Understand the Limitations of Digital Rights Management
Digital Rights Management (DRM) is the use of technology to restrict the access, use, and distribution of copyrighted digital content (documents, text, and video). There are many suppliers offering DRM software solutions but not a lot of consensus on whether or not they are effective. Proponents believe DRM is necessary to prevent intellectual property from being copied freely and, in some cases, to protect revenue streams. But those opposed to DRM say it presents an onerous barrier to content and that there’s little evidence to prove it works to prevent infringement.
In reality, DRM is not a means of preventing copyright infringement because, again, just about any content, digital or analog, can be copied. What DRM can sometimes do is detect unauthorized copying and redistribution of digital media and attempt (not always successfully) to restrict the ways that copyrighted content can be copied.
Knowing DRM has limited effectiveness, publishers need to decide whether or not to invest in it based on a cost-benefit analysis. It’s important to note that U.S. copyright code does not require the use of DRM. Under the law, the strongest protection of copyrighted material is the copyright statement applied to the material. This statement reigns supreme.
Unfortunately, copyright infringement is increasingly difficult to detect, particularly in the electronic age. Perhaps the best approach to protection is to make your copyright notice more conspicuous than usual. Instead of being hidden away in small type, include it at the start of protected content and again at the end. Also include it in correspondence with your readers and subscribers, such as on renewal statements and invoices.
If you detect a copyright violation, I recommend informing the alleged violator. It may be a case of an innocent oversight, and the alleged violator may be agreeable to paying a reasonable fee to access or utilize your content. On the other hand, if the violation continues, I recommend seeking the advice of an intellectual property attorney who specializes in copyright disputes. Given my background and experience, I would be happy to provide free advice on how to proceed before getting involved in costly litigations.
So, is your copyright notice enough? This is a question that ultimately only you can answer.
If you don’t have significant concerns about the illegal copying and unauthorized access to or distribution of your intellectual property, then yes, your placed copyright statement is enough. This may be the case if your content is available for free or if the nature of your content is such that users sharing it (with or without your name associated with it) would benefit your brand.o, is your copyright notice enough? This is a question that ultimately only you can answer.
However, if you derive revenue from the sale of individual pieces of original content, or if your content distribution model is structured to provide access only to those who pay for it, then the placed statement alone may not be enough. You may need to register your copyright to allow for legal disputes, and you may benefit from a proactive approach to detecting infringement.
Ultimately, a publisher must first understand what’s at stake for its brand and enterprise. What’s the level of risk? What are the potential ramifications of infringement? And only based on those answers can you determine the appropriate steps you should take to best protect your content assets.
Please note that I am a technical expert on intellectual property for printing and publishing, and the information in this article is not a legal interpretation. I recommend consulting an IP attorney if you have specific legal questions about your copyrights.
Dr. Harvey R. Levenson is professor emeritus and past head of Graphic Communication at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He is a researcher, consultant, and speaker on printing technology, patents, copyrights, trade secrets, media, and communication. He has authored many articles and books on these subjects and has consulted for approximately 250 printing, publishing, and related companies. Connect at tinyurl.com/linkedin-levenson.