Content Protection 101: What is DRM and How Does it Work?


Digital content can be downloaded and misused in several ways. As a result, it has now become essential for content creators and owners to make sure that all of their online content is adequately secured.

Fortunately, there are now many different ways in which content owners can protect their digital content and make sure that no one can illegally download or copy the content and misuse the same.

One of the most popular of them is using DRM or Digital Rights Management. Let us have a detailed look at what DRM is and how it works.

What is DRM?

DRM can be defined as an organised system for controlling the distribution of digital content, including audio, video, eBooks, games, and more. It requires the content owner, producer, or distributor to use an encryption key for securing the content. While a simple password mechanism could also provide this level of security, DRM takes it a step further. 

Rather than providing the encryption key to the paid user, the content owner integrates the same into a particular program or CDM (Content Decryption Module) which again is controlled by the owner. A paid user is required to use this program for accessing the content. This allows the content owner to decide what a user can do with the content. 

How Does DRM Work?

To set up DRM, you will need a particular packaging, encoding, license server, and playback. The content file is first stored at the source which can be FTP/FTSP online server, Google Cloud Storage, AWS S3, etc. The encoding system of the cloud storage will then encode the content file into adaptive formats like HLS and MPEG-DASH for streaming. During this process, the encoder encrypts the content file with an encryption key from a DRM provider. 

A content delivery network is then used, which is also accessed by the paid users. If a user clicks on the content file, the media player will notify the DRM server and the playback will only begin once the license is validated.

Popular DRM Platforms

Some of the most popular DRM platforms are as follows-

  • Microsoft PlayReady
  • Adobe Primetime
  • Google Widevine
  • Apple FairPlay
  • DivX
  • Veramatrix VCAS
  • Intertrust Marlin

Using Multi-DRM

Generally, a device can only support a single DRM. Thus, to increase the reach of the content, producers and distributors make use of multi-DRM. For this, a standard like MPEG CENC is used as it allows the association of keys from multiple DRMs even for a single video. During the packaging step, the metadata of multiple DRM’s is added, and this allows the encoding and encryption of the content with a single key.

Other details, such as license mapping, license acquisition, etc. are left to individual systems. Depending on the platform supported, the player then decides which DRM should be used.

Cloud-based SaaS Multi-DRM

With traditional multi-DRM systems, the encryption and packaging of the file needs to be done individually for every DRM. This used to increase storage footprint and management efforts. But there are now cloud-based SaaS multi-DRM services available which eliminate the need for creating separate DRM servers. 

Such services can be integrated with many different API’s and are also known to be cheaper as you are only required to pay for the service you use. With enhanced security and faster integration, cloud-based multi-DRM services simplify DRM for content owners and enable them to increase the distribution of their content securely.