Music Piracy and Digital Rights Management (DRM)

IT professionals require an awareness of the business, economic, legal and social issues of Computing Technology in the modern world.

A poster opposing DRMBefore we delve into the reasons for Digital Rights Management’s disapproval let us overview the case in support of it.  The case for enterprise DRM is synonymous with the case for a well-articulated, role-based technology and data protection policy. DRM simply moves the point of data security from that of the network hardware or the computer software down to the individual document, or even right down to document-based operations (Compton, 2005).

Simon Halberstam, a noted expert on the subject gives an interesting insight:

“Legal protections for digital IP theft have been generally strengthened in the UK and in major jurisdictions such as the EU and US, but a lack of synchronization between them and dubious enforceability in many other markets, keeps companies looking for more proactive protections. It’s difficult to impose UK laws on someone operating in Eastern Europe or China. In other words, if you want people to respect your rights, you need technological means of achieving it” (Compton, 2005).

But the flaws inherent in the DRM system, which is largely as a result of Information Technology industry’s lack of foresight and rigorous testing of the new business model, has been drawing concerns from commentators right from its inception.  For example Robin Gear, a reputed technology analyst associated with PA Consulting expressed the following words of caution at a very stage of the technology’s application:

“If you have documents going around for the board’s eyes only, you can encapsulate data in that way. You can set up lists of people who have rights to view, modify, forward, and copy, etc.  One thing perimeter security does well is that it keeps outsiders from getting in and getting information, but it does nothing to stop insiders from malicious behaviour” (Compton, 2005)

The Digital Rights Management (DRM) initiative is an industry wide agreement on a robust and fool-proof data security technology.  The necessity for such a sophisticated technology is the rapid growth in online commerce, especially the businesses related to entertainment.  This includes downloadable movies, music albums, electronic books, etc.  A very successful application of DRM technology is seen in Apple’s iTunes service.  Music offered for purchase is encrypted and the unlocking the encryption is only possible by a “compatible player with the correct password”.  For example, when a new song is bought, the buyer is required to send the unique code of his music player to the iTunes technical department.  After this, the iTunes manufacturing unit encrypts the music file based on the customer’s unique music player code.  This way, the file could not be opened by any other player than that of the customer’s (O’Brien, 2004).

The Digital Rights Management technology was hailed as an ingenious and fool-proof one when it was first proposed to online music companies.  But, its practical success did not seem to match the high expectations that it created initially.  What could be the reasons?  Well, while there are a myriad of factors contributing toward this result, one significant one is the inadequate domain knowledge of people in the music manufacturing industry.  In a world that is becoming ever smaller, specialization in one skill and ignorance in allied areas will no longer work.  For example, the Information Technology gurus of music manufacturing industry are proficient in fitting high volume, high quality data in the most convenient of mediums at the cheapest of prices.  But unless a broader understanding of the context of the business in terms of its legal, economic and social aspects is paid heed to, success will be difficult to achieve.  Let us look at the reasons why this is the case.

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