Digital Rights Management

Digital rights management (DRM): What it is and why you should care

September 23, 2021 · 8 min read

Digital content is covered by copyright laws. But these laws can be hard to enforce, especially when you don’t know who will have access to your digital media. Periodically scraping the internet for the use of your copyrighted content and then sending legal notices is not practical, timely, or the best use of your resources. 

So how do you enforce the misuse or unauthorized use of digital content when you’re the creator or publisher?

That’s where digital rights management (DRM) comes in. DRM helps you take a proactive approach to protect your intellectual property. With DRM technology you can prevent unauthorized users from accessing, sharing, distributing, altering, or otherwise using your digital content without permission.

What is DRM?

Digital rights management (DRM) is a process for protecting the copyrights of digital media. DRM tools and technology help protect the rights of the copyright holder and prevent any unauthorized people from modifying or distributing the work without permission.

Digital rights management offers a way for authors and publishers to have more control over what paying users can do with their work. When companies implement DRM processes, they can help prevent users from accessing and using certain creative assets. 

This allows the business to avoid any legal issues stemming from unauthorized use.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) and security at Air

How does DRM work?

Digital rights management includes several different approaches and methods that help copyright owners protect their intellectual property from online piracy and other types of unauthorized use. 

The type of DRM process that content owners will use to protect their copyright will depend on what protections they're looking for.

Permissions management

Permissions management is a process for controlling who has permission to use the work and what exactly that permission entails. 

Many DRM tools also use encryption to protect digital media. Through encryption, a computer code is embedded in the digital content to limit the number of times a user can access the material or limit the number of devices the material can be accessed on. Those who pay to access, use, or distribute the content will be able to access this copyrighted material with the right decryption key.

In addition to decryption keys, organizations may use IP authentication, user authentication, proxy servers, virtual private networks, and other tactics to ensure that only the right users gain permission to access the content. 

Copy protection

Copy protection is a type of DRM that controls access to content in order to prevent people from making unauthorized copies of copyrighted work. Encryption can also be used for copy protection. 

Encryption will use a code that can only be read by devices or users who have the decryption key. This encryption approach is sometimes referred to as scrambling.

Another way that organizations in the digital age can protect unauthorized digital copies is through watermarking. Physical watermarking is the process of embedding a logo, text, or another image on a digital file to identify its owner. 

Here's an example of a physical watermark on a Shutterstock photo:

Couple giving a high five on a mountaintop


To use this photo without the watermark, you need to pay for the image. Once end-users pay for the image, they'll be able to access and use it without the watermark and use it based on the license agreement. 

There is also the option to use digital watermarking. A digital watermark is a marker that's embedded into the data carrier in ways that can't easily be noticed. This type of technology is often used for content protection when it involves multimedia data, databases, and text files.

Importance of digital rights management for your organization

Digital rights management helps protect your organization and its intellectual property from misuse. By preventing the unauthorized distribution of your media, you are restricting how consumers can use the content they've purchased. 

This not only protects your IP from being altered and misrepresented, but it also protects your company's bottom line.

By restricting how many times someone can access media or on which devices it can be accessed, you're proactively addressing illegal file-sharing or piracy. These DRM protections help ensure that you get full compensation for your intellectual property.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), it’s illegal to circumvent any technological protection measures that have been placed on digital media. This means that you can take legal action against anyone who tries to get around your DRM measures in order to use, copy, or distribute your intellectual property illegally.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)


As security becomes more increasingly important in today’s digital world, so does digital rights management. Authors or publishers who want to protect their copyrighted content will need to ensure that content creators, graphic designers, digital marketers, and anyone else who might want to use the content pay for the proper licensing.

Here are just a few use cases for digital rights management that illustrate how important these processes and systems are for copyright holders:

Prevent unauthorized use

Digital rights management systems help authors, musicians, filmmakers, and other content creators prevent the unauthorized use of their content. Not only does this help them control how and to whom their media is distributed, but it also helps protect their bottom line as they can ensure that the resources they put into creating the media have not been wasted. 

Preventing unauthorized use of your intellectual property is also an essential part of avoiding legal action. By proactively reducing the need to take legal action through DRM, you're saving your company from wasted money and headache.

A great example of this use case is Apple. The Apple iTunes store uses digital rights management to limit the number of devices that a song can be played on. Any audio files that a user downloads from iTunes will include data about purchase and usage rights, not allowing these songs to be played on unauthorized devices. Ebooks on Apple iBooks are protected in a similar way using Apple's FairPlay technology. FairPlay ensures that iBooks are only read on Apple devices.

Control access to confidential information

DRM systems can also help organizations control access to confidential information or sensitive data. Companies can use technology to restrict access to this information and make sure that it can be accessed securely when they do share it with someone. 

If confidential information is leaked, DRM technology makes it easier for companies to investigate what happened and identify the leaks. This can come in handy when taking legal action or ensuring that another leak doesn't happen.

There are many different types of organizations that might have this use case. Many businesses will use DRM technology to protect sensitive documents like contracts or employee data. DRM tools that control who can access files and how they can be used will prevent them from being altered or saved. They can also track when and who has accessed the files.

Ensure that digital work is not altered

Another way that DRM technology is used is to ensure that digital work is not altered from its original form. Content creators often want to make sure that their work is distributed in its original form, which helps ensure it is only used for its intended purposes. Without this protection, people could copy and alter the work in a way that does not align with the author's intent, which could cause issues, legal and otherwise.

An example of this use case is the stock imagery, video, and audio. Depending on the licensing and usage rights, some stock media cannot be altered. Most stock media can be altered after the user has purchased it. However, images that are considered fine art or media that feature a celebrity or public feature can't be altered without direct permission from the artist, author, or public figure.

How Air helps protect digital rights

As a digital asset management tool, Air has features that allow you to protect permissions when sharing your content with others. When you share a file with a team member, client, or other stakeholders, you control their permissions for that file. That means that you can decide who can view or upload the assets. 

Air share permissions

Air also allows you to track changes and updates to the original file. That means the file owner has eyes on everyone who has accessed and altered the file, as well as a record of what they have changed. 

This helps ensure that no one accidentally makes unauthorized changes to files. (And if they do, you can see who it was and can revert it to a previous version!)

Ready to try out Air for yourself? Sign up for free, and get your first 5GB on us!

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