Quick QAs – Digital Rights Management

By Makarand  Pandit

What exactly is Digital Rights Management or DRM? Why is it needed?

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a collective term. It refers to access control technologies for managing rights of content in digital form.

Internet makes it easy to publish and distribute content. Different laws in different geographies make it difficult to control access and distribution of content. The estimated loss to content owners, resulting out of unauthorized distribution and sharing, is estimated to be up to US$5 billion every year (reference Wikipedia.)

Who uses DRM?

DRM is used by producers, publishers, copyright holders, and even distributors of the content. This includes publishers, writers/authors, and even companies that want to restrict access to content or its unauthorized duplication.

Does DRM apply to only books?

Nope! DRM can be used for text, images, audio, video, and other types of files.

What are the advantages of DRM?

  • Publish online
  • Distribute online
  • Protect originality
  • Claim copyrights
  • Control distribution
  • Activate licenses online
  • Issue single/multiple licenses
  • Invoke/deactivate licenses, if required
  • Reduce cost by issuing time-bound license (content-as-a-service)
  • Use Content Management Servers (like Adobe Content Server) for enterprise level content access restrictions

How does the system work?

DRM enforces control through various means. This includes one or more of the following:

  • Authenticating the authorized user through a mandatory registration process
  • Restricting number of copies that can be made
  • Protecting access to the content (read-only access, copy protect, print protect, access only on limited number/types of devices)
  • Allowing time-bound access to the content (restricted by date, restricted by number of times a document can be opened)

What is the relationship between DRM and eBook Readers?

To be effective, DRM has to be jointly enforced by hardware (devices used to access the content) and software (file types used to store the content.) The hardware has to enable the protection achieved through the software.

Most eBook readers (dedicated hardware devices) support one or more DRM technologies. Many eBook reader manufacturers (Amazon, Sony, and so on) have developed their own DRM technology. Some adopt to specific DRM Technology or specific file formats. Many smart phones also act as eBook readers after installing some plug-ins/apps.

Is PDF an eBook format? What are the other eBook formats used?

Yes, because of the access restriction features that it provides PDF can be categorized as an eBook format. It is also supported by most eBook readers. There are many other file formats though including

  • .epub – Created by International Digital Publishing Forum
  • .lit – Created by Microsoft
  • .azw – Created by Amazon

The type and level of protection can differ in each. There are many other formats used for other types of content, for example, entertainment content.

What are the limitations of DRM?

  • Most access control techniques are algorithm-based. This restricts subjective opinion (that can be exercised by human brain.)
  • Some of the features can be construed to be against the fair-use-of-content.
  • Different publishers and device makers follow different techniques to suit their own content/devices. This is not in the best interest of the consumer.
  • There are just too many techniques and technologies available, and a worldwide standard has not yet been established.
  • Many issues like fonts in regional languages can create challenges on some devices (through this problem cannot be attributed to DRM alone.)
  • Some technologies permit remote disabling (or even deletion) of content. This is perceived to be against individual freedom. Organizations like Free Software Foundation are objecting to such features.
  • Some DRM technologies can trace the original “registered buyer” of the content or can tag the “credit/debit card details” of original purchase, as a means to discourage distribution of the content. This is seen as compromising identity and privacy.

How are Technical Communicators related to DRM?

  • Enhance your brand and increase your reach by providing eBooks.
  • Publish documents in eBook formats and with different levels of access restrictions.
  • Package text, audio, and video as a part of one eBook.
  • Generate revenues through innovative packaging and distribution of content (including knowledgebase books like tutorials, training booklets, and so on.) Take it as Content-as-a-Service (CaaS) revenue model.

Where can one get more information?

Note: The author will be conducting a workshop on DRM and eBooks on 1 December 2011 at STC India’s 2011 Chennai Annual Conference.

About the Author

Mak Pandit is Managing Director of Technowrites Pvt. Ltd. He is an experienced writer and trainer with over 17 years of professional experience. Mak is a senior member of STC and is serving as Pune City Representative for STC India. His latest creation www.contentmarket.in is a portal dedicated to the advancement of content creation and marketing in the Indian subcontinent. Mak can be reached at mak@technowrites.com.


  1. Good to know about DRM. Useful in securing our content.

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