DRM Frequently Asked Questions


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# What is DRM?

A basic explanation of DRM is here.

# What does DRM stand for?

Industry supporters of DRM refer to it as "digital rights management," as if to suggest that users should be powerless and relinquish their ability to decide how they can use and interact with their media. DRM is a mechanism to enforce severe restrictions on users' media that would otherwise be impossible, so DRM is about restrictions, not rights. Users should have control over their own media, not be left at the mercy of major media and technology companies. For that reason, opponents of DRM refer to it as "Digital Restrictions Management."

# What are some examples of DRM?

Depending on the DRM system, various limits and controls are imposed on both hardware and software. Users may be forced to use certain hardware or software platforms, limited to accessing their media on a predetermined number of devices, required to have a persistent Internet connection to use local files, have their files tied to an online account, unable to use accessibility software such as screen readers, cut off from accessing media in certain locales, or even stripped of their media by having their files silently and remotely deleted at any time.

  • If you purchase electronic copies of games from Steam, you can't sell them or share them with a friend after you're done playing them. If you so much as try, Steam will disable your account, which takes away your entire game collection.
  • During the mid-2000s, Sony bundled its music CDs with DRM that tracked users' listening habits, created security vulnerabilities in their computers, and prevented CD-copying software from functioning.
  • Netflix and YouTube have constructed anti-features to prevent customers from viewing their media in certain countries or on a certain number of devices.
  • In 2009, Amazon remotely deleted copies of George Orwell's dystopian novel, 1984, that were distributed through the Kindle store. This chilling example of potentially malicious behavior would have never been possible without DRM. DRM takes away your right to read.
  • More examples of DRM are described here.

# What is the purpose of DRM?

While it is advertised as a mechanism to prevent copyright infringement, DRM is actually designed to restrict all of the incredible possibilities enabled by digital technologies and place them under the control of a few, who can then micromanage and track every interaction with digital media. In other words, DRM is designed to take away every possible use of digital media, regardless of legal rights, and sell some of these functionalities back as severely limited services.

DRM is not about limiting copyright infringement. Such an argument attempts to make DRM appear beneficial to authors and is based entirely on a (very successfully advertised) misrepresentation of DRM's purpose. To illustrate the absurdity of the argument, consider the nature of file sharing: to obtain a copy of a file without permission, downloaders go to a friend or a file sharing network, not a DRM-encumbered distribution platform. If DRM existed only to prevent unauthorized sharing, every distribution method for that particular piece of media would have to be distributed by an uncrackable DRM-encumbered distribution platform, which is impossible on its own. So long as one copy becomes available without DRM, countless more are easily produced. Industry proponents of DRM are well aware that DRM is not a copyright enforcement mechanism. DRM is only marketed as a copyright enforcement mechanism to mislead authors into tolerating and even defending it.

# What is the difference between DRM and copyright enforcement?

DRM restricts entirely different activities than copyright does, and serves an entirely separate function. While Copyright restricts who can distribute media, DRM restricts how users can access their media. Copyright already provides leverage against illegal distribution, meaning that the largest distribution platforms must already adhere to the demands of large publishers, studios, music labels, and software companies. DRM provides antifeatures (features that exist only to worsen the service for users) and charges for their removal. This gives major media and technology companies much broader control over the use of media than is enabled by copyright law, while copyright allows them to force all legal media distribution services to use DRM.

# Who does DRM harm?

DRM only restricts and punishes those who have acquired their media legally through DRM-encumbered platforms. Even authors, along with independent labels, studios, and publishers suffer. When a distributor gains significant control over a particular market, DRM enables them to lock in their customers to their platform. Once customers are locked in, so are labels, studios, and publishers. If an independent publisher wants to switch away from a DRM-encumbered distributor, customers might have to re-purchase their media on the new platform. As with any instance of monopolization, businesses which dominate a market can arbitrarily dictate the price they charge, as well as the price they pay for media, because suppliers are dependent on them. Without DRM, users have control over their own media such as where, when, how, and on what platforms they choose to use their files.

# Shouldn't artists and developers be able to make a living?

Yes, we believe that it's important for artists and developers to be able to make a living. We recognize that developing new business models that don't use DRM is challenging. However, we believe that DRM is never acceptable because it harms users. It's worth noting that, in most cases, media owners impose DRM to stymie competition or twist the elbows of distributors, not to protect artists and developers.

