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Front Page » March 28, 2006 » Tech Tips » Digital Rights Management (drm)
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Digital Rights Management (drm)

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In recent years, Digital Rights Management (DRM) has been the centerpiece of the technology world, particularly in the music industry. It is no doubt one of the most heated topics in computer history. As the old adage says, "there's always two sides to a story," and this is no different.

DRM is essentially a concept which implements controls that determine what a user can or cannot do with a digital file or device. DRM may restrict what devices your music files will play on, stop you from sharing digital audio or video, prevent you from skipping commercials on a movie, or determine who can make changes to particular electronic documents.

DRM was central to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1998. This act, often referred to as the DMCA, makes it illegal to circumvent or thwart DRM provisions and creates stiff penalties for violators.

Proponents of the bill insist it is a necessary measure to protect intellectual property and other forms of copyright from theft. Critics insist the bill was "purchased legislation" by lobbying industries and essentially makes the rights of corporations (particularly in the digital media industry) more important than the rights of individuals and consumers.

A perfect example is the many music enthusiasts (who often call DRM "Digital Restrictions Management") that feel DRM violates consumers' right to fair use.

For example, suppose someone wants to make a backup copy of their favorite audio CD for safe keeping, in case the original is broken or damaged. Because a DRM enabled computer has no way of knowing whether or not this copy is an attempt at CD piracy, it may disallow the copy from being made.

Suppose someone wants to watch a movie on DRM enabled DVD player, and wants to skip twenty minutes of previews and get on with the movie. DRM provisions built into the player may prevent them from doing that.

DRM could also prevent music stored on a portable digital audio player, like Apple's iPod, from being played on any other device (including a PC or a competing player).

Supporters of DRM and the DMCA insist that strong actions must be used to enforce a blatant disregard for copyright. Many cite the once infamous peer-to-peer Napster network as an example, where thousands of users across the globe freely exchanged hundreds of thousands of music files, which resulted in revenue losses in the millions of dollars within the recording industry.

After the Napster network was ordered by US courts to shut down, a new decentralized peer-to-peer network quickly arose and expanded to include much more than music. Thousands of movie titles were being distributed, in addition to a myriad of hacked commercial software packages. Many industries have had losses as a result.

DRM proponents insist DRM restrictions are the only solution for a global-scale problem that is far out of hand. On the flip side, DRM critics insist that the technology will never stop the real criminals (who will never fail to circumvent DRM schemes), but will only victimize honest consumers who have no desire to break the law. Many cite Sony BMG's recent DRM blunder as an example that left hundreds of thousands of honest Sony consumers with broken PCs that were made vulnerable to serious security breaches.

Regardless of which side of the issue you may sympathize with, Digital Rights Management (DRM) is an important topic that will surely affect all of us (good or bad) for decades to come. As a result, we should all be aware of it, and involved in its legal development.

For more information, go to or your favorite search engine and search for "digital rights management."

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