How to explain Digital Rights Management (DRM) to your dad

February 18, 2007
DRM stands for Digital Rights Management - a technical procedure which aims to make sure that the copyright holders retain control over their work by preventing unauthorized duplication of their work to ensure continued revenue streams. The Free Software Foundation (FSF) calls it Digital Restrictions Management. In recent times, DRM has caused extreme polarization even within the camps of Open Source and Free Software. With Linus Torvalds stating his displeasure over the move to formulate anti-DRM specific clauses in the upcoming GPLv3 spear headed by the FSF.

The big question is, when a lay person (such as your dad) approaches you and asks to explain what the cacophony related to DRM is all about, how do you explain in a way that he understands the basic idea of DRM without leaving him overwhelmed? If you are not sure how to address this question put forward to you, then you should read the example answers compiled by John highlighting the DRM-related problems, to help people understand what the big deal is with DRM.


  • Instead of saying "unauthorized duplication" I'd say "duplication which is not approved by the music firms." Fair Use doctrine authorizes copying.

  • Loye Young

    "Fair Use" is inapplicable in this context.

    When I buy a CD or DVD, I buy a license for private, non-commercial use of the music or movie. It says so right on the box. It's not limited by operating system.

    DRM actually INTERFERES with the license I actually bought. I don't need a Fair Use argument.

    Besides, DRM doesn't stop me from copying the media. Every cassette tape deck sold in America allows me to copy CDs merely by connecting a wire from the Line Out on my CD player to the Line In of my cassette deck.

    We've already gone down this road, and some of us actually remember the day. The music business cried "The sky is falling" when reel-to-reel came out, and again when cassette tape came out. The movie business cried "Wolf" when the VCR came out. The software business even tried to copy protect floppy disks back in the early days.

    You can't sweep back the ocean with a broom.

    Loye Young
    Laredo, Texas