by Jeremiah Clifton
Digital Rights Management (DRM) is an umbrella term for any technological system, whether software or hardware, by which copyright holders manage access and copy control of their intellectual property. DRM is most commonly associated with computer software applications, DVDs, CDs, and digital media downloaded from a server or transferred via the internet or other network. According to the glossary for the Open Content and Public Broadcasting Conference, DRM is
any of several technologies used by publishers to control access to and usage of digital data (such as software, music, movies) and hardware. The term is often confused with copy protection and technical protection measures. These two terms refer to technologies that control or restrict the use of digital media content on electronic devices with such technologies installed, acting as components of a DRM design;1
Connotatively, DRM has technical and social meanings. DRM is becoming a blanket term that not only covers any method of protection or security measure employed that controls access to, or restricts or dictates use of digital content or service by technological means, but also any technology that thwarts copying of media or hinders fair use of purchased media. Essentially, DRM is thought of as the flaming sword at the gate to Eden by some and as James Bowie and Davy Crocket at the Alamo by others. For this writing, DRM is used in its broadest interpretation and thought of as a method as well as the methodology of access and copy management as applied to intellectual property, and as a term to encapsulate the entirety of anticircumvention and the legal rights associated.
Over the past fifteen years many changes in copyright are directly related to DRM. The ideas, statutes, implementation, and real-world effects of changes in copyright brought on by the influence of the information age and subsequent ubiquity of digital media are almost all related to DRM in one way or another. The American Library Association feels that “DRM changes the fundamental relationship between the creators, publishers, and users, to the detriment of creators, users, and the institutions that serve them.”2 And these fears are not brought about by DRM technology; rather, the concern is in “the business models the content industry chooses to enforce.”3
Instead of looking at the technology and generic schemes of DRM, it is essential and more beneficial to the student and professional in digital media to observe the implementation of DRM, the varied readings of the law pertaining to DRM, and the effects of DRM. This includes changes in business, where intellectual property, copyright and circumvention lawsuits against companies and the general public flourish; changes in media, where access to media in a digital format is dictated by media outlet owners and fears of a pay-per-use business model loom; and, changes in society, where a generation’s concepts of information, copyright and fair use are being formed and molded as technology, industry and government determine the future of access to and use of digital media.
  1. Open Content and Public Broadcasting Conference. Text in HTML: WGBH Boston, conference website Available: Accessed: November 28, 2008.
  2. American Library Association (ALA). Text in PDF: ALA Website Available: Accessed: November 28, 2008.
  3. Id.