What is DRM?

drm
(Photo credits: Darwin Bell)

DRM (Digital Rights Management) is wide term used to indetinfy a number of technologies used by copyright content owners to restrict the way their works are accessed and copied by consumers. This allows content owner to control how people can install a computer program, view an online video, or listen to digital audio file.

There are various forms of DRM, but all of them involve some sort of digital padlock that requires use of an authentical system to allow the end user to access the file.

Early devices that allowed consumers to copy analogue media led to a gradual degradation in quality and had to be physically transferred between consumers. However,  digitalization of media made it possible to create perfect copies with ease.  The increase of bandwidth and speed at which data can be transferred over the internet also contributed in making it very easy to exchange digital media between end users in violation of copyright. DRM was introduced to enforce copyright terms by using technology to restrict unauthorized access.

DRM can be used to simply prevent the actual act of copying, for example DVDs, or will prevent the playback of a digital file, even if copied, if the user attempting to play the file is not authorized to play it as the case is in most digitally downloaded media files.

The first widely used DRM system was the Content Scrambling System used to prevent the copying of DVD. The DVD consortium developed the technology and only authorized hardware manufacturers to use the technology as long as they do not include features that facilitate copying.

Other widely used DRM technologies include Apple’s FairPlay which is used to control the playback of videos and applications sold on the iTunes Store; the Adobe’s eBook Reader used to control the accessability of eBooks; and Microsoft’s Windows Media DRM for music, films, and books.

Most jurisdictions now grant a legal protection to DRM prohibiting its circumventions. This protection is meant to support the copyright legislation, but it is not about the protection of the copyright work, but the protection of the technologies that are used by copyright holder.

In the EU, DRM is protected by Article 6 of the Information Society Directive (Directive 2001/29/EC). Article 6(1) of the directive requires member states to provide adequate legal protection against the cirumvention of technological protection measures. It also requires providing adequate legal protection against the manufacture, import, distribution, sale, rental, advertisement for sale or rental, or possession for commercial purposes of devices, products or components or the provision of services for the circumvention of these technical protecition measures.

The emphasis on actions that enable circumvention (e.g. manufacture and import) as opposed to actual circumvention suggests that the provisions are meant to be used against those in the business of enabling circumventions instead of actual consumers.

There are no general exceptions that allow circumventions by consumers to allow them to use permitted copyright exceptions, such as fair dealing, and instead the Directive introduces in Article 6(4) a system by which rightholders are encouraged to use voluntary measures to make available to beneficiaries of certain exceptions the means to benefit from that exceptions. In the case of failure by content providers to make available the means necessary for these exceptions, the member states should take appropriate measures to ensure that they do.

Article 6(4) is not available for all permitted copyright exception, it can only be used with specifically only for reporgraphic copying, copying by libraries, educational establishments or museums, ephemeral recording, broadcast by non-commercial social institutes, copying for illustration for teaching or scientific research, copying for disabled people, copying for public security, parliamentory or judicial proceeding.

In the UK the provisions for protecting DRM are in the Copyright, Design and Patent Act 1998.

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