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Digital Rights Management (also called DRM for short) is an umbrella term for any modern form of digital copy-protection. There are many forms of DRM, such as region coding, always-online DRM (persistent online authentication), and product keys. DRM is meant to protect the rights of copyright holders by preventing illicit use of their products. Despite this, DRM has been severely criticized for imposing restrictions on legitimate customers.

Arguments for DRM

Proponents of DRM argue that it is necessary to prevent intellectual property from being “stolen”. Danielle Parr, executive director of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, equates DRM with physical locks, as they prevent the theft of private property. Other proponents of DRM argue that it can be used for other things than copy-protection, which are beneficial to consumers. Examples of such uses are the implementation of parental controls, which prevent children from accessing adult material on the Internet, as well as time-limited trials which allow consumers to try products before buying them. Businesses and private persons can also benefit from DRM systems, as they can protect private and corporate information. Other benefits arise when a DRM system is successful in its attempt to stop the illicit sharing of the product it is meant to protect. An effective DRM system can ensure that the creators of a product make a good profit. It can also motivate companies to create high-quality products, due to the illicit sharing of said products being difficult.

Arguments against DRM

There has been a lot of controversy regarding DRM; so much so, that some have taken to calling it “Digital Restrictions Management”, or digital handcuffs. Opponents of DRM argue that it can prevent customers from using their software in legitimate ways. Such uses include the ability to actually use their software, the ability to make private backups, and the ability to use their software on multiple devices. They also argue that for the most part, DRM systems will not actually prevent products from being copied, essentially making it only function as a hindrance to legitimate customers.

Some DRM systems force customers to only use their product within a specific distribution platform. If the user wishes to switch to a new platform, a second purchase is likely necessary.

Badly designed DRM systems can prevent customers from actually being able to use the products they've purchased. Such an event happened in 2013 with the release of SimCity, which used always-online DRM. During the week after its release, customers were unable to play the game due to server issues. This caused a controversy so great that the game was eventually pulled from Amazon.

DRM has been criticized for taking ownership away from customers, only giving them an illusion of it. If you purchase a product with DRM, you are only given a license to use it. The company you bought the product from can go out of business, causing their customers to lose access to the products they've bought. Access can also be lost if you break the device on which it is stored; this can happen if the DRM system used does not allow use across multiple devices. Companies can also decide to simply remove access from customers. This happened in 2009, when Amazon remotely deleted copies of George Orwell's 1984 from their customers' Kindles; something that would not have happened if customers were free to use their products as they wished.

Cracking of DRM

Most DRM mechanisms are eventually cracked however, such as DVD movies, which is why you see DVD Rips on your favorite torrent site. One DRM system which is very difficult to crack is Denuvo Anti-Tamper, which is being used on games such as Just Cause 3, Mad Max and Dragon Age: Inquisition. This system is so difficult to crack that the cracking group 3DM nearly gave up on cracking Just Cause 3. This caused the founder of the group, Bird Sister, to state the following:

"According to current trends in the development of encryption technology, in two years time I'm afraid there will be no free games to play in the world."

Updated versions of Denuvo have indeed been cracked despite this prediction, as will any future DRM mechanism, as long as there is an interest in cracking them.

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