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What Is Digital Rights Management (DRM)?

Digital rights management (DRM) is the use of technology to control and manage access to copyrighted material. Another DRM meaning is taking control of digital content away from the person who possesses it and handing it to a computer program. DRM aims to protect the copyright holder’s rights and prevents content from unauthorized distribution and modification.

DRM is increasingly important as digital content spreads through peer-to-peer file exchanges, torrent sites, and online piracy. It helps entertainment and media companies protect themselves from the cybersecurity challenges that all organizations face, such as protecting customer data, ensuring and demonstrating compliance, enhancing operational efficiency, and preventing downtime.

DRM enables authors, musicians, moviemakers, and other content creators to clarify and control what people can and cannot do with their content. It also allows them to protect their copyrighted material, safeguard the creative and financial investment they put into their work, and make it impossible for their media to be stolen or shared illegally. For example, they can prevent users from accessing specific assets, so they can avoid any legal issues that could come from unauthorized usage. This is crucial to protecting copyright and intellectual property.

How DRM Works?

The unauthorized distribution, sharing, and modification of digital content are covered by copyright laws, but monitoring the internet to prevent illegal activity is a challenging task. DRM addresses this by putting barriers in place to prevent digital content from being stolen.

DRM typically involves the use of codes that prohibit content copying or limit the number of devices a product can be accessed from. Content creators can also use applications to restrict what users can do with their material or encrypt digital media, which can then only be accessed by anyone with the decryption key.

This enables content creators and copyright holders to: 

  1. Prevent or restrict users from editing or saving, sharing or forwarding, printing, or taking screenshots or screengrabs of their content or products
  2. Set expiry dates on media, which prevents access to users beyond that date or limits the number of times they can access it
  3. Limit media access to specific devices, Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, or locations, such as limiting content to people in the U.S. only
  4. Watermark documents and images to assert ownership and identity of content

Digital Rights Management Use Cases

DRM is used across a wide range of digital content, from entertainment media like books, music, and videos to database subscriptions, software programs, and sensitive business data. Using DRM to protect this media enables content creators and copyright holders to prevent people from making changes to their work or using it for unintended purposes. 

Here are a few common examples of DRM in practice:

  1. Apple iTunes: Apple’s iTunes store uses DRM to limit how many devices customers can use to listen to songs. Audio files that users download from iTunes include data about their purchase and usage of songs. This prevents the files from being accessed on unauthorized devices. Apple also protects the content in its iBooks store with FairPlay technology, which ensures books can only be read on iOS devices.
  2. Digital music: Spotify leverages blockchain technology to enable the payment of artists through cryptocurrency. The music streaming company bought startup Mediachain to help it identify songs that were played and the right artist to pay using DRM.
  3. Microsoft software: Anyone that downloads Microsoft software, such as Windows or Office programs, has to accept the company’s user license and enter a key before they can install it. Microsoft also has DRM technology called PlayReady, which secures the distribution of content over a network and prevents unauthorized use of its software.
  4. Sensitive documents: Many organizations use DRM technology to safeguard business-critical documents or sensitive information, such as confidential employee data, business plans, and contracts. DRM enables organizations to track who has viewed the files, control access to these files, and manage how people can use the files. It also prevents files from being altered, duplicated, saved, or printed.
  5. Regulation compliance: DRM is crucial for helping organizations comply with data protection regulations. For example, it enables healthcare organizations to meet the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and assists all organizations in meeting the needs of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 

Benefits of Digital Rights Management

Aside from protecting copyright holders and content creators from acts of piracy, DRM provides several other key benefits. 

  1. Copyright education: Many people pay little attention to the copyright details of the content they own. DRM helps organizations clearly communicate what customers can and cannot do with their digital media, which in turn educates users about how copyright and intellectual property work.
  2. Securing ownership: DRM is crucial to helping authors and writers protect their work. They can use technology to retain ownership of their content and prevent anyone else from altering or rebranding it as their work. This is also useful for scientists who want to protect their findings and inventions.
  3. Protecting income: Creating, filming, and editing documentaries, movies, and other videos costs creators money in the hope of selling their content for a profit. If that content gets leaked or shared without their consent, they can lose money. DRM enables content creators to ensure only paying users can access their videos.
  4. Ensuring appropriate content access: DRM restricts content to specific audiences and limits content to intended audiences. For example, content intended for people over the age of 18 will be restricted to adults who can verify their age.
  5. File privacy: DRM helps organizations secure their sensitive files and ensure they remain private. This prevents unauthorized users from accessing or reading confidential or sensitive information.

