Digital rights management

Digital rights management (DRM) schemes are various access control technologies that are used to restrict usage of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works.[1] DRM technologies try to control the use, modification, and distribution of copyrighted works (such as software and multimedia content), as well as systems within devices that enforce these policies.[2]

The use of digital rights management is not universally accepted. Proponents of DRM argue that it is necessary to prevent intellectual property from being copied freely, just as physical locks are needed to prevent personal property from being stolen,[3] that it can help the copyright holder maintain artistic control,[4] and that it can ensure continued revenue streams.[5] Those opposed to DRM contend there is no evidence that DRM helps prevent copyright infringement, arguing instead that it serves only to inconvenience legitimate customers, and that DRM helps big business stifle innovation and competition.[6] Furthermore, works can become permanently inaccessible if the DRM scheme changes or if the service is discontinued.[7] DRM can also restrict users from exercising their legal rights under the copyright law, such as backing up copies of CDs or DVDs (instead having to buy another copy, if it can still be purchased), lending materials out through a library, accessing works in the public domain, or using copyrighted materials for research and education under the fair use doctrine,[3] and under French law.[8] The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) consider the use of DRM systems to be an anti-competitive practice.[9][10]

Worldwide, many laws have been created which criminalize the circumvention of DRM, communication about such circumvention, and the creation and distribution of tools used for such circumvention. Such laws are part of the United States' Digital Millennium Copyright Act,[11] and the European Union's Copyright Directive,[12] (the French DADVSI is an example of a member state of the European Union ("EU") implementing the directive).[13]

The term DRM is also sometimes referred to as "copy protection", "technical protection measures", "copy prevention", or "copy control", although the correctness of doing so is disputed.[2]


The advent of digital media and analog-to-digital conversion technologies (especially those that are usable on mass-market general-purpose personal computers) has vastly increased the concerns of copyright-owning individuals and organizations. These concerns are particularly prevalent within the music and movie industries, because these sectors are partly or wholly dependent on the revenue generated from such works. While analog media inevitably loses quality with each copy generation, and in some cases even during normal use, digital media files may be duplicated an unlimited number of times with no degradation in the quality of subsequent copies.

The advent of personal computers as household appliances has made it convenient for consumers to convert media (which may or may not be copyrighted) originally in a physical, analog or broadcast form into a universal, digital form (this process is called ripping) for portability or viewing later. This, combined with the Internet and popular file-sharing tools, has made unauthorized distribution of copies of copyrighted digital media (also called digital piracy) much easier.

DRM technologies enable content publishers to enforce their own access policies on content, such as restrictions on copying or viewing. These technologies have been criticized for restricting individuals from copying or using the content legally, such as by fair use. DRM is in common use by the entertainment industry (e.g., audio and video publishers).[14] Many online music stores, such as Apple's iTunes Store, and e-book publishers and vendors, such as OverDrive, also use DRM, as do cable and satellite service operators, to prevent unauthorized use of content or services. However, Apple dropped DRM from all iTunes music files around 2009.[15]

In recent years the industry expanded the usage of DRM to even traditional hardware products, examples are Keurig's coffeemakers,[16][17] Philips' light bulbs,[18][19] mobile device power chargers,[20][21][22] and John Deere's tractors.[23] For instance, tractor companies try to prevent the DIY repairing by the owning farmers under usage of DRM-laws as DMCA.[24]

Common DRM techniques

Digital Rights Management Techniques include:


DRM and computer games

Limited install activations

Computer games sometimes use DRM technologies to limit the number of systems the game can be installed on by requiring authentication with an online server. Most games with this restriction allow three or five installs, although some allow an installation to be 'recovered' when the game is uninstalled. This not only limits users who have more than three or five computers in their homes (seeing as the rights of the software developers allow them to limit the number of installations), but can also prove to be a problem if the user has to unexpectedly perform certain tasks like upgrading operating systems or reformatting the computer's hard drive, tasks which, depending on how the DRM is implemented, count a game's subsequent reinstall as a new installation, making the game potentially unusable after a certain period even if it is only used on a single computer.

In mid-2008, the publication of Mass Effect marked the start of a wave of titles primarily making use of SecuROM for DRM and requiring authentication with a server. The use of the DRM scheme in 2008's Spore backfired and there were protests, resulting in a considerable number of users seeking an unlicensed version instead. This backlash against the three-activation limit was a significant factor in Spore becoming the most pirated game in 2008, with TorrentFreak compiling a "top 10" list with Spore topping the list.[27][28] However, Tweakguides concluded that the presence of intrusive DRM does not appear to increase the cracking of a game, noting that other games on the list such as Call of Duty 4, Assassin's Creed and Crysis use SafeDisc DRM, which has no install limits and no online activation. Additionally, other video games that use intrusive DRM such as BioShock, Crysis Warhead, and Mass Effect, do not appear on the list.[29]

Persistent online authentication

Main article: Always-on DRM

Many mainstream publishers continued to rely on online DRM throughout the later half of 2008 and early 2009, including Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Valve, and Atari, The Sims 3 being a notable exception in the case of Electronic Arts.[30] Ubisoft broke with the tendency to use online DRM in late 2008, with the release of Prince of Persia as an experiment to "see how truthful people really are" regarding the claim that DRM was inciting people to use illegal copies.[31] Although Ubisoft has not commented on the results of the "experiment", Tweakguides noted that two torrents on Mininova had over 23,000 people downloading the game within 24 hours of its release.[32]

Ubisoft formally announced a return to online authentication on 9 February 2010, through its Uplay online gaming platform, starting with Silent Hunter 5, The Settlers 7, and Assassin's Creed II.[33] Silent Hunter 5 was first reported to have been compromised within 24 hours of release,[34] but users of the cracked version soon found out that only early parts of the game were playable.[35] The Uplay system works by having the installed game on the local PCs incomplete and then continuously downloading parts of the game-code from Ubisoft's servers as the game progresses.[36] It was more than a month after the PC release in the first week of April that software was released that could bypass Ubisoft's DRM in Assassin's Creed II. The software did this by emulating a Ubisoft server for the game. Later that month, a real crack was released that was able to remove the connection requirement altogether.[37][38]

