Digital Media Downloading: What’s the Deal with DRM?

There is nothing straightforward about U.S. copyright law and the same can be said of DRM, which stands for Digital Rights Management. In fact, the concept is so convoluted that some people don’t even agree on what DRM includes and what it doesn’t. Here is a look at some of the concepts that most people who understand the industry tend to agree upon.


What Is DRM?

DRM isn’t one thing, but rather is a class of technologies used to control how digital content is used after it has been sold or otherwise distributes. Some copyrights holders who produce digital goods feel that DRM is a necessary part of protecting their intellectual property. It would be pretty hard for an individual to copy an entire car and make one for each of his friends, but it is quite easy for someone to copy a piece of software and share it not just with friends, but with the entire world. DRM is any technique used to attempt to prevent widespread dissemination of copyrighted material for free without the authorization or license of the copyright holder.

Related: The Science of Search: How Search Engines Work?

The first round of DRM technology was designed to control copying, which is to say it was designed to prevent people from make duplicates of a digital file. For the most part, first-generation DRM has failed. People have managed to get around the encryption processes that were supposed to make it impossible to copy material from one location to another, such as from a DVD to a hard drive.

The second round of DRM technology has focused on controlling how copyrighted material is executed, viewed, and printed. In general, second-generation DRM has been far more successful in protecting intellectual property. Unfortunately, it has also made life more difficult for legitimate customers and other authorized users.

DRM Problems

The biggest problem with DRM systems is that they have made the user experience of paying customers less pleasant. The result has been an outcry from consumers against DRM and companies that employ it. An excellent example of backlash against companies using DRM was seen with the launch of the PlayStation Four (PS4) by Sony and the Xbox One by Microsoft. Microsoft was forced to back away from several DRM technologies it had intended to use in the Xbox One because people not only told the company to do so, but actively switched to the PlayStation because it had less DRM technology.

Also Read: Make Your Product Sell Itself

Besides affecting the consumer experience, DRM has other problems. Most notably, DRM has been used by companies to make older versions of their product obsolete and thus force consumers to purchase new software. This, combined with the fact that DRM often isn’t successful in preventing piracy or copyright infringement in the first place, has resulted in many people and public interest groups opposing its use entirely.

Staying Out of Trouble

One of the many problems with DRM is that it can be difficult for consumers to tell if they are purchasing a legitimate product or a pirated or infringing version. In very rare cases, this has led to legal issues for unsuspecting consumers. To try to avoid problems with copyrighted material, follow these rules.

  • Don’t rely on the “fair use” provision of the Copyright Act to protect you from allegations of copyright infringement. If you are not absolutely certain that your proposed use is “fair use,” it might be better to avoid the problem by consulting with a copyright lawyer or contacting the copyright owner and getting a license or permission, in writing.
  • Don’t download copyrighted software from sources other than the manufacturer, unless the download source is endorsed by the manufacturer.
  • Don’t purchase digital copies of media that a manufacturer only sells by CD, DVD, or other physical means.
  • BitTorrent client provider’s website and blog at have become a great resource for learning about being diligent, monitoring and removing files that infringe on copyright.
  • Trust your instincts. If a practice seems shady, don’t engage in it.

Digital Rights Moving Forward

As the software industry continues to mature, look for DRM to become more prevalent. Major corporations who produce digital goods continue to advance the capabilities of DRM. They recognize a need to protect the time, energy, and money they have invested in their products. Use the tips above to avoid landing in the gray region between legitimate ownership and piracy.