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The Complete Guide to Modern Digital Rights Management

November 4, 2022 | Samuel Chapman

digital rights management

In a constantly-changing digital security landscape, maintaining strong access controls and rights management in content repositories is a top priority for organizations. The numbers speak for themselves. The digital rights management (DRM) market is growing at a rate of 17% in 2022.

Since the early days of internet piracy via platforms like Napster and The Pirate Bay, content creators have realized the need to secure their digital assets. It’s critical to strike a balance between providing authorized access and the threat of piracy or data breaches. 

The increased need for secure access has led to more complexity in licensing, user agreements, and rights management tools. This complexity requires organizations to implement tools that ensure compliance with licensing agreements and acceptable use while expanding usability for marketing teams. 

DRM solutions allow marketers to confidently interact with the assets in their portfolios. Using a digital asset management (DAM) system with DRM features gives internal stakeholders full visibility of available assets. It gives DAM librarians governance tools to ensure only compliant assets are used in marketing and asset production.

This article provides an in-depth look at DRM by exploring the following topics:

  • What digital rights management is
  • How DRM works
  • Types of DRM protections in use
  • What DRM means for marketers and advertisers
  • The importance of DRM
  • The benefits of implementing DRM tools
  • How a DAM with DRM capabilities helps teams succeed

First, let’s clarify what DRM means in the modern age. 

What is Digital Rights Management?

Digital rights management (DRM) controls access to digital assets with the help of software. 

The term DRM is most often associated with paywalled digital media such as movies or music, and intellectual property such as ebooks and downloadable digital content. But DRM is a wide-ranging licensing and security topic with implications for both the content you create and the licensed content you use. 

Digital rights management may refer to many business objectives:

  1. Preventing unauthorized internal or external users from accessing restricted files within an organization’s repositories. 
  2. Ensuring digital assets that incorporate licensed content (such as music, images, video, logos, or trademarks) only use licensed assets during the contract term and in the explicit manner allowed by the copyright holder. 

In both instances, DRM protects sensitive data from unauthorized use, gives users access to only necessary information, and ensures users have access to appropriate materials needed to perform their jobs.

How Does Digital Rights Management Work?

Though the mechanisms vary, the basic function of DRM is to allow or restrict access to protected assets. 

For example, DRM offers protection against unauthorized use or theft of sensitive or copyrighted works. DRM software lets copyright owners or asset managers set parameters for access and automatically authenticate users through the program.

We encounter DRM in many formats throughout our daily lives. Some common examples of consumer digital access control include the following:

  • Username and password authentication for streaming platforms
  • Device authentication to restrict the number of devices for use
  • API keys to unlock a single instance of downloaded software or content
  • Access codes for in-game digital items or experiences
  • Tiered user access for databases and web properties

Types of Digital Rights Management Protection

Digital Rights Management uses technology to prevent unauthorized users from editing, saving, sharing, repurposing, or screengrabbing content found on the web. 

DRM evolved to preserve the integrity of the copyrighted online content and avoid financial loss to the license holder.

To do this, DRM software and hardware implement different methods to prevent theft and manage user permissions:

Encryption keys: API, or encryption keys, verify the purchase of a software app or tool. Typically, software is downloaded from the web and issued a unique ID or key to decrypt the download and install the software. 

Video encryption: To restrict playback to authorized users or locations, creators use video DRM encryption software. The main features of this software prevent screen capture and pirating. Common video encryption protocols include Widevine DRM (by Google) and FairPlay Streaming (by Apple).

Copy protection: DRM software hides asset data within encryption. The encryption allows users to view content with a decryption key that unlocks the content inside a viewing environment. 

Image watermarking: The application of an overlay allows viewers to see an image through a semi-transparent watermark. Watermarking is a popular form of DRM for photographers offering proofs to drive sales. The watermark is removed when license rights are assigned. Watermarks can also be found on stock footage platforms. 

Digital watermarking: Digital tracking code placed within original images gives creators a way to identify “scraped” content collections stolen from the web and reposted as original images and files. This is a common method of setting up fake online stores. This tracker helps copyright holders litigate instances of copyright infringement for scraped content. 

Regional restriction: This refers to locking content based on the location of the viewer (such as region-locked DVDs) or the IP address used to access a website. Regional restrictions prevent viewers from gaining access to video content outside of the platform or broadcast licensing agreement.

DRM in Marketing and Advertising

In modern marketing, licensed material is commonplace. However if not appropriately managed, the misuse of licensed materials may create legal issues for brands. 

