What is Digital Rights Management (DRM)?


Digital Rights Management, or “DRM,” is a set of tools and techniques used to protect content from a variety of user actions. Whether DRM is used to restrict editing, redistribution, or copying of content, it can be found anywhere copyrighted content is streamed or distributed; for example, most large streaming platforms use either Widevine or FairPlay to ensure that only authorized viewers had access to the protected content. Digital Rights Management protection can also be found in other popular forms of media: from eBooks to computer software -- even on old DVDs and "online-only" games.

The Reality of DRM

Due to the nature of how most Digital Rights Management protections function (i.e. in software), they require constant updating to ensure content protection. This also has the side effect of making DRM protected content limited to older devices without certified hardware -- in most cases, content isn't even available for said platforms. With computer software, DRM code can become outdated and break overtime -- much like any other piece of code -- rendering software that has been paid for, useless.

On the other hand, however, most modern platforms (made within the last decade or so) support a wide number of protected media.

How does DRM work? Where is it found?

The implementation of Digital Rights Management often boils down to a media "container" that holds an encrypted audio or video file. Data or content within a container can be encrypted using SHA256, or any future (more powerful) algorithms:

What Is Digital Rights Management(DRM) and how does it work

While the example above only represents DRM being used with locally available media, the same principle can be applied to streaming. Spotify, for example, streams music protected with DRM to end-user devices. Similarly, when users save music from Spotify onto their devices, those too are protected with DRM so that they cannot be shared or played on other devices.

DRM is found in a variety of other media formats:

  • Games
  • Movies
  • eBooks

Not only is DRM found in most media-distribution companies, it is a broader term for content protection in general. Some modern game titles require an Internet connection for constant license checks; this in turn prevents the game files from being shared, without prior reverse-engineering and removal of the protection.

DRM has been used in specific cases to secretly “tag” content rather than protecting it; in essence, companies can choose to tag confidential information or trade secrets, allowing for leaks or unauthorized access to be traced.


Most, if not all modern content (that is distributed) comes with DRM. For more popular formats (videos, audio, books), publishers can use Widevine, Apple FairPlay, Microsoft PlayReady, and more. DRM has a variety of use-cases outside of “direct” media protection; it has been used to identify sources of leaks of trade secrets and confidential company information. DRM is, in the end, a broader way to describe a form of protection and guidelines for how content can be used or distributed. There is no way around it; without reverse-engineering the encryption algorithms or finding flaws in the licensing chain, Digital Rights Management software is a growing industry that ensures the integrity and security of content around the world.



Any (specific) format used to transfer or save information. This is used in video, file types and more.


DRM, or Digital Rights Management is a set of techniques, often used to protect copyrighted works and media.