The consumption of digital content is everywhere. From video-on-demand services like Netflix to video game stores like Steam, we all consume different forms of digital content on a daily basis. This makes the creation and distribution of digital media a very lucrative industry.
But as with anything, if there is money to be made, people will find a way to make money off someone else's product. This is where a DRM solution comes in.
DRM is one way a company can protect its intellectual property (IP) from IP theft.
Let's take a deeper dive into DRM solutions.
What is DRM?
A DRM (Digital Rights Management) solution is a set of tools that manufacturers incorporate into their products to protect their digital creations. For example, some games require a permanent internet connection in order to validate your copy of the game. If you purchased an original copy of the game, the DRM tools built into the game can determine that the copy is genuine and not pirated.
However, if you try to play a pirated copy, you will not be able to play the game because the built-in tools will detect the copy as a copyright infringement.
Similar to video games, DRM is also used by video and audio-on-demand providers like Netflix and Spotify to ensure that users are not using their services.
For example, if you share a Netflix account with your family, you may have encountered the "You have downloaded too many devices" error preventing you from downloading shows from Netflix. This reflects an aspect of the content provider's policies aimed at deterring users from abusing the service.
Spotify equally uses DRM to define what you can and cannot do with their service, as do numerous other popular websites, services, and apps.
In short, DRM aims to protect digital creations from IP theft, copyright infringement, and abuse of services.
What is Microsoft PlayReady DRM?
Microsoft PlayReady is the takeover of a DRM solution by Microsoft. In contrast to DRMs, which are specifically designed for a medium, PlayReady is an ecosystem designed for the distribution of audio and video data as well as for the distribution of digital games.
PlayReady provides content creators and distributors with the tools to enforce content restrictions such as the number of installs of a game, the resolution of a video, and more. These tools enable organizations to enforce their content protection policies across a range of devices and operating systems.
Due to its flexibility and the extensive features of its ecosystem, Microsoft PlayReady can be found everywhere, especially on PCs.
How does Microsoft's PlayReady DRM work?
Like any web-enabled service, PlayReady DRM consists of two basic components: a client and a server. Both components must interact with each other in order to validate and authorize the use of digital content.
To understand how PlayReady DRM works, let's take a Netflix show as an example. In this case, the client component of the process is the Netflix app on your smartphone or computer.
The first step in the process takes place behind the scenes. All Netflix content goes through an encryptor which encrypts the content and stores the decryption key on the DRM server. So the client needs the key to decrypt the content before it can be played.
The decryption key also acts as a license that defines the restrictions imposed by the copyright holder on the content.
Now when you open the app it will run an authorization check to see if you have a subscription. When you do this, you will be allowed into the app. Otherwise, you will have to register as a user and pay for the license to view this content.
Once the service authorizes you, you can choose which show you want to watch.
For example, let's say you've chosen to only view shows in Full HD. In this case, the server sees your request when you request a show within the app, reads your DRM license and only delivers shows in full HD resolution.
In other words, the PlayReady DRM restricts your access to certain features depending on the type of subscription you have.
In short, when you press that play button the client sends a request to the server asking for the decryption key, also known as the license to view the content. Once the license is obtained, it will decrypt the video and start playing it according to the restrictions set in the DRM license.
While this is the standard process, there are differences depending on your DRM implementation. For example, Steam's DRM only requires an internet connection when you install the game. After that, you can play the game offline.
Problems with DRM
While the main purpose of DRM licenses is to curb piracy, it is not an elegant solution for many reasons.
First, DRM licenses can be revoked by the copyright owner at any time and for any reason. In this case, you will no longer be able to access it even if you have legally purchased a digital product.
Second, some manufacturers use DRMs to limit the number of times the software can be installed. So if you have more than one PC and the copyright owner doesn't allow more than one installation at a time, you won't be able to install the software on all of your PCs even though you paid for them.
Finally, the issue of video game preservation is a major concern when it comes to DRM. As games move away from physical hard drives and rely solely on digital distribution platforms, countless pure digital games can be lost when the servers for the DRM licenses are shut down.
When we put all of these things together, DRM-free software and services are the way to go if we really want to own our digital assets.
Microsoft PlayReady DRM protects digital assets from piracy
Microsoft PlayReady DRM aims to protect digital media from piracy by enforcing licenses that govern how digital content can be used. It uses a combination of a client and a server to serve content and verify that it is legal.
And while PlayReady manages to keep digital assets safe from piracy, there's a bigger discussion going on about the future of DRM.
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About the author
(19 articles published)
Fawad is a full-time freelance writer. He loves technology and food. When he's not eating or writing about Windows, he's either playing video games or writing for his quirky blog, Techsava.
By Fawad Murtaza
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