Digital Rights Management

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Digital Rights Management (generally abbreviated to DRM) is an umbrella term that refers to any of several technologies used by publishers or copyright owners to control access to and usage of digital data or hardware, and to restrictions associated with a specific instance of a digital work or device. The term is often confused with copy protection and technical protection measures; these two terms refer to technologies that control or restrict the use and access of digital content on electronic devices with such technologies installed, acting as components of a DRM design.

Digital Rights Management is a controversial topic. Advocates argue DRM is necessary for copyright holders to prevent unauthorized duplication of their work to ensure continued revenue streams. Some critics of the technology, including the Free Software Foundation, suggest that the use of the word "Rights" is misleading and suggest that people instead use the term Digital Restrictions Management. The position put forth is that copyright holders are attempting to restrict use of copyrighted material in ways not granted by statutory or common law applying to copyright. Others, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation consider some DRM schemes to be anti-competitive, citing the iTunes Store as an example.

DRM vendors and publishers coined the term "digital rights management" to refer to the protective (or restrictive) schemes discussed here; it is limited to digital media because of their special characteristics, especially exact copyability. There is a long history of objection on the part of copyright holders (in modern times often music distributors or broadcasting companies) to copying technology of any kind. Examples have included player piano rolls (early in the 20th century), audio tape recording (after WWII), video tape recording (eg, in the famous Betamax case in the US), etc. Digital copying raised concerns to a higher pitch. While analog media loses quality with each copy generation, and often even during normal use, digital media files may be copied an unlimited number of times without degradation in the quality of subsequent copies. Digital Audio Tape, thought by many observers of the time to be a probable replacement / improvement for the audio cassette, was a market failure in part due to opposition on grounds of the potential for piracy. The advent of personal computers, combined with the Internet and popular file sharing tools, have made unauthorized sharing of digital files possible and profitable.

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