In early March 2010, the Uplay servers suffered a period of inaccessibility due to a large-scale DDoS attack, causing around 5% of game owners to become locked out of playing their game.[39] The company later credited owners of the affected games with a free download, and there has been no further downtime.[40]

Other developers, such as Blizzard Entertainment are also shifting to a strategy where most of the game logic is on the "side" or taken care of by the servers of the game maker. Blizzard uses this strategy for its game Diablo III and Electronic Arts used this same strategy with their reboot of SimCity, the necessity of which has been questioned.[41]

Software tampering

Bohemia Interactive have used a form of technology since Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis, wherein if the game copy is suspected of being unauthorized, annoyances like guns losing their accuracy or the players being turned into a bird are introduced.[42]

Croteam, the company that released Serious Sam 3: BFE in November 2011, implemented a different form of DRM wherein, instead of displaying error messages that stop the illicit version of the game from running, it causes a special invincible foe in the game to appear and constantly attack the player until he or she is killed.[43][44]

Product keys

One of the oldest and least complicated DRM protection methods for the computer games is a product key, a typically alphanumerical serial number used to represent a license to a particular piece of software. During the installation process for the software, the user is asked to input the key; if the key correctly corresponds to a valid license (typically via internal algorithms), the key is accepted, and installation can continue. In modern practice, product keys are typically combined with other DRM practices (such as online "activation"), as the software could be cracked to run without a product key, or "keygen" programs could be developed to generate keys that would be accepted.

DRM and documents

Enterprise digital rights management (E-DRM or ERM) is the application of DRM technology to the control of access to corporate documents such as Microsoft Word, PDF, and AutoCAD files, emails, and intranet web pages rather than to the control of consumer media.[45] E-DRM, now more commonly referenced as IRM (Information Rights Management), is generally intended to prevent the unauthorized use (such as industrial or corporate espionage or inadvertent release) of proprietary documents. IRM typically integrates with content management system software but corporations such as Samsung Electronics also develop their own custom DRM systems.[46]

DRM has been used by organizations such as the British Library in its secure electronic delivery service to permit worldwide access to substantial numbers of rare (and in many cases unique) documents which, for legal reasons, were previously only available to authorized individuals actually visiting the Library's document centre at Boston Spa in England.[47][48][49]

DRM and e-books

Electronic books read on a personal computer, or an e-book reader or e-reader app typically use DRM technology to limit copying, printing, and sharing of e-books. E-books (alternatively spelled "ebooks") are usually limited to be used on a limited number of reading devices, and some e-publishers prevent any copying or printing. Some commentors believe DRM makes e-book publishing complex.[50]

As of August 2012, there are five main e-book formats: EPUB, KF8, Mobipocket, PDF, and Topaz.[51] The Amazon Kindle uses KF8, Mobipocket, and Topaz; it also supports native PDF format e-books and native PDF files. Other e-book readers mostly use EPUB format e-books, but with differing DRM schemes.

There are four main e-book DRM schemes in common use today, one each from Adobe, Amazon, Apple, and the Marlin Trust Management Organization (MTMO).

In one instance of DRM that caused a rift with consumers, in July 2009, remotely deleted purchased copies of George Orwell's Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) from customers' Amazon Kindles after providing them a refund for the purchased products.[54] Commentors have widely described these actions as Orwellian and have compared Amazon to Big Brother from Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.[55][56][57][58] After Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos issued a public apology, the Free Software Foundation wrote that this was just one more example of the excessive power Amazon has to remotely censor what people read through its software, and called upon Amazon to free its e-book reader and drop DRM.[59] Amazon then revealed the reason behind its deletion: the e-books in question were unauthorized reproductions of Orwell's works, which were not within the public domain and to which the company that published and sold them on Amazon's service had no rights.[60]

Websites  such as (shut down by court order on February 15, 2012), BookFi, BookFinder, Library Genesis, and Science Hub  have emerged which allow downloading e-books by violating copyright.[61][62][63][64]

DRM and film

An early example of a DRM system is the Content Scrambling System (CSS) employed by the DVD Forum on film DVDs circa 1996. CSS uses an encryption algorithm to encrypt content on the DVD disc. Manufacturers of DVD players must license this technology and implement it in their devices so that they can decrypt the encrypted content to play it. The CSS license agreement includes restrictions on how the DVD content is played, including what outputs are permitted and how such permitted outputs are made available. This keeps the encryption intact as the video material is played out to a TV.

In 1999, Jon Lech Johansen released an application called DeCSS, which allowed a CSS-encrypted DVD to play on a computer running the Linux operating system, at a time when no licensed DVD player application for Linux had yet been created. The legality of DeCSS is questionable: one of the authors has been the subject of a lawsuit, and reproduction of the keys themselves is subject to restrictions as illegal numbers.[65]

Also in 1999, Microsoft released Windows Media DRM, which read instructions from media files in a rights management language that stated what the user may do with the media.[66] The language can define how many times the media file can be played, and whether or not it can be burned to a CD, forwarded, printed, or saved to the local disk.[67] Later versions of Windows Media DRM also allow producers to declare whether or not the user may transfer the media file to other devices,[68] to implement music subscription services that make downloaded files unplayable after subscriptions are cancelled, and to implement regional lockout.[69]

The Microsoft operating system, Windows Vista, contains a DRM system called the Protected Media Path, which contains the Protected Video Path (PVP). PVP tries to stop DRM-restricted content from playing while unsigned software is running, in order to prevent the unsigned software from accessing the content. Additionally, PVP can encrypt information during transmission to the monitor or the graphics card, which makes it more difficult to make unauthorized recordings.

