Why Is DRM so Controversial With Music and Movie Artists?

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DRM, short for "Digital Rights Management", is anti-piracy technology. DRM is used by digital copyright owners to control who gets to access and copy their work. In particular, DRM gives programmers, musicians and movie artists some ability to remote control how people can install, listen to, view, and duplicate digital files. In recent DRM news, Amazon remotely accessed thousands of readers' Kindle machines and deleted books without the user's permission.

Although DRM is a broad term describing many different technical formats, it always involves some form of digital padlock on the file. These padlocks are called "licensed encryption keys" (intricate mathematical codes) that prevent just anyone from using or copying the file. People who pay for these licensed encryption keys are given the unlock codes to use the file for themselves but are usually prevented from then sharing that file with other people.

Why Is It so Controversial?

Because the programmer or artist is deciding how and when you can use their files, it is arguable that you do not really own the file after you buy it. As paying consumers learn more about DRM technology and civil liberties, many of them become outraged that they no longer "own" their music, movies, or software. Yet at the same time, how do programmers and artists reasonably get paid for every copy of their work? The answer, like any digital copyright issue, is unclear at best. For example, the recent Kindle reader DRM controversy has outraged users across the globe. Imagine their surprise when they opened their Kindle readers, only to discover that Amazon had remotely deleted ebooks without the owner's permission.

How Do I Know When My Files Have DRM on Them?

Commonly, you will know right away if DRM is in place. Any one of these situations is very likely DRM:

  • You are using a WMA file;
  • You need specific software or specific music player hardware to play the file;
  • You are limited to how many times you can download;
  • You are limited in the number of hours/days you can download;
  • The number of different computers you can download to is limited;
  • The number of times you can burn a CD is limited;
  • You need a special password and/or login ID before you can play the file;
  • You need to reply to confirmation emails before you can play the file;
  • In some instances, AAC files have DRM locks.

The above are the most common methods of DRM. There are new DRM methods being developed every week.

*As of this writing, MP3 files themselves do not have DRM padlocks on them, but getting access to MP3 files is getting more difficult every day as the MPAA and RIAA crackdown on MP3 file sharing.

So, How Does DRM Work, Exactly?

Although DRM does come in many different forms, it usually has four common stages: packaging, distribution, license-serving, and license acquisition.

  1. Packaging is when DRM encryption keys are built right into the software, the music file, or the movie file.

  2. Distribution is when DRM-encrypted files are delivered to the customers. This is usually through web server downloads, CD's/DVD's, or via files emailed to the customers.

  3. License Serving is where specialized servers authenticate legitimate users through an Internet connection, and allow them to access the DRM files. Simultaneously, license servers lock up the files when illegitimate users try to open or copy the files.

  4. License Acquisition is where legitimate customers acquire their encryption keys so they can unlock their files.

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