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What is DRM?


  • You've discovered our wonderful collection of downloadable audio books but you can't listen to them on your iPod.
  • You are ready to watch a movie but you can't skip the annoying trailers and commercials at the beginning of the DVD.
  • You purchased an e-book and you are unable to print a chapter even though the book's copyright is expired and the work is now in the public domain.

So why is this?

In short, you can't do these things because of Digital Rights Management or DRM.

What exactly is DRM?

DRM is any scheme to control access to copyrighted materials using technological means.  DRM technologies allow copyright holders and content providers (such as online stores) to control how you access digital content and what you can do with it once you have it (how many copies you can make, if you can print it etc.).

In the case of the library's audio books, our provider, OverDrive Media, uses DRM protection from Microsoft Corporation.  The iPod (and Mac) do not support DRM protected Windows Media Audio files or Windows Media Video files.  In their statement to users, OverDrive tells us they are "hopeful that Apple and Microsoft can reach an agreement that would enable support for Microsoft-based DRM-protected materials on the iPod/Mac."  In the meantime, users must use a device that is compatible with Microsoft DRM and OverDrive Media.

DRM Controversy:

While DRM technologies are one tool that copyright holders can use to protect their interests, they often have negative consequences for end users.  Here are just a couple issues:

Device Compatability:  DRM technology prevents content from working on any and every device.  For example, iTunes music will not work on any other device than an iPod.  Using DRM, companies can create customer lock-in by binding customers to their products and making it inconvenient for them to use another device.

Fair Dealing: DRM restrictions can go beyond existing copyright laws, preventing you from doing what you otherwise would legally be able to do.  For example, you are allowed to share a book with a friend or photocopy a chapter for personal use.  You can't always do the same with DRM-protected digital content.

A new Canadian copyright bill will be tabled early this year that may affect how we all use copyrighted material, especially digital content.

Want to know more?

  • Sam Trosow, co-author of Canadian Copyright: A Citizen's Guide, will be here Thursday Jan. 10 to discuss his views on the upcoming copyright bill and the current state of Canadian copyright law (7 - 9 pm, Central Library, Second Floor Reading Lounge).