Advanced Access Content System (AACS) is a DRM system for HD DVD and Blu-ray Discs developed by the AACS Licensing Administrator, LLC (AACS LA), a consortium that includes Disney, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Matsushita (Panasonic), Sony, Toshiba, and Warner Brothers. In December 2006, hackers published a process key online, which enabled unrestricted access to AACS-protected HD DVD content.[70] After the cracked keys were revoked, further cracked keys were released.[71]

Marlin (DRM) is a technology that is developed and maintained in an open industry group known as the Marlin Developer Community (MDC) and licensed by the Marlin Trust Management Organization (MTMO). Founded in 2005, by five companies: Intertrust, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, and Sony, Marlin DRM has been deployed in multiple places around the world. In Europe, Philips NetTVs implement Marlin DRM. Also in Europe, Marlin DRM is required in such industry groups as the Open IPTV Forum and national initiatives such as HDForum in France, Tivu in Italy, and YouView in the UK, and which are starting to see broad deployments. In Japan, the acTVila IPTV service uses Marlin to encrypt video streams, which are permitted to be recorded on a DVR in the home.

OMA DRM is a system invented by the Open Mobile Alliance, whose members represent information technology companies (e.g., IBM and Microsoft), mobile phone network operators (e.g., Cingular, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, O2, and Vodafone), mobile phone manufacturers (e.g., LG, Motorola, Samsung, and Sony), mobile system manufacturers (e.g., Ericsson and Openwave).

DRM and music

Audio CDs

Discs with DRM schemes are not standards-compliant Compact Discs (CDs) but are rather CD-ROM media. Therefore, they all lack the CD logotype found on discs which follow the standard (known as Red Book). These CDs cannot be played on all CD players or personal computers. Personal computers running Microsoft Windows sometimes even crash when attempting to play the CDs.[72]

In 2005, Sony BMG introduced new DRM technology which installed DRM software on users' computers without clearly notifying the user or requiring confirmation. Among other things, the installed software included a rootkit, which created a severe security vulnerability others could exploit. When the nature of the DRM involved was made public much later, Sony BMG initially minimized the significance of the vulnerabilities its software had created, but was eventually compelled to recall millions of CDs, and released several attempts to patch the surreptitiously included software to at least remove the rootkit. Several class action lawsuits were filed, which were ultimately settled by agreements to provide affected consumers with a cash payout or album downloads free of DRM.[73]

Sony BMG's DRM software actually had only a limited ability to prevent copying, as it affected only playback on Windows computers, not on other equipment. Even on the Windows platform, users regularly bypassed the restrictions. And, while the Sony BMG DRM technology created fundamental vulnerabilities in customers' computers, parts of it could be trivially bypassed by holding down the "shift" key while inserting the CD, or by disabling the autorun feature. In addition, audio tracks could simply be played and re-recorded, thus completely bypassing all the DRM (this is known as the analog hole). Sony BMG's first two attempts at releasing a patch which would remove the DRM software from users' computers failed.

In January 2007, EMI stopped publishing audio CDs with DRM, stating that "the costs of DRM do not measure up to the results."[74] Following EMI, Sony BMG was the last publisher to abolish DRM completely, and audio CDs containing DRM are no longer released by the four largest commercial record label companies.[75]

Internet music

Many internet music stores employ DRM to restrict usage of music purchased and downloaded.

The various services are currently not interoperable, though those that use the same DRM system (for instance the several Windows Media DRM format stores, including Napster, Kazaa and Yahoo Music) all provide songs that can be played side-by-side through the same player program. Almost all stores require client software of some sort to be downloaded, and some also need plug-ins. Several colleges and universities, such as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, have made arrangements with assorted Internet music suppliers to provide access (typically DRM-restricted) to music files for their students, to less than universal popularity, sometimes making payments from student activity fee funds.[77] One of the problems is that the music becomes unplayable after leaving school unless the student continues to pay individually. Another is that few of these vendors are compatible with the most common portable music player, the Apple iPod. The Gowers Review of Intellectual Property (to HMG in the UK; 141 pages, 40+ specific recommendations) has taken note of the incompatibilities, and suggests (Recommendations 8—12) that there be explicit fair dealing exceptions to copyright allowing libraries to copy and format-shift between DRM schemes, and further allowing end users to do the same privately. If adopted, some acrimony may decrease.

Although DRM is prevalent for Internet music, some online music stores such as eMusic, Dogmazic, Amazon, and Beatport, do not use DRM despite encouraging users to avoid sharing music. Major labels have begun releasing more music without DRM. Eric Bangeman suggests in Ars Technica that this is because the record labels are "slowly beginning to realize that they can't have DRMed music and complete control over the online music market at the same time... One way to break the cycle is to sell music that is playable on any digital audio player. eMusic does exactly that, and their surprisingly extensive catalog of non-DRMed music has vaulted it into the number two online music store position behind the iTunes Store."[78] Apple's Steve Jobs called on the music industry to eliminate DRM in an open letter titled Thoughts on Music.[79] Apple's iTunes Store will start to sell DRM-free 256 kbit/s (up from 128 kbit/s) AAC encoded music from EMI for a premium price (this has since reverted to the standard price).

In March 2007,, one of Europe's largest internet music retailers, announced their position strongly against DRM. In an open letter, Musicload stated that three out of every four calls to their customer support phone service are as a result of consumer frustration with DRM.[80]

Mobile ring tones

The Open Mobile Alliance created a standard for interoperable DRM on mobile devices. The first version of OMA DRM consisted of a simple rights management language and was widely used to protect mobile phone ringtones from being copied from the phone to other devices. Later versions expanded the rights management language to similar expressiveness as Fairplay, but did not become widely used.[69]

DRM and television

The CableCard standard is used by cable television providers in the United States to restrict content to services to which the customer has subscribed.

