Digital Rights Management (DRM)

An introduction to piracy protection (and exploring its weaknesses)

Digital Rights Management – a term commonly shortened to the handy acronym DRM – refers to a variety of technological methods used by copyright owners and publishers to reduce the piracy of their wares. This access control is related to a number of different media forms, including software, music and movies.

Advertiser Links for Digital Rights Management (DRM)

As you might expect, DRM might be considered the tech world's "pro-life or pro-choice" debate. Although lives are hardly at risk, many copyright-concerned groups have lobbied for greater awareness of the issue, by either supporting the DRM technology as a necessary measure in order to protect copyrighted material and to limit the freedoms of today's tech-savvy population.

It can be hard to find an RIAA logo that doesn’t somehow bash the organization
Since Digital Rights Management is a term that will undoubtedly manifest itself in the common social environments in the future, it might be important to find out who is at the heart of the debate.

Copyright holders

  • In case you're in need of a definition-refreshment, copyright is a set of rights designated to a particular group or individual based on their patent or payment for that concept. Basically, if you come up with the idea for hamburger earmuffs, and you patent the idea, no one else can profit from the sale of said ear-warmers without providing you with royalties.
  • Most of the copyright holders at the center of this debate include music industry associations and artists, such as Sony BMG and the Smashing Pumpkins. Members of the music industry are typically represented by the RIAA, or Record Industry Association of America.
  • Microsoft is noted for the growing measures it is taking to protect its software. The best example of this is its Windows Genuine Advantage, which tests the legitimacy of Microsoft software on computers.
  • Movie copyrights are typically the business of the MPAA, or Motion Picture Association of America.

Free Software Foundation (FSF)

  • The Free Software Foundation was founded in 1985 by Richard Stallman, an admitted hacker and critic of copyright law. For most of his career, Stallman has used the FSF to attack American software patents through political campaigning.
  • The FSF is a donation-driven association under the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and uses its resources to produce legal strategies in moving forward the free software movement.

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

  • More encompassing than the FSF, the Electronic Frontier Foundation was established in 1990 for freedom of speech rights within the technological world.
  • Its primary goal is to educate the media and government on various civil liberties issues in relationship with a number of technological issues.
  • Like the FSF, the EFF uses the law to defend its goals. However, it reaches beyond its own principles to those of external individuals, including those facing prosecution for violating copyright law. In many cases, the EFF will defend these individuals in court.
  • Many of the Electronic Frontier Foundation's legal crusades are against patent abuses or copyright that fringes on antitrust.


These are some of the specific movers and shakers amidst the DRM debate. Over the next few pages we'll go into greater detail on issues relating to each, including:

  • Sony's rootkit
  • Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage and PlayForSure
  • Apple's Fairplay
  • Ways around DRM
  • Future plans for DRM

As digital media expands, so too do the legal issues surrounding it. It's an important concept that could shape the way you purchase and play music, movies and software for years to come.