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Digital Rights Management (DRM): What It Is & Key Use Cases

by Ryne Knudson

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What is Digital Rights Management (DRM)?

Digital rights management, or DRM, is the application of systems and technologies to protect digital media against copyright infringement. This approach aims to protect the rights of original copyright holders and minimize the unauthorized redistribution of digital media and proprietary software.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the US economy loses almost $30 billion a year to online piracy. Even with copyright laws in place, it’s far from easy to police the internet. When theft happens, it’s almost impossible to track the perpetrators.

Digital rights management software makes it almost impossible for anyone to steal protected content.

In this blog, we’ll explore DRM content in detail, considering the benefits, challenges, and use cases of digital rights management software in the data-driven age.

Read on, or skip ahead as we cover:

Why Digital Rights Management is Important
How Digital Rights Management Works
Digital Rights Management Use Cases Challenges of Digital Rights Management
Benefits of Digital Rights Management
Key Functions of Digital Rights Management Software

While the concept of copying someone else’s idea is nothing new, the advances in modern technology make digital piracy much easier. Sharing or downloading information, like video or audio, only takes a few clicks.

Not only can you make copies quickly and often for free, but it’s also easy to do so without being detected. Without digital rights management software, much of the internet’s film, music, PDF documents and other digital assets would be susceptible to mass copying and sharing.

So, if any company is providing confidential or exclusive information to a select group of people, such as clients or paid subscribers, they must protect that information from unauthorized sharing.

The table below shows the most popular DRM systems in use within the Developer community:

Graph displaying most popular DRM systems Source: Bitmovin

Using DRM technology, you can combat this problem and make sure that access to your valuable media is limited. Essentially, this means people cannot do what they want with your intellectual property.

Digital rights management works through an encryption application where code protects digital media assets by limiting access to certain personnel, periods, or devices or limiting the number of times the content can be installed or opened.

You can protect digital media in several ways, including:

We can categorize these actions as a form of copy protection or permission management:

  1. Copy protection comprises strategies that control access by preventing people from creating copies of any protected work. Some examples include fingerprinting, digital watermarks, and rootkit software. A common online use is for digital content to be written in code that can only be read or unlocked by specific software or devices. This approach to copy protection is known as scrambling.

  2. Permission management sets access limitations through a myriad of techniques, including software licenses and keys, proxy servers, virtual private networks (VPNs), user authentication, and IP authentication protocols. Creators may also design media with regional restriction or geoblocking, or even design products to only work on specific hardware or software.

So, what is DRM commonly used for today?

We can see DRM content in use across a range of digital media formats, such as music, images, videos, and ebooks, to proprietary business assets, database subscriptions, and software.

With digital rights management software, the creators and rightful owners of these works can safeguard against the chance that their assets and content may be copied, edited, or used in ways that they did not intend. Here are some common use cases for digital rights management:

Media companies

In the media industry, DRM technology helps musicians, movie professionals, authors, and other creators to combat unauthorized use of their content. If people can freely share this type of content, the artists and producers will struggle to earn an income for their creations.

In the late 1990s, Napster rose to infamy through its peer-to-peer file sharing platform, making it easy for anyone to download pirate music. Today, the Apple iTunes Music Store uses DRM technology to ensure people can only play music on authorized devices or read iBooks on Apple devices.

Technology companies

A report from DataProt found that 57% of computer users admit they have pirated software in the past. In the age of software-as-a-service (SaaS), it’s imperative for technology companies to protect their valuable software products from piracy.

Due to this obvious threat, digital rights management is an essential, omnipresent facet of software in 2021. For instance, Microsoft users must acquire a personal user license and input their unique key before installing any Windows or Office software on their personal computer.

Enterprise

Enterprise digital rights management (EDRM) has grown into its own market, with Gartner projected EDRM to be worth over $330M by the end of 2026. Typically, enterprises rely on DRM content to protect critical data, especially during product design documents and M&A (merger and acquisition) plans.

Through good digital rights management software, an enterprise can rapidly deploy new campaigns and product concepts or expedite new market adoption and growth, all while staying compliant with regulatory laws.

Agencies

Agencies take responsibility for their client’s creations and campaigns, so there is a high expectation for data security and privacy. Whether it’s a product launch, rebrand, or new sales page, you need to be sure you can guarantee asset security.

Many agencies use DRM content to streamline workflows, as they can approve items directly in the platform, and enhance the level of brand consistency across the campaign, even when working with in-house personnel and outsourced contractors.

While digital rights management software is a boon for copyright holders and digital content creators, there are, of course, people who disagree with DRM content.

What is DRM doing to upset, or make things more difficult for people?

Here are a few significant challenges with digital rights management:

DRM content can hamper the user experience (UX)

Companies must find a balance between access control, piracy prevention, and product UX. If they don’t think about UX, companies may actually deter users from downloading or purchasing products. In the end, this could lead to the loss of potential sales, as people flock to competitors with less stringent controls on their digital media.

For example, when someone pays for software or music, they may prefer if they had the freedom to use those products on whichever device they choose. We can see how Spotify’s widespread compatibility allows them to dominate the music streaming market. In contrast, Apple’s limitations on iTunes means only loyal Apple advocates use that service for their music.

