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How Digital Rights Management Works ? RRS feed

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  • In 2005, Sony sold millions of "special" music CDs to consumers who thought they were getting regular old compact discs. When people played these CDs on their computer, what happened in many cases was the equivalent of a spyware nightmare: Programs froze up, applications slowed and a series of hidden files that were the source of the problem proved to be nearly impossible to uninstall. Why would Sony do this to its customers?

    The answer is "to protect its copyright." The digital revolution that has empowered consumers to use digital content in new and innovative ways has also made it nearly impossible for copyright holders to control the distribution of their property. Enter "digital rights management," or DRM. In this article, we'll find out what DRM is, how copyright holders are implementing the concept and what the future holds for digital content control.

    DRM Basics
    DRM
    Digital rights management is a far-reaching term. It encompasses any scheme to control access to copyrighted material using technological means. In essence, DRM removes usage control from the person in possession of digital content and puts it in the hands of a computer program. The applications and methods are endless -- here are just a few examples of digital rights management:

        * A company sets its servers to block the forwarding of sensitive e-mail.
        * An e-book server restricts access to, copying and printing of material based on constraints set by the copyright holder of the content.
        * A movie studio includes software on its DVDs that limits the number of copies a user can make to two.
        * A music label releases titles on a type of CD that includes bits of information intended to confuse ripping software.

    While many consumers see DRM methods as overly restrictive -- especially those methods employed by the movie and music industries -- digital rights management is nonetheless trying to solve a legitimate problem. The distribution of digital content over the Internet via file-sharing networks has made traditional copyright law obsolete in practice. Every time someone downloads an MP3 file of a copyrighted song from a free file-sharing network instead of buying the CD, the music label that owns the copyright and the artist who created the song lose money. In the case of the movie industry, some estimates place revenue losses from illegal distribution of DVD content at around $5 billion a year. The nature of the Internet makes it impractical to try to sue every person who breaks the law in this way, so companies are trying to regain control of distribution by making it technologically impossible for consumers to make digital copies.

    The problem is that when you buy a DVD, it's perfectly legal for you to make a copy of it for your own use. This is the gist of the fair use doctrine in copyright law -- there are certain situations that negate copyright protection in favor of the content user, including copying protected material for personal use and copying anything in the public domain for any use. Most digital rights management schemes cannot take fair use into account, because a computer program cannot make subjective decisions. In 2005, a French court ruled that DRM-encoded DVDs that make copying impossible violate fair use laws because the rightful owner of that DVD cannot make a copy for his own use.

     

    Friday, March 16, 2007 1:28 PM