The broadcast flag concept was developed by Fox Broadcasting in 2001, and was supported by the MPAA and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). A ruling in May 2005, by a United States courts of appeals held that the FCC lacked authority to impose it on the TV industry in the US. It required that all HDTVs obey a stream specification determining whether a stream can be recorded. This could block instances of fair use, such as time-shifting. It achieved more success elsewhere when it was adopted by the Digital Video Broadcasting Project (DVB), a consortium of about 250 broadcasters, manufacturers, network operators, software developers, and regulatory bodies from about 35 countries involved in attempting to develop new digital TV standards.

An updated variant of the broadcast flag has been developed in the Content Protection and Copy Management group under DVB (DVB-CPCM). Upon publication by DVB, the technical specification was submitted to European governments in March 2007. As with much DRM, the CPCM system is intended to control use of copyrighted material by the end-user, at the direction of the copyright holder. According to Ren Bucholz of the EFF, which paid to be a member of the consortium, "You won't even know ahead of time whether and how you will be able to record and make use of particular programs or devices".[81] The DVB claims that the system will harmonize copyright holders' control across different technologies, thereby making things easier for end users. The normative sections have now all been approved for publication by the DVB Steering Board, and will be published by ETSI as a formal European Standard as ETSI TS 102 825-X where X refers to the Part number of specification. Nobody has yet stepped forward to provide a Compliance and Robustness regime for the standard (though several are rumoured to be in development), so it is not presently possible to fully implement a system, as there is nowhere to obtain the necessary device certificates.


Sometimes, metadata is included in purchased media which records information such as the purchaser's name, account information, or email address. Also included may be the file's publisher, author, creation date, download date, and various notes. This information is not embedded in the played content, like a watermark, but is kept separate, but within the file or stream.

As an example, metadata is used in media purchased from Apple's iTunes Store for DRM-free as well as DRM-restricted versions of their music or videos. This information is included as MPEG standard metadata.[82][83]


Digital watermarks are features of media that are added during production or distribution. Digital watermarks involve data that is arguably steganographically embedded within the audio or video data.

Watermarks can be used for different purposes that may include:

Watermarks are not complete DRM mechanisms in their own right, but are used as part of a system for copyright enforcement, such as helping provide prosecution evidence for purely legal avenues of rights management, rather than direct technological restriction. Some programs used to edit video and/or audio may distort, delete, or otherwise interfere with watermarks. Signal/modulator-carrier chromatography may also separate watermarks from original audio or detect them as glitches. Additionally, comparison of two separately obtained copies of audio using simple, home-grown algorithms can often reveal watermarks. New methods of detection are currently under investigation by both industry and non-industry researchers.

Streaming media services

Since the late-2000s the trend in media consumption has been towards renting content using online streaming services, for example Spotify for music and Netflix for video content. Copyright holders often require that these services protect the content they licence using DRM mechanisms.

Laws regarding DRM

Article 11 of the 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT), requires nations party to the treaties to enact laws against DRM circumvention, and has been implemented in most member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization. The American implementation is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), while in Europe the treaty has been implemented by the 2001 European directive on copyright, which requires member states of the European Union to implement legal protections for technological prevention measures. In 2006, the lower house of the French parliament adopted such legislation as part of the controversial DADVSI law, but added that protected DRM techniques should be made interoperable, a move which caused widespread controversy in the United States. The Tribunal de grande instance de Paris concluded in 2006, that the complete blocking of any possibilities of making private copies was an impermissible behaviour under French copyright law.[8]

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is an amendment to United States copyright law, passed unanimously on May 14, 1998, which criminalizes the production and dissemination of technology that lets users circumvent technical copy-restriction methods. (For a more detailed analysis of the statute, see WIPO Copyright and Performances and Phonograms Treaties Implementation Act.)

Reverse engineering of existing systems is expressly permitted under the Act under specific conditions. Under the reverse engineering safe harbor, circumvention necessary to achieve interoperability with other software is specifically authorized. See 17 U.S.C. Sec. 1201(f). Open-source software to decrypt content scrambled with the Content Scrambling System and other encryption techniques presents an intractable problem with the application of the Act. Much depends on the intent of the actor. If the decryption is done for the purpose of achieving interoperability of open source operating systems with proprietary operating systems, the circumvention would be protected by Section 1201(f) the Act. Cf., Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Corley, 273 F.3d 429 (2d Cir. 2001) at notes 5 and 16. However, dissemination of such software for the purpose of violating or encouraging others to violate copyrights has been held illegal. See Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Reimerdes, 111 F. Supp. 2d 346 (S.D.N.Y. 2000).

The DMCA has been largely ineffective in protecting DRM systems,[84] as software allowing users to circumvent DRM remains widely available. However, those who wish to preserve the DRM systems have attempted to use the Act to restrict the distribution and development of such software, as in the case of DeCSS.

Although the Act contains an exception for research, the exception is subject to vague qualifiers that do little to reassure researchers. Cf., 17 U.S.C. Sec. 1201(g). The DMCA has affected cryptography, because many fear that cryptanalytic research may violate the DMCA. The arrest of Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov in 2001, for alleged infringement of the DMCA, was a highly publicized example of the law's use to prevent or penalize development of anti-DRM measures. Sklyarov was arrested in the United States after a presentation at DEF CON, and subsequently spent several months in jail. The DMCA has also been cited as chilling to non-criminal inclined users, such as students of cryptanalysis (including, in a well-known instance, Professor Felten and students at Princeton[85]); security consultants, such as Netherlands based Niels Ferguson, who declined to publish vulnerabilities he discovered in Intel's secure-computing scheme due to fear of being arrested under the DMCA when he travels to the US; and blind or visually impaired users of screen readers or other assistive technologies.[86]

European Union

On 22 May 2001, the European Union passed the EU Copyright Directive, an implementation of the 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty, that addressed many of the same issues as the DMCA.

