn't mesh with the digital signature of the file,
then the file will be useless to you or you won't be able to install the
software. Often, DRM is tied to one piece of hardware. If, for example, you
have an MP3 file with DRM applied to it, that file might only play on one
There are, and have been, a number of DRM schemes. Some of the more
widely-used ones are Windows Media DRM and Apple's FairPlay. You can read
more about some of the better-known DRM schemes
Examples of DRM
As mentioned a few paragraphs ago, DRM can be applied to any digital file.
Like what? How about an electronic book. Most ebook readers and reader
software for computers have a unique ID. Some ebook sellers require you to
register the IDs of those devices when you buy an ebook. A digital signature
is applied to the ebook before you download it, and you can only read the
ebook on those devices.
digital television, many transmissions have a form of DRM called a
broadcast flag applied to them. The broadcast flag indicates
whether or not you can record the digital transmission and, if you can, what
restrictions there are on recording it.
Microsoft Office (2003 and later) allows business users to apply DRM to word
processor and spreadsheet files. If the business is running Microsoft
Windows Server 2003, all that Office users need to do is click a toolbar
icon to restrict permissions on a file. If anyone wants to read the file,
they'll need to get the author's permission and get an
add-on for Internet Explorer.
Why use DRM?
folks who advocate DRM, like record companies and publishers, do so to
enforce copyright and to protect their revenue. I'm sure that everyone
Napster. It was a file sharing service, one that really opened a huge
can of worms as far as DRM and copyright went by allowing people to share
digital music over the Internet.
The musicians and, especially, the record companies complained that they
weren't getting royalties for this. It wasn't a new problem, just a new
twist on an old one. Instead of people trading cassette tapes and burned CDs
with family and friends, file sharing services like Napster enabled them to
exchange huge numbers of files with strangers from around the world.
It's a matter of trust
content providers that advocate and use DRM technologies will tell you that
they're protecting their interests. They argue that every book, movie, or
MP3 that's copied is one less book, movie, or MP3 that they can sell.
DRM restrictions, though, treat consumers like potential thieves. That's not
a healthy relationship, and overlooks the value of viral marketing. Case in
point: last year, a friend passed me a couple of MP3 files by a musician
named Zoe Keating. I loaded the MP3s on my media player, and listened to the
music while commuting. I was so impressed that I went out and bought another
of Keating's albums. If the MP3 files that my friend passed my way had DRM
applied to them, then I might not have ever heard Zoe Keating or bought one
of her discs.
A number of writers and other artists are against DRM. One of the most vocal
opponents of DRM is author and blogger
Cory Doctorow.Whenever one of Doctorow's books is published, he makes it
available for download (for free) from his Web site. All with the permission
of his publisher. While some people mock Doctorow for doing this, he claims
that doing this actually increases the sales of his books.
proponent of a world without DRM is author and comic writer
Neil Gaiman. He's all for people sharing electronic copies of his work.
Why? Gaiman likens it to people lending their friends a book or a CD. It
exposes those friends to a new artist, and often spurs them to buy another
of the artist's work.
Even a once staunch supporter of DRM, the band Metallica, has begun to
change its tune (so to speak). In 2008, the band made DRM-free music
available on its Web site.
Dealing with DRM
That's definitely a contentious issue. Much like DRM itself. Many consumers
don't care whether their music or movies or software has DRM applied to it.
As long as they can watch, listen, and use everything is fine.
That said, there's a growing anti-DRM movement. More and more people are
speaking out against DRM, and working against it with their wallets.
So, what are your options? You can accept DRM. Or, you can choose to not buy
movies, music, and software that has DRM applied to it. Both the Apple
iTunes Store and Amazon.com offer DRM-free downloads of thousands of songs.
(Amazon, though, is bi-polar in this regard: ebooks for the Kindle are
locked down with a form of DRM.). Or, you can turn off formats that support
DRM altogether, and go with Open Source formats like
Ogg Theora and
DRM is definitely a contentious subject. At the heart of the arguments for
and against DRM is the issue of rights. The rights of the people producing
and marketing content, and the rights of the consumers of that content. It's
going to be a long time before both sides can find an acceptable middle
ground, assuming there is one.