What is DRM, what is DRM protected & how does DRM work?
What is DRM – Digital Rights Management?
DRM, also known as Digital Rights Management, is a term that is used to describe the processes by which the author or publisher of a work exerts his rights to control what the purchaser of his work is entitled to do.
DRM represents the controls by which you can prevent someone from copying or printing or editing or otherwise making available your privileged information to other people.
Why is Digital Rights Management used?
Traditionally, in the print industry, the author (or publisher) of a book asserted their right to be able to control what the purchaser could (or could not) do when they had purchased the work.
DRM is an approach that lets authors and publishers exert more appropriate rights over digital (or dematerialized) than they were able to in the physical print era.
What one has to remember is that the balance of power has changed in the last ten or so years. Prior to that, copying and re-printing a physical book was non-trivial. If you wanted to steal someone else’s work you needed to find someone who was willing to publish the copy, and the publisher knew they would be sued without mercy. So there were some really obvious physical controls in the physical print industry.
But the digital age has spawned the ability – the computer – to make copies at near zero cost, and to do so without detection. So the rules of the ancient world do not apply. The use of web sites to facilitate pirated film, music and PDF documents demonstrates that the ability to copy works that do not have digital rights management applied to them is unlimited and files can be shared and transmitted without any control at all.
So digital rights management is a critical feature if you are making confidential information available to others, whether it is a price list, a contract specification, an analyst’s report, a newsletter or a book. Without DRM you have no way of preventing people who have access to your intellectual property from doing just exactly what they want with it. So that’s why it is important.
What does Digital Rights Management do?
Digital Rights Management enables publishers to control not only who receives their content but what they can do with it. Such controls include:
- Preventing editing and saving
- Preventing forwarding and sharing
- Preventing printing (or limiting the number of prints available)
- Preventing screen grabbing
- Document expiry
- Document revocation
- Locking documents to devices, IP addresses, and country locations
- Watermarking documents with unique user information to establish an identity
In addition, DRM enables publishers to log use so they can view data on when content was used (i.e. when documents were viewed and printed), by whom and when.
What is DRM protected?
DRM protected refers to any file that has DRM controls applied to it to prevent copying, editing, and unauthorized distribution of content.
This will also include encryption to prevent unauthorized access, and licensing controls to authorize access and permissions.
Who uses Digital Rights Management?
- DRM protection is used by a number of industries to control use of paid digital content.
It is popular in the music, movie, and ebook industries to control content distribution, prevent unauthorized use, and protect revenue streams. Whilst many end users paying a few dollars for a song, movie, or ebook, are against the use of DRM (many users say if they have paid for something they should be able to do with it as they wish – this of course if not the content owners view), it is more readily acceptable in the business world protecting high value reports and content available to members only. This is because if someone has paid $1000 for a report they would not necessarily be happy if other users were to receive the same document for free.
- DRM is used by many organizations internally to protect confidential information, share documents securely with third parties, and track document use to identify leaks.
DRM within an organization is also known as Enterprise Rights Management or Information Rights Management. Some online systems where document controls and access can be altered in real time are sometimes referred to as Active Rights Management systems, but essentially they are all the same thing.
How does DRM work? – DRM protection, protected content, solutions & implementation
DRM Solutions & Protection of content
To apply Digital Rights Management controls to content (to create DRM protected content), Publishers use a ‘Writer’ application. This encrypts the content so it can only be viewed by someone with the correct decryption key (see document encryption), and lets Publishers choose which DRM controls they want to apply (i.e. stopping printing or making the content expire after a certain length of time).
Viewing DRM Protected Content
DRM protected content can be viewed in a number of ways:
- Plugins. Users can view protected content in a native application by installing a plug-in (common for browser applications and music/movies) or may need to download a dedicated ‘Reader’ application. Plug-ins have an inherent security weakness in that other plugins can be used to bypass them, and often an update to the native application can render them useless – see PDF Security Plug-ins.
- Installed Viewer. Standalone reader applications are the most reliable and secure (you have total control over the Operating System environment) but mean that users must download an additional application to process the protected content.
