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What is Digital Rights Management?

Copyright law gives the owner of a copyrighted work a number of exclusive rights, including, generally speaking, the right to control copying and distribution of their work. This is why copying an audio file, a movie, software, or an eBook without permission is usually a copyright infringement, and can result in civil and/or criminal charges being brought throught the courts.

As the music industry has found, the fact that something is illegal, does not necessarily stop people from doing it. In the case of the music industry, copyrighted works of music have been widely shared on the internet, against the wishes of the copyright owners.

One method that has been put forward as an attempt to stop this kind of thing happened is "Digital Rights Management", or "DRM" for short. Digital Rights Management is basically use of technical measures to prevent unauthorized copying or sharing of copyrighted works.

Many eBooks are today protected by Digital Rights Management (as well as by copyright law).

Advantages of DRM are that it allows the author/copyright-holder to control distribution of their work. It has been claimed that it also allows them to sell more copies, by reducing the proliferation of unauthorized copies.

Consider the case of an author who perhaps 1,000 hours writing his eBook (equivalent to $10,000 if he wants to earn the equivalent of $10 per hour), and a further $5,000 on artwork, website, promotion, etc., giving a total expense of $15,000. To break even, he would need to sell at least 1,000 copies at $15 each. Clearly doing so would be a lot harder, if a large percentage of potential buyers are downloading free "pirate" copies from the internet.

The main disadvantage of DRM is that the reader does not full control of the eBook after he has legitimately purchased and downloaded it - for example, it might be difficult to transfer copies of the eBook between different devices he owns. Additionally, some DRM systems may impose much greater restriction than those required to protect copyright, and in some cases DRM systems have been known to cause technical problems (for example, a DRM system used to protect some music CDs apparently introduced security vulnerabilities on a number of people's PCs).

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