Digital Directions: DRM: The Battle Observed
Digital rights management (DRM) is the most contentious topic in the world of digital media. The battle over DRM shows no signs of abating, and its outcome will shape the digital media landscape for decades to come. Digital rights management, however, is a bit of a misnomer. It is not about managing rights, per se, but about controlling access to and use of content. It is the application of technology to enforce a licensing agreement between content provider and receiver.
Most media organizations favor the use of some method of DRM. New risks to rights holders inherent in the ability to copy and transmit digital media freely and instantaneously must be met with new safeguards: license enforcement via DRM. Without such safeguards, the economic vehicle that drives and supports the creation of new works may be at risk. The record industry is often held up as a poster child to illustrate the potential danger of these risks. DRM is viewed as a necessary requirement in a digital distribution approach that protects content creators’ rights and livelihoods.
The importance of DRM in creating successful digital distribution programs was illustrated in January 2008, when Steve Jobs established distribution relationships with virtually every major studio to enable movie rentals through iTunes. This was an important event not only for Apple, but also for the evolution of digital media at large. The ability for iTunes to manage and enforce the rental terms through DRM was a critical factor in securing these deals.
The anti-DRM camp, including such organizations as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, maintains that, in practice, DRM simply doesn’t work, that it primarily penalizes legal purchasers of content by making it difficult to use and manage works they have purchased. Any iTunes account holder with multiple playback devices knows this all too well.