What are digital rights in films


Robert Gehring, updated Valie Djordjevic

Actors and shareholders

Digital rights management has been causing heated debates around the world for several years. Providers, users and artists have different interests. An overview.

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Digital rights management (DRM) describes a series of technologies with which the use of digital content such as music, films or e-books is controlled. What sounds complicated at first is familiar to everyone from copy-protected CDs and DVDs, and music is often only available on the Internet with DRM protection. For some years now, DRM has been used in more and more electronic devices. The article "Copy protection and digital rights management in everyday life" in this dossier gives further examples.

Some see DRM as the only appropriate answer to the widespread, unauthorized use of digital content. For others, it's the biggest privacy threat since the census was invented. Still others suspect that DRM is only intended to increase prices for digital music and films. In between there is a wide range of opinions about the pros and cons of using DRM.

In practice, it does not stop at expressions of opinion. In public campaigns and parliamentary hearings, through open and covert campaign funding, through the development and distribution of software to circumvent DRM, the actors and shareholders of digital rights management carry out their arguments. The present article examines the most important positions in a nutshell.

Content provider

The collective term content provider refers to representatives from the film, music and publishing industries. The major interest groups of content providers are all campaigning for the use of DRM. The players here are the US American associations RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), and the corresponding international organizations IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) and MPA (Motion Picture Association). The large, often multinational music companies and many medium-sized and smaller record companies from the USA are organized in the RIAA. The IFPI is the umbrella organization for the RIAA and other national interest groups. In turn, the majority of American film studios and distributors have organized themselves in the MPAA; at the international level, the MPA bundles the interests of the MPAA and its national partner organizations. However, because of the great market power of Hollywood studios, the MPA mainly represents their interests. In the United States in particular, content providers donate substantial sums to politicians from both major parties to advocate DRM in legislative processes. The publishing industry is less organized internationally, but historically has a strong position at the national level. In Germany, the German Book Trade Association mainly represents their interests.

The content providers are the most consistent in advocating the widespread use of DRM. They campaign for the protection of DRM in laws and contracts internationally, as they suffer most from the illegal distribution of their products - music, films, books. In addition, the use of DRM could enable them to develop new business models based on the individual billing of media usage. Pay TV is an example of this. A new line of business, so far mainly for music, is what is known as streaming. The providers here are for example Spotify or Simfy. The DRM technologies used have changed over the years. While so-called "hard" DRM technologies, such as the copy protection of CDs, were in the foreground in the mid-2000s, DRM technologies that control how the works are used are increasingly playing a role. Watermarked music files can be tracked, while private copies are still possible. DRM technologies allow providers to keep track of how often and for what period of time works are consumed.

Technology provider

The interests of the technology providers are quite confusing. Some companies benefit from DRM, others see disadvantages for themselves. Like any other technology, digital rights management is first developed and then marketed. The DRM developers would of course benefit from a market success of DRM or even its legally required use. On the other hand, content providers require hardware and software manufacturers to adhere to certain DRM standards. Otherwise, they would not make their valuable music, films and specialist magazines available for exploitation. The high definition video format of the Blu-ray Disc is an example of this. This is a double-edged sword for the manufacturer of graphics cards or the provider of video playback software. DRM makes the development of the products more complex and expensive. It is not foreseeable whether the effort will pay off. In addition, many consumers reject DRM and are not prepared to invest in new hardware or software without good reason.

Because the positions of the various technology providers diverge so widely, their industry associations sometimes take contradicting positions. When developing DRM, they are pushing for binding standards to be introduced in order to avoid costly undesirable developments. However, some of them also develop their own systems and try to implement them based on their market power.

DRM service provider

DRM service providers are companies that act as intermediaries between content providers on the one hand and content users on the other. The DRM service providers often take on the role of traditional retailers. The core of their service is to provide content supplied by the content provider with DRM protection and then to market it.