On 25 April 2007, the European Parliament supported the first directive of EU, which aims to harmonize criminal law in the member states. It adopted a first reading report on harmonizing the national measures for fighting copyright abuse. If the European Parliament and the Council approve the legislation, the submitted directive will oblige the member states to consider a crime a violation of international copyright committed with commercial purposes. The text suggests numerous measures: from fines to imprisonment, depending on the gravity of the offense. The EP members supported the Commission motion, changing some of the texts. They excluded patent rights from the range of the directive and decided that the sanctions should apply only to offenses with commercial purposes. Copying for personal, non-commercial purposes was also excluded from the range of the directive.

In 2012, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in favor of reselling copyrighted games, prohibiting any preventative action that would prevent such transaction.[87] The court said that "The first sale in the EU of a copy of a computer program by the copyright holder or with his consent exhausts the right of distribution of that copy in the EU. A rightholder who has marketed a copy in the territory of a Member State of the EU thus loses the right to rely on his monopoly of exploitation in order to oppose the resale of that copy."[88]

In 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that circumventing DRM on game devices may be legal under some circumstances, limiting the legal protection to only cover technological measures intended to prevent or eliminate unauthorised acts of reproduction, communication, public offer or distribution.[89][90]

International issues

In Europe, there are several ongoing dialog activities that are characterized by their consensus-building intention:


Israel is a signatory to, but has not yet ratified, the WIPO Copyright Treaty. Israeli law does not currently expressly prohibit the circumvention of technological measures used to implement digital rights management. The Israeli Ministry of Justice proposed a bill to prohibit such activities in June 2012, but the bill was not passed by the Knesset. In September 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the current copyright law could not be interpreted to prohibit the circumvention of digital rights management, though the Court left open the possibility that such activities could result in liability under the law of unjust enrichment.[95]

Opposition to DRM

Many organizations, prominent individuals, and computer scientists are opposed to DRM. Two notable DRM critics are John Walker, as expressed for instance, in his article "The Digital Imprimatur: How Big brother and big media can put the Internet genie back in the bottle",[96] and Richard Stallman in his article The Right to Read[97] and in other public statements: "DRM is an example of a malicious feature – a feature designed to hurt the user of the software, and therefore, it's something for which there can never be toleration".[98] Stallman also believes that using the word "rights" is misleading and suggests that the word "restrictions", as in "Digital Restrictions Management", be used instead.[99] This terminology has since been adopted by many other writers and critics unconnected with Stallman.[100][101][102]

Other prominent critics of DRM include Professor Ross Anderson of Cambridge University, who heads a British organization which opposes DRM and similar efforts in the UK and elsewhere, and Cory Doctorow, a writer and technology blogger.[103]

There have been numerous others who see DRM at a more fundamental level. This is similar to some of the ideas in Michael H. Goldhaber's presentation about "The Attention Economy and the Net" at a 1997 conference on the "Economics of Digital Information".[104] (sample quote from the "Advice for the Transition" section of that presentation:[104] "If you can't figure out how to afford it without charging, you may be doing something wrong.")

The EFF and similar organizations such as also hold positions which are characterized as opposed to DRM.[105]

The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure has criticized DRM's effect as a trade barrier from a free market perspective.[106]

The final version of the GNU General Public License version 3, as released by the Free Software Foundation, has a provision that 'strips' DRM of its legal value, so people can break the DRM on GPL software without breaking laws like the DMCA. Also, in May 2006, the FSF launched a "Defective by Design" campaign against DRM.[107][108]

Creative Commons provides licensing options encouraging the expansion of and building upon creative work without the use of DRM.[109] In addition, Creative Commons licenses have anti-DRM clauses, therefore the use of DRM by a licensee to restrict the freedoms granted by a Creative Commons license is a breach of the Baseline Rights asserted by the licenses.[110]

Bill Gates spoke about DRM at CES in 2006. According to him, DRM is not where it should be, and causes problems for legitimate consumers while trying to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate users.[111]

According to Steve Jobs, Apple opposes DRM music after a public letter calling its music labels to stop requiring DRM on its iTunes Store. As of January 6, 2009, the iTunes Store is DRM-free for songs.[112]

Man in Tyvek suit holding a "Eliminate DRM" sign
Defective by Design member protesting DRM on May 25, 2007.

The Norwegian consumer rights organization "Forbrukerrådet" complained to Apple Inc. in 2007, about the company's use of DRM in, and in conjunction with, its iPod and iTunes products. Apple was accused of restricting users' access to their music and videos in an unlawful way, and of using EULAs which conflict with Norwegian consumer legislation. The complaint was supported by consumers' ombudsmen in Sweden and Denmark, and is currently being reviewed in the EU. Similarly, the United States Federal Trade Commission held hearings in March 2009, to review disclosure of DRM limitations to customers' use of media products.[113]

DRM opponents argue that the presence of DRM violates existing private property rights and restricts a range of heretofore normal and legal user activities. A DRM component would control a device a user owns (such as a digital audio player) by restricting how it may act with regards to certain content, overriding some of the user's wishes (for example, preventing the user from burning a copyrighted song to CD as part of a compilation or a review). Doctorow has described this possibility as "the right to make up your own copyright laws".[114]

An example of this restriction to legal user activities may be seen in Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system in which content using a Protected Media Path is disabled or degraded depending on the DRM scheme's evaluation of whether the hardware and its use are 'secure'.[115] All forms of DRM depend on the DRM enabled device (e.g., computer, DVD player, TV) imposing restrictions that (at least by intent) cannot be disabled or modified by the user. Key issues around DRM such as the right to make personal copies, provisions for persons to lend copies to friends, provisions for service discontinuance, hardware agnosticism, software and operating system agnosticism,[116] contracts for public libraries, and customers' protection against one-side amendments of the contract by the publisher have not been fully addressed.(see references 80–89) It has also been pointed out that it is entirely unclear whether owners of content with DRM are legally permitted to pass on their property as inheritance to another person.[117]