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), digital assets enjoy the same copyright laws as traditional media and content. This means that the material used to create digital marketing assets must comply with copyright law and license agreements. 

Digital licensing rights are complex and can change over time. The digital rights management features within a modern DAM platform help content creators use only authorized, licensed digital content in their marketing assets. These features ensure assets are used in full compliance with the license agreement or contract. 

A DRM system enables the search and use of assets according to pre-established use parameters:

  • Usage restrictions, such as how content may be repurposed 
  • Number of times/uses, such as instances of a song in an ad
  • Regional restrictions, such as web videos that only play for in-country viewers
  • Release embargoes, such as marketing images for upcoming product releases
  • Contract duration, where the license for use ends on a termination date
  • Time expiry, when a content piece is viewable only until a certain date

Alternative digital asset management controls such as metadata or taxonomy may avoid simple licensing issues. Still, the complexity of licensing laws and the high cost of non-compliance make it essential to choose a DAM solution with native DRM technology. 

Why is Digital Rights Management Important?

Marketers often reach for current, popular media to attract customers, create compelling experiences, and give life to campaigns. The right song or image can forge strong brand associations. 

But in doing so, brands must ensure that they secure licensing for the images, music, video, and audio content used to develop campaigns. Creators can and will enforce copyright laws when overt or perceived copyright infringement occurs.

Large brands are not immune to copyright licensing issues. The Beastie Boys famously sued Monster Energy for copyright infringement related to the use of their music in TV commercials. The result of the suit was a $1.7M judgment in favor of the band for damages resulting from the unauthorized use. 

The reason for the infringement? A marketing employee mistakenly believed they had license authorization to use the song. 

And there are plenty of reasons to prioritize DRM outside of massive, expensive settlements (though that’s an excellent reason in its own right). Using unauthorized content in marketing assets can cause other issues: 

Campaign disruptions: Removing an asset due to copyright violations is frustrating and time-consuming. It also interrupts carefully planned marketing efforts. 

Launch delays: Campaigns prioritize speed as well as message. Shortening the time to market helps marketers establish market share ahead of their competition. Fixing assets due to licensing issues reduces agility and speed of deployment.

Under-utilization: Licensed content and materials are an investment. By prioritizing DRM in asset management, companies increase the visibility of their content library. They make use of available content already in-house, reduce instances of storing non-compliant or expired content, and improve their budgets by optimizing current assets and reducing wasted license spending.

What are the Benefits of DRM?

Empowering your content management system with DRM ensures your creative teams do their best work—without inadvertently using non-compliant assets, or spending hours verifying the proper use of licensed materials. 

By using a digital asset management platform with DRM, creative teams enjoy many benefits:

Easier content creation: DRM enables decentralized and remote users to collaborate successfully on content creation using compliant assets for their role and region. With DRM software, creatives are more productive and confident in the compliance of their work.

Risk reduction: DRM reduces business risk by ensuring compliance. Misuse of licensed creative content opens the door for costly contract breaches and potential lawsuits. A DRM solution within your DAM prevents users from inadvertently using unauthorized, region-locked, or expired licenses.

Localized asset control: DRM ensures stakeholders use the correct regional assets for their location. For example, marketers often create campaigns across multiple markets with varying licensing restrictions. DRM prevents users creating content for one region from accidentally accessing assets licensed for another region. 

Brand continuity: When large teams collaborate on campaigns using licensed material, it’s essential everyone works with the correct files and versions. A Digital Asset Management platform implements DRM to lock assets dynamically and prevents the use of embargoed or expired assets, all within a centralized development environment. This detailed asset control improves brand continuity by ensuring the right marketing messages are deployed at the correct time.

How to Choose a DRM Tool

You can fully harness the power of a proactive, dynamic DRM tool by selecting a DAM platform that enables digital asset management and rights management in one place. The Aprimo DAM solution offers powerful features that support the full content lifecycle:

  • A fully searchable, dynamic DAM platform
  • Collaboration environment for team asset development
  • Powerful workflows to create, optimize, approve, and deliver assets
  • Integrated DRM to enable licensed content management initiatives

The ability to manage hundreds of thousands of assets, meet the licensing requirements for each (and avoid the associated fines that can skyrocket into the tens of millions) means that a DAM enabled with robust DRM protection can easily pay for itself.

It’s time for teams to feel more confident in their digital rights management practices. If your team wants to develop powerful, compliant content in less time, explore the Aprimo DAM solution with a free trial. 


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