The commercial music portals on the Internet have changed their position on DRM for several years. They now mainly sell music files with weak DRM, such as watermarks. This has been the case with Apple iTunes since around 2009. Music streaming services tend to use strong DRM so that users can only listen to the music for as long as they are a member. DRM now plays an important role in the e-book area; the big providers all work with DRM systems. The operators of the portals license works from the publishers or individual authors and market them to users under different conditions. For every title or subscription sold, a certain amount of license is paid to the rights holders.

By coupling certain DRM processes to mobile playback devices or certain playback software, the DRM service providers try to secure a strong position in the market. By not licensing their DRM processes to competitors, individual companies hope to gain a dominant market position. This has meant that users have to commit to individual providers if they want to use certain devices or software. This behavior has led to protests among consumer advocates as well as in politics, and calls have been made for stronger regulation of the use of DRM.

Artists and creatives

Artists and creatives as a whole are very divided over the advantages and disadvantages of using DRM to protect copies of their works. For one thing, it's because they're creative and make money in different ways. Depending on whether DRM hinders your creative work or not, whether unauthorized copies of works mean financial loss or are seen as a welcome advertising measure, they speak out for or against DRM, for or against Internet file sharing networks.

On the other hand, only some of the artists and creative people earn their living with art. For a large part, it's simply about getting known through the works. It is important to them to address the largest possible audience. A DRM that restricts the distribution of copies proves to be an obstacle.

The creative minds often find it difficult to articulate the diversity of their positions vis-à-vis the public and politics. Many of them are also not clear what DRM means for them personally, which makes it difficult to form an opinion. In most of the discussion groups and committee hearings, artists are represented in a minority or not at all.


From the point of view of the overwhelming number of users of works that are protected by copyright or not (no longer) protected, DRM offers more disadvantages than advantages. Practically every DRM system brings with it usage restrictions of one kind or another. DRM is often used to prevent media from being copied, to convert files to another format, or to restrict the playback of files to certain devices.

In addition, some DRM systems on the Internet are used to record individual media usage in order to create user profiles. Anonymous media use, as was the norm until a few years ago, is becoming increasingly difficult.

In the absence of political organization, users are only able to make their interests heard in the fight for DRM in exceptional cases. On their behalf, consumer protection organizations, civil rights groups and Internet initiatives are involved in the political debate.

Certain groups of users are directly affected in their work by DRM. Libraries and archives complain that DRM-protected offers are making their lives increasingly difficult. Copies of DRM-protected media can and may only be made in a few exceptional cases. The variety of different procedures makes it difficult to deal with DRM-protected content. Finally, there are concerns that the prices for digital content with DRM could be artificially increased. In the political dispute over DRM, the libraries and archives have an important role and voice due to their procurement budgets.

Education and research institutions form another user group with specific interests. Their task is to disseminate knowledge, the widest possible use of which is to be promoted and further developed. From the point of view of educational and research institutions, DRM-protected textbooks and specialist literature represent a serious obstacle that stands in the way of realizing these interests.

In public declarations and parliamentary hearings, the majority of their interest groups speak out clearly against DRM. You go one step further and advocate free access to scientific information in the sense of Open Access. In particular, they advocate that the results of tax-funded research should be publicly available free of charge.

Collecting societies

The role of the collecting societies is to collect license fees for the secondary use of works as well as lump sums on copiers and blank media and to distribute them to their members. The members are usually artists and creatives as well as content providers such as publishers. As the largest interest groups for creative people, they participate intensively in the political discussion about the further development of copyright law. DRM puts collecting societies in a difficult position. Should DRM prevail on a large scale, it would be technically possible to record and bill practically every use of copyrighted works individually. This would mean there would no longer be a great need for flat-rate taxes and their distribution. The collecting societies would then lose a large part of their tasks and probably also their importance. In the political discussion, on the one hand, they advocate the use of DRM in the interests of their members. On the other hand, they do not assume in the long term that DRM will make flat-rate taxes superfluous.

Internet provider

DRM is neither generally rejected nor generally supported by Internet providers. But Internet providers agree on one point: The lack of standardization in DRM and the lack of consumer protection are major obstacles to the distribution of content on the various end devices such as mobile phones. Internet providers hardly interfere in the political process surrounding the use of DRM.