DRM and charging mechanisms
When DRM systems first came out there was a strong move to be able to license significant amounts of the information found on the Internet, and to charge for every conceivable use of an item, as well be able to pass on enforceable rights from one rights holder to another.
Original owners were also to be recompensed through micro-payments mechanisms that would transfer their proportion due each time an aspect of their work was sold/licensed. This was proposed so that owners would receive an accurate payment for use.
Did that make it work?
Well, this is where the detail gets a bit more complicated.
The only mechanism that computer systems have for enforcing controls when the computer operating system is not in control (which is almost all the time with the Internet) is encryption. If you don’t encrypt (make secret) the thing you are trying to protect then your (lack of) protection mechanism will soon be detected and either all the works you were trying to protect will suddenly become freely available on the web (as happens more often than you might think) or they will be shared amongst private groups of users freely.
Now encryption requires a number of disciplines if it is going to be successful. It also imposes quite an overhead on a system. For instance, whilst the user would not worry about the time it takes to decrypt a file (say a document, spreadsheet, .pdf file) because the amount of information is in reality quite small, but if they are waiting for the decryption of streaming video or voice the heavy encryption currently used can harm performance. Certainly the average DVD would not perform well using a PC to decrypt all its information using, say triple DES.
Encryption also requires the control of cryptographic keys. Some people who have installed or re-installed Microsoft Windows will have typed in a long series of letters and numbers (a.k.a. a cryptographic key). But DRM systems often require you to be in contact with a server that is monitoring user requests and comparing them with dynamically imposed controls (such as continuing to subscribe to a service).
Cryptography allows strong controls, but it also imposes overheads and technical difficulties.
The early DRM systems failed simply because they were too expensive for the amount of money they could reasonably collect. This idea of cost may sound rather strange, but the cost of mounting the servers, the processing overhead and the amount of connectivity required to operate those DRM systems was simply too much compared to the amount of money they could realistically collect.