How Digital rights management (DRM) software works

The first response of the movie and music industries to peer-to-peer piracy was to go to court. To make a technology phenomenon into an issue for the lawyers. Round two is shaping up to be exactly the opposite: a legal issue is becoming an issue for the technologists. How so? Digital rights management (DRM) software puts a virtual lawyer into every song, book, and movie. The software also helped protect the content rights of any online platform.

Content owners are betting that a new technology will make it possible to distribute their titles over the Internet without risking widespread piracy. DRM software allows publishers to embed rules in files that precisely define how those files can be used. If a consumer fails to obtain a license for a DRM-protected movie, the movie won’t play. If a consumer attempts to watch a movie more than the agreed-upon number of times or for longer than they paid for, the DRM virtual lawyer will put a stop to the show.

If a consumer attempts to watch a movie more than the agreed-upon number of times or for longer than they paid for, the DRM virtual lawyer will put a stop to the show.

Media publishers and retailers are encouraged and have begun to launch major trials. In late January, BMG Entertainment made 2,900 songs available for digital downloads through a network of more than 50 Web retailers. Meanwhile, two trials of video on demand were conducted late last year in Cincinnati and in three Western cities.

And barnesandnoble.com has been carrying thousands of downloadable e-book titles for more than a year. The explosion of digital publishing and the much-publicized Napster imbroglio have created a significant market for DRM software, and Microsoft, IBM, and Intertrust are each using their presence during the trial phase to position themselves as the technology of choice.

And barnesandnoble.com has been carrying thousands of downloadable e-book titles for more than a year. The explosion of digital publishing and the much-publicized Napster imbroglio have created a significant market for DRM software, and Microsoft, IBM, and Intertrust are each using their presence during the trial phase to position themselves as the technology of choice.

But the market isn’t ready to choose. Given that consumer interest in media files exploded when files were free, no one really knows how people will react when they have to pay. The music industry will get a good indication of how well the mode l -and the software – works when the “Big Five” recording giants put their full catalogs online next year, says GartnerGroup senior analyst P.J. McNealy.

How it works

How DRM software could work for movies

In DRM, rules are embedded into files, which the software then encrypts. Wrapped up in an encrypted “container” with its rules, a movie is then released on the Internet. Consumers who pay for a license receive decoder “keys” from clearinghouses or publishers. But even those armed with decoder keys must follow the rules. If a consumer pays for five movie viewings, for example, embedded rules simply will prevent the movie from playing any more than five times – that is, until the license is renewed.

Managing the rights for streaming media is a bit different. In video-on-demand trial runs in Seattle, Portland, Ore., and American Fork, Utah, Blockbuster used InterTrust Technologies’ software to ensure that rented movie files would stream to customer set-top boxes for no more than 24 hours. To prevent videotape recording, the companies used copy protection software from Macrovision, which inserts signals into the file that confuse VCRs but that go unnoticed by televisions. In the Cincinnati trial, Broadwing and Intertainment are using Microsoft’s DRM software.

To prevent videotape recording, the companies used copy protection software from Macrovision, which inserts signals into the file that confuse VCRs but that go unnoticed by televisions. In the Cincinnati trial, Broadwing and Intertainment are using Microsoft’s DRM software.

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