Symbolic image for Digital Rights Management (DRM)

What is DRM? Why digital rights management is so important

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In the digital age, in which media content can be reproduced in seconds and distributed around the globe without restriction, the protection of intellectual property is more crucial than ever. Digital rights management (DRM) plays a central role in this. In German, this is referred to as digital rights management or digital rights management.

But what exactly does DRM need to accomplish? And how can digital rights management be integrated into a company’s DAM-System*?

In this article, we will answer these questions in detail and also take a look at how DRM can help to protect digital content while ensuring fair use.

* DAM stands for Digital Asset Management.

Basics of digital rights management

DRM is based on technical solutions with which the use and distribution of digital media can be highly controlled. This allows targeted restrictions and precisely regulated monetization of digital content. As a result, this means that

    1. a) only authorized users have access to protected content.
    2. b) content can only be used as intended by the rights holder.

In practice, this can mean that an e-book can only be read on a certain device or a video can only be played within a certain period of time.

Films, e-books and music files are certainly the most common media protected with DRM technologies, but such measures are also used for software products, image files and PDF documents.

Protection mechanisms

The technical protection mechanisms can be divided into two different classes:

1) Active protection mechanisms

2) Passive protection mechanisms

The first class includes encryption methods used for copy protection. In addition, encryption can prevent unauthorized use and changes, and digital signatures can be authenticated.

Clearly visible watermarks, which can only be removed with greater effort, also provide active protection.

Passive protection mechanisms, on the other hand, are not aimed at preventing access or rendering media unusable. They are primarily used for marking and ensure that the distribution of digital media can be traced. They must be seen as a sensible addition to the “hard measures”.

Steganographic processes are crucial here. They make it possible to conceal information and are used in digital watermarks and fingerprints (the latter are also characterized by their uniqueness). Markings of this kind are not perceptible for humans and can only be read with the help of special algorithms. They are also interwoven with the medium and are difficult to remove. They are mostly applied to prove authorship and are therefore used for tracking copyrighted images and videos on the Internet.

Example: digital watermark

Figure (2) shows a photo with a digital watermark (created with Digimarc). The difference to fig. (1) is barely perceptible to the naked eye. Only if you increase the contrast of the watermark extremely, it becomes recognizable. See fig. (3) and (4).

the principles of digital watermarks - illustration

Image source: Wikimedia

Classic metadata containers

Usually, license data and copyright notices are also stored in the metadata containers created separately from the content (such as XMP or IPTC-IIM). However, these can be easily manipulated or removed and do not offer any further technical protection on their own. Nevertheless, writing legal notices in the metadata containers is of course useful in order to assert copyright or license rights.

The three major advantages of DRM

  1. Protection of intellectual property and avoidance of sales losses due to illegal copies (piracy)
  2. More flexibility in licensing and distribution of content. This enables:
    • Tapping into new sources of income, e.g. through rentals or subscriptions
  3. Ensuring the integrity of documents and media files by:
    • prevention of changes to content
    • more difficult metadata manipulation

Challenges and criticism of DRM

Despite its advantages, hard DRM measures are also criticized. Some consumers feel that their right to freely use acquired content has been violated (see private copying). This has led to controversial discussions in the past, as copyright and consumer interests are usually diametrically opposed. With the emergence of each new technology, a balance between these interests has to be negotiated legally again and again. For instance, the courts are currently dealing with copyright issues relating to AI-generated content.

In addition, DRM measures can cause technical problems, e.g. due to incompatibility with different devices or software applications.

In 2002, the band System of a Down showed humour in the debate about copy protection and music piracy. Photo: Sebastian Cyrman / Unsplash

Limits of DRM – the analog loophole

Despite all the possibilities offered by DRM measures, one should be aware that every copy protection has an unavoidable weak point.

Let us first think of screenshots or screencasts, where the already decrypted data is simply copied from the graphics memory (video RAM). Such copying processes cannot be completely prevented. Technically savvy users can usually bypass screenshot locks with a little effort. And even if direct memory access could be avoided, there is always the option of recording video and audio signals with a separate device.

In this context, the term analog hole or analog loophole is used. It is based on the fact that digital information must always be converted into analog signals before it can be perceived by humans. These signals can then of course simply be redigitized and stored without restrictive encryption. The only protective measures that are still effective in these cases are visible watermarks or robust steganographic markings.

DRM in the context of digital asset management

Digital asset management (DAM) is the technical term for the systematic management of digital content in a central database. In layman’s terms, this is often referred to as media or image management, although the latter term falls short, as digital asset management can basically encompass all forms of media, including videos, documents or presentations, for example.

In addition to the software, a corresponding infrastructure is of course also required to operate large databases: a central storage location is required on which all files and meta information are stored. While in the past in-house servers were usually installed for this, today cloud-based solutions are increasingly being used.

How do DAM and DRM fit together?

Basically, it’s quite simple: DAM and DRM go hand in hand

In most cases, the existence of a DAM system is a basic requirement for functioning rights management. Conversely, professional digital asset management always requires a DRM module. Although there are cases in which media stocks are only intended for internal use, even then it makes sense to know the author, document legal requirements and restrict access if necessary.

In most cases, a company’s media inventory is also used for external presentation. Then you have to check and look carefully, because the following questions arise, for example:

    • Have all questions about licensing and personal rights been clarified?
    • Have the metadata containers been sufficiently labeled?
    • Should the medium only be accessible to an authorized group of people?
    • Should access be limited in time?
    • Should the medium have a digital watermark?

It should be clear that complete documentation of legal or technical restrictions is only possible by creating and maintaining a comprehensive database.

This becomes even clearer when you look at the “hard measures” that come into question for companies where the media assets themselves are the commodity. This refers, for example, to vendors of films, music or e-books. Without a DAM solution in the background that ensures clear file and metadata structures, the necessary encryption processes cannot be systematically applied and registered.


By integrating digital rights management into a DAM system, it can be ensured that media files are only used in such a way that no rights are violated. This is particularly important for companies that work with sensitive or copyrighted content, such as media companies, publishers or software producers.

Best practices for DRM implementation

To fully realize the benefits of DRM while minimizing possible challenges, it is important to follow best practices for implementation. This includes, for example, transparent communication: consumers should be clearly informed about existing DRM restrictions. In addition, the measures should be implemented in such a way that the needs of very different user groups are met. Successful rights management also means paying attention to ease of use. The proper use of protected content must not be unnecessarily difficult for the consumer.


Digital rights management is a crucial tool for protecting digital content in today’s networked world.

DRM plays a central role in digital asset management by helping to control and monitor the use of digital assets.

While DRM offers many benefits, including the protection of intellectual property and the development of new revenue streams, it also brings challenges and criticism.

However, by following best practices and considering the needs of users, DRM can be implemented in a way that ensures fair access to digital content.

Test the DAM solution from teamnext

We recommend the DAM solution from teamnext to media creators who like convenience: a DRM module is integrated into the teamnext | Media Hub, which makes digital rights management easier and more efficient. With just a few mouse clicks, metadata containers can be labeled with copyright notices or personal profiles can be created. It is also possible to control exactly which users should have access to shared files. And thanks to practical markings on the image, it is possible to see at a glance whether or not further declarations of consent need to be obtained.

In addition, teamnext’s solution accelerates the management of media assets with the help of artificial intelligence, e.g. by automatically recognizing people and objects in photos and videos.

If we have catched your interest, you can get started right away with a free 14-day trial of the Media Hub. Additionally, you can book an appointment for a free online product demo with one of our experts at any time. Simply use our contact form for this purpose.

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