« Faculty Spotlight: Graeme Newman, Distinguished Teaching Professor | Main | Dewey Workshops, March 26 - 30 »

Digital Rights Management: DRM

The digital management of rights by digitally encoding management technologies and including them in files so that the “reading��? technologies will either allow or restrict use is now commonly called “DRM��?. DRM can be used within the content files, and also can be configured into transaction processes as well as included in system architecture. Some early implementations of this same idea used the words Digital Restrictions Management. A typical method of DRM might be to encrypt a file so that only authorized or paying users have the decryption technology. Another method may be to incorporate restricting metadata in a file that prevents distribution or copying. The incorporation of the restrictions into the content means that after the purchase, the buyer does not have control over the distribution of the content, as is the case with physical media such as books.

Content creators and distributors who wish to restrict the use of digital content and provide use only to those who pay fees and royalties are creating many different types of schemes to ensure as little unauthorized use as possible. For instance eBook publishers and vendors are creating licensing and DRM schemes that control how many times a library may allow the downloading of any individual book. The scheme usually includes an initial price payment for access to the book, then the DRM keeps track of downloading and use transactions. After a certain number of downloads, for instance 30, the publisher or vendor will bill the library for any additional downloads, or sell another license for additional downloads of that title.

Another scheme includes how many library users may have access to specific title at one time. The DRM can allow only one user or multiple simultaneous users of a title. The library must decide whether to pay a lower price and only allow one user at a time or pay a higher price for the title and allow multiple users of the title.
These examples only highlight a few DRM schemes. There are literally thousands used by content publishers/creators/vendors to manage their digital content “downstream��? use. DRM virtually eliminates the “first sale��? doctrine aspect of the copyright law, which provides a good deal of flexibility for subsequent use of the content buyer. The first sale doctrine allows anyone to buy a copy of an item from a vendor and have the ability to subsequently distribute that copy as they see fit, with little restriction. It is considered that they have paid the necessary royalty. DRM schemes create models which shift the paradigm to access rather than outright ownership – access remains under the control of the copyright holder.

The DRM schemes widely used today provide control by the seller or licenser of content but restrict the buyer or user of content. Many times these schemes also prevent fair use, the type of use described in the copyright law which provides for limited use of copyright protected content for non-profit and educational uses and does not require permission or royalty payment.

For further reading about DRM:

Blog post created by Lorre Smith