Overview With the popularity of
digital "content," such as books, software, music, and movies,
concern about illegal copying and pirating is growing. Although copyright
laws, such as the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act, clearly define acceptable and
unacceptable use, they have done little to curb digital pirates. In
response to rampant pirating, companies are turning to a group of
technology solutions referred to as digital rights management.
Whatis.com defines digital rights
management (DRM) as " a systematic approach to copyright protection
for digital media. DRM's purpose is to prevent illegal distribution of
paid content over the Internet." You’ll find an excellent
introduction to DRM at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_rights_management.
To get a quick idea of the current headlines and events surrounding DRM,
go to the DRM Watch page www.drmwatch.com.
Many attempts to protect content are fairly
simplistic. The popularity of music downloads require more complex
approaches that provided legitimate customers with flexibility to transfer
files to portable devices and burn CDs, but prevent unlimited copying and
distribution by pirates. Microsoft and Apple have two of the most
sophisticated DRM technologies for music and movie content.
Windows Media DRM Microsoft
developed technology called Windows
Media DRM, which offers flexible content access and control.
Windows Media DRM allows content providers, such as online music stores,
to encrypt a digital media file, lock it with a "key," and
bundle additional information that allows the file to be played only by a
An extension to Windows Media DRM targets
portable devices. HowStuffWorks.com offers an overview of DRM technology: "Digital
rights management is a far-reaching term that refers to any scheme that
controls access to copyrighted material using technological means. In
essence, DRM removes usage control from the person in possession of
digital content and puts it in the hands of a computer program. The
applications and methods are endless." For more read. Windows media DRM
is used on several online music stores including MSN music and Walmart
Apple DRM Apple’s DRM system,
is used at its iTunes music store. It allows customers to download a track
for a small fee, play it on a limited number of registered computers, and
burn it to CDs. According to iTunes
policies, Music is stored in a protected AAC format that requires
compatible player software or a sanctioned portable device, such as an
Rights declaration languages You
know from learning about the Web and HTML that XML is a markup language,
which allows content authors to incorporate structured fields into HTML
documents. XrML (Extended Rights
Markup Language) is a set of XML-based tags that can be used to define
rights for digital content. Additional rights declaration languages
include drl and MPEG21.
DRM in business DRM is big in the
entertainment field because companies want to protect books, software,
music, and movies from piracy, but DRM has also entered the radar screen
of businesses that want to protect corporate data and client privacy. For
example, e-mail about a new product could be assigned "rights"
that prevent it from being forwarded or copied. A Wireless magazine
article provides a good summry of digital rights management in a wireless world.
DRM has been compared to an intelligent
envelope that doesn’t prevent unauthorized access, but can limit
access to intended recipients and minimize casual spying. In addition it
can specify more complex usage rules, such as "this file can be read
once but not copied or moved" or "this file will self-destruct
twenty-four hours after being opened, or 30 days after being received,
which ever comes first." For confidential business information, such
usage rules could be critically important. Server and client software for
digital rights management can be obtained from several software
DRM controversy Digital rights
management has far reaching and sometimes unexpected effects. For example,
people with visual impairments who use computers depend on screen readers
to verbalize information and controls displayed on the screen. The
American Foundation for the Blind is worried about DRM
technologies that disable e-book screen readers.
A report from the Free
Expression Policy Project states "Few of us would want to
live in a world where corporations or government agents monitor and
control what we do with every book, computer program, or CD that we
buy." Consumer advocates caution that DRM can impose extreme
limitations with a chilling affect on free speech and other rights. The
Truth About Digital Rights Management presents some of DRM’s
disadvantages. Additional points can be found at this Research Information article titled "Digital Rights Management: Busines saviour or content enslaver?" The Electronic Frontier Foundation maintains an archive of articles
related to controversial aspects of
DRM. You’ll also enjoy a narrated
slide show about DRM produced by Northwestern University staff
member, Claire Stewart.