Have you ever needed to type in a long series of letters and numbers before you could install a video game or program on your computer? Or have you ever seen a message that says “you must be connected to the Internet to use this program”? If so, you have experienced a form of Digital Rights Management, or DRM.
DRM is a set of technologies used to restrict a consumer’s access to software or other copyrighted content. However, DRM is not loved by all. Supporters of DRM claim it is necessary to prevent the pirating of copyrighted software and ensuring copyright holders continue to receive revenue for their works. The opposition, however, claim that not only is their no evidence to support the idea that DRM prevents pirating, DRM may even increase pirating. This is because DRM inconveniences legitimate consumers, sometimes even preventing them from using software that they paid for. This can potentially push legitimate consumers to piracy.
One form of DRM is product keys. A product key is a long series of letters and numbers that comes with a piece of software. The user is asked to enter the product key when they install the software in order to “activate” it. The idea behind this is that if the software was pirated, the pirate would not have the product key, and would not be able to activate the software, preventing its use. However, methods exist that can easily bypass this. Cracking is a process where a piece of software has its activation requirements removed, so it can be used without a product key. Keygens are programs that can generate new products keys for any software that requires one.
Some software requires that you always be online while using their software. This allows their servers to verify that the software you are using is legitimate. However, there are problems with this system. If you don’t have Internet access, you cannot use the software, even if you had Internet access when you activated it. Also, if the company ever takes the server down, the software can never be used again. This is the case for games and programs that companies decide to discontinue, or if companies close.
Other software has a set number of allowed installs, usually between three and five. After the limit is reached, the software cannot be used. Usually, unless explicitly allowed, reinstalls on the same computer count as a new installation. This means you can use up all your installs on only one computer.
In the United States, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a law that criminalizes bypassing DRM, like cracking and keygens. This has done little to prevent piracy, as these tools are still readily available.
Many individuals and organizations oppose DRM, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure. Some licenses, like the GNU General Public License and the Creative Commons License, do not allow DRM to be used on software covered by those licenses. GOG.com has a strict no DRM policy, and Google Play music is DRM free. While some companies are relaxing their DRM usage, others are becoming more aggressive with its usage. And while its impact on piracy is disputed, its impact on some consumers is clear: they aren’t happy.