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DRM – What is it and why should libraries care?

What is DRM?

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, coding added to digital content to control access.  DRM prevents copying, editing, and sharing of digital files.   You may have come across DRM in your personal use of digital music or digital video recorders.  More importantly, if your library offers or plans to offer ebooks, audiobooks, DVDs, and other media, usage of this content will be controlled by DRM.

Why is DRM used?

To protect copyright. Media and publishing companies want to protect their content from piracy, illegal copying or editing, and sharing, ie. to control access.

DRM is controversial.

Many people feel that DRM prohibits the fair use of media by the majority of the general public.  For example, some DRM programs prevent the creation of backup copies of music and DVDs, printing of ebooks, recording of TV shows or movies for home viewing, and the selection of some hand held devices, since Sony and Apple use different DRM software.  Additionally, DRM is now supported by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a consumer advocacy group for the networked world says “the DMCA has become a serious threat that jeopardizes fair use, impedes competition and innovation, chills free expression and scientific research, and interferes with computer intrusion laws.”

Why should I care about DRM?

DRM is particularly relevant to libraries since many are providing digital media in the form of ebooks, audiobooks, digital music and videos, and software and games.  Chances are the media you are purchasing to deliver digitally is controlled with DRM software.  For libraries, the DRM software prevents copying and editing of digital content, controls printing of ebooks, and magically makes the digital content “disappear” after a due date, even if patrons have downloaded a copy to their personal computer, external storage device, or a hand held device.

If you purchase ebooks or audiobooks from aggregators and distributors such as:  EBL, ebrary, Follett Digital Resources, Gale Virtual Reference Library, NetLibrary, and OverDrive, you will have digital content with DRM, so it’s important to understand DRM and how it is used by each of the vendors.
More information on DRM can be found here:

American Library Association

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)

How Stuff Works

Microsoft

Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)

Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)