A community of DRM-free businesses successfully compete with others who do use DRM. In fact, part of Defective by Design's mission is to connect those businesses with likeminded customers through our Guide to DRM-free Living.

# Doesn't DRM make sense for streaming media and rental services?

The problem with this argument is that it invites a future in which nobody has any control over their devices, and can only access media through DRM-encumbered distribution services. This argument is also based on misinformed claims that DRM prevents copyright infringement (see above). Streaming media services are rising in popularity, and DRM turns this into an opportunity to bring an end to personal media ownership. Rather than having services that can stream a user's media to any device using whatever software they choose, DRM consolidates distribution and services, such that all access to media must be through these services.

For devices, DRM limits media distribution by groups of countries, thereby frustrating intercontinental travelers and cultural exchanges. Furthermore, older devices, even those that accept flash memory upgrades, often cannot be equipped with new keys because of the weakness that distributing those keys over the Internet would imply. Although major media distribution companies accept returns in such cases, shipping expenses and frustration remain in charge of consumers, who may want to switch to unofficial distributions just in order to enjoy better usability.

# Isn't DRM ineffective anyway?

The argument that DRM "doesn't work" because it can often be circumvented misses the point, because DRM is not about copyright enforcement. DRM is very effective at what it does: limiting the freedom of anyone who uses DRM-encumbered services so that some functionality can be sold back as severely limited services.

# Why is DRM bad for software user freedom?

DRM is incompatible with free software. DRM is only possible by keeping some parts of a computer secret from users and unmodifiable, which is a direct attack on users's freedom. DRM cannot function while being free software as this would allow the antifeatures enforced by DRM to be undone.

# Are Hollywood and the media companies to blame for DRM?

Not exclusively. Major media companies work in tandem with technology companies to create DRM and force all legal media distributors to encumber files with it. This way, all their customers remain dependent on them, and helps maintain their dominant position in the market.

# Is watermarking DRM?

Watermarking is different from DRM, but may used in conjunction with DRM or proprietary file formats.

Watermarking is typically used to identify the source of unauthorized copies. When authorized copies are distributed, each receives a unique watermark, a hidden indicator which does not affect the file's function, but can be used to identify who it was given to. The goal is to be able to identify the source of unauthorized copies found online, and punish the person who originally obtained the authorized copy and shared it. This technique doesn't affect the ability to play such files with free software, nor does it add any technical restriction to control its use.

# Which formats support DRM?

It's important to remember that sometimes DRM is built into software and not part of a file format, and also file formats that support DRM do not necessarily require it. If you are wondering whether the file you are using could possibly be encumbered by DRM, we maintain the following list. Please note that this is only a list of formats which support DRM, and bears no weight on any other technical merits or restrictions of the formats.

Here is a list of formats that support DRM:


  • Archos Diffusion - Archos Reader (.aeh)
  • Broadband eBooks (BBeB) - Sony media (.lrf; .lrx)
  • EPUB - IDPF/EPUB (.epub)
  • PalmDOC eReader (formerly Palm Digital Media/Peanut Press) - Palm Media (.pdb)
  • Founder Electronics - Apabi Reader (.xeb; .ceb)
  • Apple - iBook (.ibooks)
  • Amazon Kindle - KF8 (.azw; .kf8)
  • Microsoft LIT - Microsoft Reader (.lit)
  • Mobipocket - PRC (Palm OS) - (.prc; .mobi)
  • Portable Document Format (.pdf)
  • TEBR - TEBR (.tebr)


To avoid DRM and other restrictions, we recommend using free audio formats such as Opus (.opus) or Vorbis (.oga; .ogg) for general use and FLAC (.flac) for lossless, and Speex (.spx) for speech.

  • Advanced Audio Coding (.m4p; .aac)
  • Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding (ATRAC) - Sony Corporation (.aa3; .oma; .at3)
  • MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 Audio Layer III (.mp3)
  • RealAudio (.ra; .ram)
  • Windows Media Audio (.wma)


To avoid DRM and other restrictions, we recommend using free video formats such as Theora (.ogv; .ogm), VP8 (.webm), or Daala.

  • DivX Media Format (DMF) - DivX, Inc. (.divx)
  • Flash Video (.swf; .flv; .f4p)
  • M4V - Apple, Inc. (.m4v)
  • MPEG-4 Part 14 - MP4 (.mp4)
  • QuickTime File Format (QTFF) - Apple, Inc. (.mov; .qt)
  • RealVideo (.rm; .rmvb)
  • Windows Media Video (.wmv)