DRM content can cause unfair advantages

If an enterprise shells out vast sums for valuable industry data reports, they’re likely to support the use of digital rights management software so that their competitors can’t access the same asset for free.

With this in mind, some critics believe DRM content can pave the way for an unfair competitive advantage in certain industries, as only the larger companies with bigger budgets can afford the most valuable digital media assets.

As such, rather than creating a level playing field, DRM content may inadvertently facilitate imbalanced industries where one or two companies dominate simply because they can afford the protected assets.

DRM content is not fail-safe

One important thing to realize is that DRM content is by no means bulletproof. There is an ongoing battle between those who create DRM technology and those who wish to circumvent it.

Many users—and cybercriminals—have found ways to decrypt DRM content code, enabling the free copying, editing, and sharing of copyrighted media. You can even download tools to remove DRM codes from products.

So, if there are ways around DRM software and tools that can remove the code, you might think it’s not worth the hassle. However, there are still some benefits of digital rights management worth considering:

The vast majority of people don’t pay much attention to copyright matters—they only care about accessing the content and worry little about the finer points of law and policy. Whenever a company launches new digital media content, DRM makes it easy to clearly explain to users what is acceptable usage and what is not.

DRM drives the evolution of licensing agreements and technologies

The core purpose of digital rights management software is to restrict how users can interact with content. Because people generally wish to use content without such limitations, the prevalence of DRM encourages vendors to pursue and experiment with other licensing technologies. In doing so, this innovation improves licensing agreements.

Digital rights management gives authors and artists ownership rights

Creating an ebook or music album is not something anyone can do overnight. Authors and artists typically spend months or even years bringing their creative vision to life. DRM stops others from stealing this content in an instant, and therefore, keeps the power in the hands of the rightful owners.

Digital rights management protects income streams

Besides the massive time investment, authors, artists, and video creators also spend money during production. This expense is an essential cost of business, which they hope to recoup once they launch their digital media product online.

They can use DRM to make sure only paying customers can access their products, which helps maximize the income from each release.

If you want to use DRM technology to protect your products or media, there are several key functions you should look for when trying to choose between the different DRM content services online.

Protect various asset formats

If you were to speak to the decision-makers in most companies, they would likely tell you that text documents are the primary asset they would like to protect. However, the best digital rights management systems will go far beyond simple Word Docs and PDF files.

Even if you don’t use other file types too often, it’s wise to look for a system that offers protection for a wide range of media, including images, audio, and video.

Overview of Brandfolder asset ingest and storage Source: Brandfolder

Brandfolder supports all file formats, giving you codified protection for text, images, video, audio, and other documents in an array of file types.

Control asset availability

Being able to control asset availability is crucial, as you may need to ensure only authorized people within the workplace can view confidential data, for example.

You can use DRM technology to configure privacy settings, which enable you to open your media products for public access or restrict them to private viewing if it’s an internal resource.

Overview of Brandfolder asset organization and useage Source: Brandfolder

Brandfolder provides functionality that enables users to customize their Asset Availability and organize media to streamline workflows and minimize access requests.

Set asset expiration dates

Certain products, like software, may only be available for a year at a time. Creators and copyright holders must set expiration dates in line with licensing rights so that users cannot continue using products without paying.

Overview of Brandfolder asset organization and useage Source: Brandfolder

Brandfolder has a user-friendly interface that makes it easy for users to manage expiration dates and to automate the viewability of expired assets. You can also set up alerts whenever an asset expires or before, so you can take immediate action.

Approve assets

Ideally, companies should have someone in charge of important digital media assets to oversee access control and usage within the organization. You add another layer of protection by monitoring access, ensuring critical information is not so easily leaked or compromised.

Overview of Brandfolder asset privacy and security Source: Brandfolder

Brandfolder has several features that help companies in this regard. You can select administrators to approve assets, consider access requests, and grant permissions to other people in the company.

View analytics

If you tap into the power of data analytics, you can gauge engagement and get insights to discover which assets are the most valuable.

This analysis can give you a better understanding of how assets drive internal innovation and learning, or how they foster external engagement with prospects and customers, and ultimately, generate a positive return on investment (ROI).

Overview of Brandfolder asset insights and reporting Source: Brandfolder

Brandfolder allows users to evaluate asset activity to see the most engaged media, the top users, and the performance of all assets in the company. These features are easily accessible in a centralized dashboard that makes it easy to track all asset interactions.

Protect Your Digital Assets

We live in a time when people expect fast, responsive applications with smooth UX and easy accessibility. Users also demand data security and privacy, both in personal and professional settings.

This dichotomy presents unique challenges for content creators, as they seek to satisfy end-users’ expectations for experience and security.

While it is not infallible, digital rights management software is an ever-evolving field that is quickly growing in stature and importance, particularly as the value of consumer data and software products grows.

No company can afford to take the risk of leaving their digital assets unprotected now. If you do, you run the risk of losing a competitive edge, compromising consumer data, and may even fall foul of compliance regulations. None of these are worth putting UX first.

While this is still a customer-centric age, data security is the new king.