Tools like FairUse4WM have been created to strip Windows Media of DRM restrictions.[118]

Valve Corporation president Gabe Newell also stated "most DRM strategies are just dumb" because they only decrease the value of a game in the consumer's eyes. Newell suggests that the goal should instead be "[creating] greater value for customers through service value". Valve operates Steam, a service which serves as an online store for PC games, as well as a social networking service and a DRM platform.[119]

At the 2012 Game Developers Conference, the CEO of CD Projekt Red, Marcin Iwinski, announced that the company will not use DRM in any of its future releases. Iwinski stated of DRM, "it's just over-complicating things. We release the game. It's cracked in two hours, it was no time for Witcher 2. What really surprised me is that the pirates didn't use the GOG version, which was not protected. They took the SecuROM retail version, cracked it and said 'we cracked it' – meanwhile there's a non-secure version with a simultaneous release. You'd think the GOG version would be the one floating around." Iwinski added after the presentation, "DRM does not protect your game. If there are examples that it does, then people maybe should consider it, but then there are complications with legit users."[120]

Bruce Schneier argues that digital copy prevention is futile: "What the entertainment industry is trying to do is to use technology to contradict that natural law. They want a practical way to make copying hard enough to save their existing business. But they are doomed to fail."[121] He has also described trying to make digital files uncopyable as being like "trying to make water not wet".[122] The creators of StarForce also take this stance, stating that "The purpose of copy protection is not making the game uncrackable – it is impossible."[123]

The Association for Computing Machinery and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers have historically opposed DRM, even going so far as to name AACS as a technology "most likely to fail" in an issue of IEEE Spectrum.[124]

DRM-free works

DRM FREE with the no symbol removed
Label proposed by the Free Software Foundation for DRM-free works

In reaction to opposition to DRM, many publishers and artists label their works as "DRM-free". Major companies that have done so include the following:


DRM server and Internet outages

Many DRM systems require authentication with an online server. Whenever the server goes down, or a region or country experiences an Internet outage, it effectively locks out people from registering or using the material. This is especially true for a product that requires a persistent online authentication, where, for example, a successful DDoS attack on the server would essentially make all copies of the material unusable.

Methods to bypass DRM

There are many methods to bypass DRM control on audio, e-book, and video content.

DRM bypass methods for audio and video content

One simple method to bypass DRM on audio files is to burn the content to an audio CD and then rip it into DRM-free files. Some software products simplify and automate this burn-rip process by allowing the user to burn music to a CD-RW disc or to a Virtual CD-R drive, then automatically rip and encode the music, and automatically repeat this process until all selected music has been converted, rather than forcing the user to do this one CD (72–80 minutes worth of music) at a time.

Many software programs have been developed that intercept the data stream as it is decrypted out of the DRM-restricted file, and then use this data to construct a DRM-free file. These programs require a decryption key. Programs that do this for Blu-ray Discs, DVDs, and HD DVDs include universal decryption keys in the software itself. Programs that do this for iTunes audio, PlaysForSure songs, and TiVo ToGo recordings, however, rely on the user's own key — that is, they can only process content the user has legally acquired under his or her own account.

Another method is to use software to record the signals being sent through the audio or video cards, or to plug analog recording devices into the analog outputs of the media player. These techniques utilize the "analog hole".

Analog recording

Main article: Analog recording

All forms of DRM for audio and visual material (excluding interactive materials, e.g., videogames) are subject to the analog hole, namely that in order for a viewer to play the material, the digital signal must be turned into an analog signal containing light and/or sound for the viewer, and so available to be copied as no DRM is capable of controlling content in this form. In other words, a user could play a purchased audio file while using a separate program to record the sound back into the computer into a DRM-free file format.

All DRM to date can therefore be bypassed by recording this signal and digitally storing and distributing it in a non DRM limited form, by anyone who has the technical means of recording the analog stream. Furthermore, the analog hole cannot be overcome without the additional protection of externally imposed restrictions, such as legal regulations, because the vulnerability is inherent to all analog means of transmission.[132] However, the conversion from digital to analog and back is likely to force a loss of quality, particularly when using lossy digital formats. HDCP is an attempt to plug the analog hole, although it is largely ineffective.[133][134]

Asus released a soundcard which features a function called "Analog Loopback Transformation" to bypass the restrictions of DRM. This feature allows the user to record DRM-restricted audio via the soundcard's built-in analog I/O connection.[135][136]

In order to prevent this exploit there has been some discussions between copyright holders and manufacturers of electronics capable of playing such content, to no longer include analog connectivity in their devices. The movement dubbed as "Analog Sunset" has seen a steady decline in analog output options on most Blu-ray devices manufactured after 2010.

DRM on general computing platforms

Many of the DRM systems in use are designed to work on general purpose computing hardware, such as desktop PCs, apparently because this equipment is felt to be a major contributor to revenue loss from disallowed copying. Large commercial copyright infringers avoid consumer equipment, so losses from such infringers will not be covered by such provisions.

Such schemes, especially software based ones, can never be wholly secure since the software must include all the information necessary to decrypt the content, such as the decryption keys. An attacker will be able to extract this information, directly decrypt and copy the content, which bypasses the restrictions imposed by a DRM system.[103]

DRM on purpose-built hardware

Many DRM schemes use encrypted media which requires purpose-built hardware to hear or see the content. This appears to ensure that only licensed users (those with the hardware) can access the content. It additionally tries to protect a secret decryption key from the users of the system.

While this in principle can work, it is extremely difficult to build the hardware to protect the secret key against a sufficiently determined adversary. Many such systems have failed in the field. Once the secret key is known, building a version of the hardware that performs no checks is often relatively straightforward. In addition user verification provisions are frequently subject to attack, pirate decryption being among the most frequented ones.

