Piracy of digital content is regarded as a serious problem by content companies. Digital Rights Management (DRM) is considered a potential solution to this problem, but I believe that given the current and foreseeable state of technology the content protection features of DRM are not effective at combating piracy. The key problem is that if even a small fraction of users are able to transform content from a protected to an unprotected form, then illegitimate distribution networks are likely to make that content available ubiquitously.
It is, however, entirely feasible that DRM could at least partially affect piracy. The software industry is currently experiencing a 40% software piracy rate. Nevertheless, the software industry by all accounts appears to be thriving. Media and entertainment companies may face a similar challenge. If piracy could be decreased by just a few percentage points using DRM, then this might translate into millions of dollars of otherwise unrealized revenue. But according to Defective by Design (2014), DRM does not come without a price. First there is the cost of building, deploying and maintaining a DRM infrastructure, which will eat into whatever unrealized revenues are recovered. Second, DRM protected content is economically less valuable than unprotected content. Therefore, deploying DRM will result in fewer sales of legitimate content, which also might offset some of the revenues gained by decreasing piracy. The question is whether or not the benefits of DRM outweigh its costs.
Unauthorized use and unauthorized acquisition are two aspects of piracy that DRM technology aims to address, however, the real problem with piracy is that it only takes a small fraction of users who are capable of dissociating licenses from content to make managed content available to a significant fraction of users in unmanaged form. According to Lessig (2006) current technological measures will never be able to completely stop the illegitimate distribution of pirated content and that content producers must take steps to compete with the piracy as an alternative. Regardless of whether or not DRM can be effectively used as a risk management component, content producers regard themselves as being in competition with the pirates. Therein lies the biggest promotion of piracy. It’s called show business for a reason. Content producers and distributors primary concern is to maximize the value of intellectual property, not to protect it for the sake of protection.
Lessig, L 2006, “Intellectual Property,” Code version 2.0, New York: Basic Books, New York, pp. 169-200.
2014, What is DRM?, Defective by Design, viewed 18 May 2014, <http://www.defectivebydesign.org/>