DRM Software

DRM technology comes in the form of either software or hardware solutions. Both options allow content creators to prevent deliberate piracy and unintended unauthorized usage.

Digital asset management platforms allow organizations to control access to any copyrighted material. They do this in several ways, including:

  1. Watermarks: Graphic files can be placed on assets, which enable creators or copyright holders to track unauthorized usage. The watermark stays connected to a file when the digital content is copied, manipulated, or transformed into another format.
  2. Metadata: Digital assets have metadata that enables their copyright and licensing information to be captured and monitored. This is critical to tracking licensing details of stock audio files, photos, and videos to prevent unauthorized usage.
  3. Embed codes: Content owners can also use embed codes that control how and where their media is published online. This is useful if the license of an image changes or expires because it enables the license to be changed or updated wherever the related embed code has been posted online. This process is also referred to as "create once, publish everywhere" (COPE), which is crucial to a successful DRM strategy.
  4. License agreements: Organizations can protect their content and software by requiring users to read and agree to their end-user license agreement (EULA). An EULA is agreed the first time a user accesses a website, shares files, or downloads content, which helps organizations protect their assets from unauthorized usage.

Media and Entertainment Cybersecurity Challenges

DRM is crucial to protecting digital content, but media and entertainment organizations also need robust security solutions and processes in place to protect their content. However, they face common challenges, including:

  1. Intellectual property protection: Protecting content like music files, movies, and videos, as well as contract negotiations, scripts, and cut scenes, is crucial for media and entertainment companies. This issue was highlighted by the Sony Pictures hack, which saw the leak of employee data plus unreleased movies, plans, and scripts for future films. The release of such content can have a major impact on companies' bottom line and reputation, which makes the use of DRM crucial to protecting their content.
  2. Network visibility: Many entertainment and media companies use cutting-edge technology to improve customer experience. The growth in cloud, mobile, and Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices not only makes managing the corporate network more complex but also expands organizations’ attack surface. This is exacerbated as they deploy more security products to protect their infrastructure, which results in security silos that diminish visibility and increase inefficiency and risk.
  3. Protecting investments: Entertainment and media offerings require large upfront investment before they make a profit. Organizations need to prioritize security spending to protect this investment and minimize their risk. 
  4. Managing customer experience: Digital innovation is heavily focused on customer experience, as evidenced by the rapid rise of streaming services, online gaming, and virtual reality. These services rely on secure and reliable cloud-based solutions and mobile networks, which can be negatively affected by even a brief interruption in connectivity. It is crucial for organizations to deliver on customer demand to protect their reputation and prevent financial loss.
  5. Protecting customer data: Increasingly stringent data and privacy regulations are especially important to major media and entertainment companies. These organizations often possess the personal and financial data of millions of people, and it is vital that this data remains safeguarded. They must also ensure they comply with the growing regulation landscape without redeploying staff focused on delivering strategic initiatives.

How Fortinet Can Help

Fortinet provides an integrated, multilayered solution to safeguard organizations in the entertainment and media industry. Fortinet next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) protect organizations from the latest external and internal threats. They also offer industry-leading performance through secure sockets layer (SSL) and transport layer security (TLS) inspection and low latency, which ensures data is readily available. This is proven by Fortinet being named a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for network firewalls.

The Fortinet identity and access management (IAM) technology ensures organizations can verify all devices and users, while the Fortinet network access control (NAC) solution enables companies to keep track of devices. This ensures authorized users can only access the data and systems they need. 


What is DRM?

Digital rights management (DRM) is the use of technology to control access to copyrighted material. It also enables copyright holders and content creators to manage what users can do with their content, such as how many devices they can access media on and whether they can share it. DRM is increasingly important to protecting content against the rise of online piracy and illegal sharing of content on file-sharing services.

How do I turn on digital rights management?

Digital rights management (DRM) can be turned on using an application that encrypts data or digital media, such as books, music, movies, software, videos, and other copyrighted content. This ensures that only users with the appropriate key can access the content, while restricting what actions users can take with the digital media.

Why is DRM bad?

The biggest problem with DRM is it can be costly for content producers to encode their content. They may also miss out on sales to people who do not want to purchase content that has DRM.