A common real-world example can be found in commercial direct broadcast satellite television systems such as DirecTV and Malaysia's Astro. The company uses tamper-resistant smart cards to store decryption keys so that they are hidden from the user and the satellite receiver. However, the system has been compromised in the past, and DirecTV has been forced to roll out periodic updates and replacements for its smart cards.


Watermarks can often be removed, although degradation of video or audio can occur.

Undecrypted copying failure

Mass redistribution of hard copies does not necessarily need DRM to be decrypted or removed, as it can be achieved by bit-perfect copying of a legally obtained medium without accessing the decrypted content. Additionally, still-encrypted disk images can be distributed over the Internet and played on legitimately licensed players.


When standards and formats change, it may be difficult to transfer DRM-restricted content to new media. Additionally, any system that requires contact with an authentication server is vulnerable to that server's becoming unavailable, as happened in 2007, when videos purchased from Major League Baseball ( prior to 2006, became unplayable due to a change to the servers that validate the licenses.[137]

Microsoft Zune
In 2006, when Microsoft introduced their Zune[138] media player, it did not support content that uses Microsoft's own PlaysForSure DRM scheme they had previously been selling. The EFF calls this "a raw deal".[139]
MSN Music
In April 2008, Microsoft sent an email to former customers of the now-defunct MSN Music store that read:
"As of August 31, 2008, we will no longer be able to support the retrieval of license keys for the songs you purchased from MSN Music or the authorization of additional computers. You will need to obtain a license key for each of your songs downloaded from MSN Music on any new computer, and you must do so before August 31, 2008. If you attempt to transfer your songs to additional computers after August 31, 2008, those songs will not successfully play."[140]
However, Microsoft re-issued MSN Music shutdown statement on June 19 and allowed the users to use their licenses until the end of 2011:
"After careful consideration, Microsoft has decided to continue to support the authorization of new computers and devices and delivery of new license keys for MSN Music customers through at least the end of 2011, after which we will evaluate how much this functionality is still being used and what steps should be taken next to support our customers. This means you will continue to be able to listen to your purchased music and transfer your music to new PCs and devices beyond the previously announced August 31, 2008 date."[141]
Yahoo! Music Store
On July 23, 2008, the Yahoo! Music Store emailed its customers to tell them it would be shutting down effective September 30, 2008, and the DRM license key servers would be taken offline.[142]
In August 2007, Walmart's online music division started offering (DRM-free) MP3s as an option. Starting in February 2008, they made all sales DRM-free.
On September 26, 2008, the Walmart Music Team notified its customers via email they would be shutting down their DRM servers October 9, 2008, and any DRM-encumbered music acquired from them would no longer be accessible unless backed up to a recordable CDs (a non-DRM format) before that date.[143]
After bad press and negative reaction from customers, on October 9, 2008, Walmart decided not to take its DRM servers offline.[144]
Adobe Content Server 3 for Adobe PDF
In April 2009, Adobe Systems announced that as of March 30, 2009, the Adobe Content 3 server would no longer activate new installations of Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader. In addition, the ability to migrate content from Adobe Content Server 3 to Adobe Content Server 4 would cease from mid-December 2009. Anyone who failed to migrate their DRMed PDF files during this nine month window lost access to their content the next time they had to re-install their copy of Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader.[145]
JManga e-book store
In March 2013, JManga announced that they were closing down and advised all customers that they would lose all access to their content in May 2013.[146]
Acetrax Video on Demand
In May 2013, Acetrax announced they were shutting down. Refunds were provided for purchases of HD movies, but for standard definition versions, the only option made available was a limited time option to download to a Windows PC, but the movie would then be locked to that particular installation of Microsoft Media Player. Non-Windows users lost access to their SD movies.[147]
Diesel eBooks
In March 2014, Diesel announced that their e-book store would be closing by the end of March 2014.[148] Customers were advised to download all their e-books by month end as downloads will not be possible after this date.
Barnes & Noble non-US/UK nook store
In July 2015, Barnes & Noble announced that their non-US/UK e-book stores would be closing in August 2015, losing access to all ebooks purchases.[149] Customers were advised to see if Microsoft would give them refunds for purchases bought through a Microsoft account.
Barnes & Noble UK nook store
In March 2016, Barnes & Noble announced that their UK e-book store would be closing by the end of May 2016, with accounts transferred to Sainsbury Digital Entertainment, but not all books in the accounts will be transferred.[150] Customers were advised to download all their e-books before the closing date, because not all books could be transferred. Books previously transferred to nook following the closure of Fictionwise[151] were not transferred.[152]

Environmental issues

DRM can accelerate hardware obsolescence, turning it into electronic waste sooner:

Moral and legitimacy implications

According to the EFF, "in an effort to attract customers, these music services try to obscure the restrictions they impose on you with clever marketing."[156]

DRM laws are widely flouted: according to Australia Official Music Chart Survey, copyright infringements from all causes are practised by millions of people.[157]

Relaxing some forms of DRM can be beneficial

Jeff Raikes, ex-president of the Microsoft Business Division, stated: "If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else".[158] An analogous argument was made in an early paper by Kathleen Conner and Richard Rummelt.[159] A subsequent study of digital rights management for e-books by Gal Oestreicher-Singer and Arun Sundararajan showed that relaxing some forms of DRM can be beneficial to digital rights holders because the losses from piracy are outweighed by the increases in value to legal buyers.[160]

Also, free distribution, even if unauthorized, can be beneficial to small or new content providers by spreading and popularizing content and therefore generating a larger consumer base by sharing and word of mouth. Several musicians have grown to popularity by posting their music videos on sites like YouTube where the content is free to listen to. This method of putting the product out in the world free of DRM not only generates a greater following but also fuels greater revenue through other merchandise (hats, T-shirts), concert tickets, and of course, more sales of the content to paying consumers.