- Browser Viewer. Enforcing digital rights management in the browser (cloud based DRM) is becoming increasingly common but Web based readers have their drawbacks, such as slowness and multiple security weaknesses. Since no software is installed on the client computer some facilities that take control over the Operating System are not available, so users can screen grab content using screen grabber applications and print to unprotected formats (PDF, XPS, etc.) if printing is allowed. Browser based viewers are also easy to manipulate with script injections and plugins which can bypass the security controls. Document loading times, searching and scrolling all take longer over the web.
A classic example of a cloud based DRM system using a Web Viewer is a secure data room – see why dataroom security is NOT adequate for secure document sharing.
DRM Licensing Server
A licensing system (DRM license server) ties a user to specific account and content, and is used to transparently relay decryption keys to the ‘Reader’ application. With an installed viewer, these keys are locked to authorized devices so that they cannot be shared with other users. It is vital that decryption keys are not exposed to users (i.e. passwords) and are locked to devices (so they will not work on other devices) otherwise they could be given to other users along with the protected content.
The ‘Reader’ application checks that it has the necessary decryption key to decrypt the content, and if it does, it loads the content with the appropriated DRM controls applied. If the ‘Reader’ application does not have the correct decryption key(s) it will check with the DRM licensing server to see if the user is allowed access to the protected content. Additional checks are made to the DRM license server as and when required, such as checking for new access rights.
Is DRM best for ebooks?
DRM is the only effective security for stopping unauthorized sharing of ebooks. This is because it can be used to restrict how content is used (stop copy/paste, disable printing, stop editing, control expiry, etc.).
Alternatives to ebook DRM include:
- PDF password protection – this provides limited restrictions over content use but PDF passwords can be easily removed. Passwords can also be shared with others (and therefore your ebooks).
- One-time download links – these stop multiple users downloading ebooks using the same link but do not stop a user sharing the ebook with others once they have downloaded it.
- File encryption – great for protecting ebooks on servers or in transit, but once a user has decrypted the file they can share it with others (or share the decryption key if it is entered manually).
Not all ebook DRM is equal. Some formats provide limited restrictions and have been comprehensively cracked – so choose your ebook format and ebook DRM solution carefully.
DRM Encryption: Is DRM here to stay?
DRM is here to stay for the foreseeable future – increasingly file and document sharing systems are implementing DRM to provide greater control over content use.
Digital Rights Management is the next logical step after encryption for enabling publishers to retain control over their IPR and protect their revenue streams no matter where their content is published.
Encryption can only protect content at rest or in transit – once a user opens the file they have full control over its use. DRM systems use encryption to control document access along with DRM controls to enforce or restrict content use.
For documents published in PDF format, thousands of publishers use PDF Digital Rights Management to protect their training courses, reports, confidential documents and ebooks from unauthorized access and misuse.
Further reading on Digital Rights Management
To learn more about digital rights management (DRM), take a look at the following white papers.
Using Safeguard PDF security software to add DRM (Digital Rights Management) to PDF files
To add DRM controls to a PDF
Select your PDF file(s), then in Safeguard Secure PDF Writer, choose the PDF DRM controls to apply:
- Stop printing, allow printing or limit the number of prints.
- Add expiry – make the PDF expire on a specific date, after a number of views, after a number of prints, or after a number of days from opening.
- Stop printscreen and screen grabbing apps – even from remote connections.
- Log document views and prints to see how your documents are being used.
- Add dynamic watermarks to viewed and or printed pages. Dynamic variables replace actual user and system data when the document is viewed/printed so you only have to protect the document once for all users.
Safeguard’s default DRM protection
- Stops users editing, copying and pasting content
- Locks PDF files to specific devices so they cannot be shared with others
- There are no passwords for users to enter, manage, or remove
- Revoke PDFs at any time regardless of where they reside
- Optionally lock user access to specific locations
Digital Rights Management Solutions – Download DRM Protection Software
Download DRM software for PDF documents, reports, ebooks, files and elearning courses. Create DRM protected PDF files to protect your information from unauthorized sharing, piracy/theft, and data leakage.
- Stop copying, editing, sharing, screen grabbing
- Stop printing or limit the number of prints
- Lock PDFs to devices and locations
- Dynamically watermark PDF content
- Expire PDFs and revoke access
- Track and log PDF use
Locklizard’s DRM software prevents unauthorized use and misuse of your intellectual property. Our Digital Rights Management solutions for PDF files uses encryption, licensing, and DRM controls to provide complete control over document access and use regardless of location.