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What Is Digital Rights Management ?

DRM is the science, art, and business of managing digital goods so that all of the participants in the digital goods chain win:

Consumers win by getting a good, perhaps novel product or service at a reasonable price.

Distribution and infrastructure providers win by getting paid to facilitate the distribution of goods, and perhaps by additional related interactions with their customers.

Content owners win by getting fairly paid for their efforts, and by having new, innovative distribution channels available to them.

Most Stake holders Don't Think "Win-Win-Win" Yet:

Many Consumers think of DRM as copy protection: an extra step that they have to deal with when getting "legitimate" on-line content. Maybe they have had good experiences - say, with itunes or try-before-you-buy software - but it's human nature to remember the bad experiences more clearly. If they experienced DRM as implemented at many software or music sites in recent years, it's often flaky, it changes from month to month or item to item, and it lets them do less with the content than they could before. More on this is found on the Why DRM Sucks page. Of course, there are systems that aren't like this - that exhibit more of the qualities found on the DRM is Great page.

Vendors of DRM technology are businesses and so naturally tend to say that DRM is whatever they are selling ! In fairness, some of this technology is very good.. but it's early days for DRM technology and potential customers should do their homework first. A special challenge for technology vendors is that it's the content owners who (hopefully) pay their bills, but the end-users who pass judgment on the final result. Striking a balance in system design between these interests is difficult. You can find out more about them on the DRM Vendor Page.

For Copyright Owners, Digital Rights Management is an essential technology that protects their content and their business models in the face of the easy, perfect copying available with digital technology. Unfortunately, many copyright owners have alienated consumers by showing more concern about copy-protecting content than about the customer experience. More on copyright owners can be found on the Content Owner Page.

As for lawyers, lobbyists and policy makers, those of them who work for or otherwise support content providers, say that DRM is necessary technology without which copyright and similar principles become irrelevant and unenforceable. Others - mostly academics and public advocates - oppose DRM, either in principle or because of its indirect effects e.g. on privacy. More on these groups can be found on the DRM Policy Page.

One thing is certain: only through DRM that helps everybody win can we achieve a thriving on-line content ecosystem.

Next: The State of DRM Today.