Can increase infringement

While the main intent of DRM is to prevent unauthorized copies of a product, there are mathematical models that suggest that DRM schemes can fail to do their job on multiple levels.[161] Ironically, the biggest failure that can result from DRM is that they have a potential to increase the infringement rate of a product. This goes against the held belief that DRM can always reduce unauthorized distribution. There also seems to be evidence that DRM will reduce profits.

The driving factor behind this is related to how many restrictions DRM imposes on a legal buyer. An ideal DRM would be one which imposes zero restrictions on legal buyers but makes imposing restrictions on infringers. Even if an ideal DRM can be created and used, in certain cases, it can be shown that removing the DRM will result in less unauthorized copying. For the ideal DRM, the reason why profits can increase is because of the demand is elastic. When there are more people legally buying and few people sharing the product, more profits are going to be made.

The mathematical models are strictly applied to the music industry (music CDs, downloadable music). These models could be extended to the other industries such as the gaming industry which show similarities to the music industry model. There are real instances when DRM restrain consumers in the gaming industry. Some DRM games are required to connect to the Internet in order to play them.[162] Good Old Games' head of public relations and marketing, Trevor Longino, in agreement with this, believes that using DRM is less effective than improving a game's value in reducing video game infringement.[163] However, TorrentFreak published a "Top 10 pirated games of 2008" list which shows that intrusive DRM is not the main reason why some games are copied more heavily than others. Popular games such as BioShock, Crysis Warhead, and Mass Effect which use intrusive DRM are strangely absent from the list.[29]

Alternatives to DRM

Several business models have been proposed that offer an alternative to the use of DRM by content providers and rights holders.[164]

"Easy and cheap"

The first business model that dissuades illegal file sharing is to make the downloading easy and cheap. The use of a noncommercial site makes downloading music complex. If someone misspells the artist's name, the search will leave the consumer dissatisfied. Also, some illegal file sharing websites lead to many viruses and malware that attach themselves to the files, somewhat in a way of torrent poisoning.[165] Some sites limit the traffic, which can make downloading a song a long and frustrating process. If the songs are all provided on one site, and reasonably priced, consumers will purchase the music legally to overcome the frustrations such as media files appearing empty or failing to play smoothly/correctly occasionally on DRM'ed players and pcs giving a risky feel to the potential "sharer" that can occur downloading illegally.[164]

Comedian Louis C.K. made headlines in 2011, with the release of his concert film Live at the Beacon Theater as an inexpensive (US$5), DRM-free download. The only attempt to deter unlicensed copies was a letter emphasizing the lack of corporate involvement and direct relationship between artist and viewer. The film was a commercial success, turning a profit within 12 hours of its release. Some, including the artist himself, have suggested that file sharing rates were lower than normal as a result, making the release an important case study for the digital marketplace.[166][167][168]

Webcomic Diesel Sweeties released a DRM-free PDF e-book on author R Stevens's 35th birthday,[169][170][171] leading to more than 140,000 downloads in the first month, according to Stevens.[172] He followed this with a DRM-free iBook specifically for the iPad, using Apple's new software,[173] which generated more than 10,000 downloads in three days.[174] That led Stevens to launch a Kickstarter project – "ebook stravaganza 3000" – to fund the conversion of 3,000 comics, written over 12 years, into a single "humongous" e-book to be released both for free and through the iBookstore; launched February 8, 2012, with the goal of raising $3,000 in 30 days, the project met its goal in 45 minutes, and went on to be funded at more than 10 times its original goal.[175] The "payment optional" DRM-free model in this case was adopted on Stevens' view that "there is a class of webcomics reader who would prefer to read in large chunks and, even better, would be willing to spend a little money on it."[174]

Crowdfunding or pre-order model

In February 2012, Double Fine asked for an upcoming video game, Double Fine Adventure, for crowdfunding on and offered the game DRM-free for backers. This project exceeded its original goal of $400,000 in 45 days, raising in excess of $2 million.[176][177] In this case DRM freedom was offered to backers as an incentive for supporting the project before release, with the consumer and community support and media attention from the highly successful Kickstarter drive counterbalancing any loss through file sharing. Also, crowdfunding with the product itself as benefit for the supporters can be seen as pre-order or subscription business model in which one motivation for DRM, the uncertainty if a product will have enough paying customers to outweigh the development costs, is eliminated. After the success of Double Fine Adventure, many games were crowd-funded and many of them offered a DRM-free game version for the backers.[178][179][180]

Digital content as promotion for traditional products

Many artists are using the Internet to give away music to create awareness and liking to a new upcoming album. The artists release a new song on the internet for free download, which consumers can download. The hope is to have the listeners buy the new album because of the free download.[164] A common practice used today is releasing a song or two on the internet for consumers to indulge. In 2007, Radiohead released an album named In Rainbows, in which fans could pay any amount they want, or download it for free.[181]

Artistic Freedom Voucher

The Artistic Freedom Voucher (AFV) introduced by Dean Baker is a way for consumers to support “creative and artistic work.” In this system, each consumer would have a refundable tax credit of $100 to give to any artist of creative work. To restrict fraud, the artists must register with the government. The voucher prohibits any artist that receives the benefits from copyrighting their material for a certain length of time. Consumers can obtain music for a certain amount of time easily and the consumer decides which artists receive the $100. The money can either be given to one artist or to many, the distribution is up to the consumer.[182]

Historical note

A very early implementation of DRM was the Software Service System (SSS) devised by the Japanese engineer Ryoichi Mori in 1983 [183] and subsequently refined under the name superdistribution. The SSS was based on encryption, with specialized hardware that controlled decryption and also enabled payments to be sent to the copyright holder. The underlying principle of the SSS and subsequently of superdistribution was that the distribution of encrypted digital products should be completely unrestricted and that users of those products would not just be permitted to redistribute them but would actually be encouraged to do so.

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