Protecting IPR (intellectual property rights) with Digital Rights Management (DRM)

Copyright is essential to the modern world. Knowing that intellectual property is protected is what makes the risk of bringing a product to market worth it. More importantly, if the IP of new innovative companies is not protected, there’s a risk bigger players will overtake them, enforcing monopolies that are worse for everyone.

Protecting IPR, however, isn’t as simple as placing a copyright symbol on a work or idea and calling it a day. The intellectual property rights (IPR) a company has to protect can include anything from patents to trademarks, software, artworks, databases, and more. Relying on the legal system to keep these safe is trickier than it might sound. As well as the need to know whether you have an economic right to enforce IPR or whether it’s just a trade secret, filing takes time and legal action is slow, expensive, and often ineffective.

The time and resources that all of this requires creates a delay between when a work is created and when legal protection is obtained. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for IP to be stolen regardless of the legality and used in countries that are less strict with enforcement or shared online in the form of piracy.

This is where DRM or Digital Rights Management comes in.

How does DRM help with IPR protection?

DRM aids IPR protection in several ways. Among the most important is the ability to use document DRM to immutably establish when a copyrighted work was created. As you can imagine, dates are vital in copyright – both due to copyright expiry after death and disputes about who created a work first.

DRM also helps to protect at regular intervals during its creation. For example, when an author sends a manuscript to a publisher. By using a license-based system combined with US government strength encryption, DRM solutions ensure that only authorized parties can view documents relating to your IP. Should a document leak, the public, journalists, and competitors only see the encrypted document, which contains random strings of numbers and letters.

When works are released to the public, DRM also helps. One of the most common examples is course content. A copywritten work, such as a training course or PDF guide, can be shared with readers without them being able to copy, print, or otherwise modify it and pass it off as their own.

DRM controls allow for a whole host of restrictions on documents, including:

  • Printing and copying prevention
  • Country and IP address locking
  • Device locking
  • Screenshot prevention
  • Automatic and manual expiry based on date, number of days, views, or prints
  • Dynamic watermarks with identifying information
  • Document tracking and logging
  • The ability to enforce online or offline use
  • Defining the total number of a document can be used by

With these controls, organizations gain the ability to protect their documents in transit, at rest, and during use. They also gain vital insight into a document’s use and a clear timeline of activity after it has been shared with the wider world. Should they not want to publish their document to an online portal, they can typically distribute documents and licenses via USB sticks for internal and offline use.

What DRM doesn’t do

Though DRM is a powerful tool to aid IPR protection, it’s not a golden bullet. DRM, after all, is used primarily to secure documents when they are complete or have a first draft and start to be shared. They are not designed to be used during the collaboration process.

There are many collaboration solutions that aim to help with this, often with their own document management systems, logon controls, or PKI (if you’re willing to shell out). Unfortunately, they can be expensive to implement, use outdated password-based authentication, and aren’t as effective once you start to share a document outside of your organization.

This is because most collaboration systems assume that you have control over the environment of the recipient, which in most cases is not true. As a result, the ability to enforce rules and controls becomes limited, making them an inadequate solution on their own.

So, what about using both? Currently, there’s no seamless way to integrate these two types of protection. As such, you should see collaboration systems as most useful when IP remains in an environment that is easily controlled (such as the internal network).

DRM solutions are primarily used to protect IPR once the material is complete and ready to be shared. They do have the advantage, however, of being inexpensive, flexible, and having the requirement for little management or consultation. This, combined with the litany of controls, makes them an easy sell for most organizations. By protecting IP at the most risky stage (when it’s shared) DRM lets you greatly reduce the risk without breaking the budget.

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