Copyright Protection

Written by Kevin Tavolaro
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Many software vendors employ Digital Rights Management (DRM) measures in an effort to curb copyright violation and piracy. DRM refers to the process of building anti-piracy features directly into a digital product. Opponents of DRM sometimes refer to it as "Digital Restrictions Management," as the built-in protection measures are sometimes criticized for limiting the access rights legally conferred to the purchaser of a copyrighted product.

Integrated DRM measures include copy-protection features such as content scrambling, digital encryption, and watermarking. Content scrambling and digital encryption involve the encoding of digital data, making it inaccessible to hardware that is not compliant with manufacturer requirements. Hardware manufacturers must sign a license agreement promising to limit any features that might be conducive to piracy, such as disc burners equipped with tools for cracking and duplicating copy-protected materials. Hardware manufacturers who do not comply with these standards are denied a license, prohibiting a good deal of software from being accessible to the hardware owners. As this can quickly damage the popularity and reputation of a brand, most hardware manufacturers comply with the requested limitations.

Types Of Copyright Protection

Some manufacturers incorporate physical protection measures into their products as a means of limiting unlicensed software access. This involves the installation of additional hardware necessary for a program to work correctly. The special hardware usually has no function other than to enable the program. In this situation, if an application is illegally duplicated, it will be useless to any user not equipped with the necessary hardware. Originally, most physical protection measures involved "dongles," which had to be attached to a computer, where they could be detected by the software in order for the program to run correctly. More recent attempts at physical protection include USB devices and smart cards containing a key code required to unlock an encrypted program.

Physical protection has met with limited success in the past, due to several factors. Consumers tended to avoid programs requiring physical protection, as the required hardware was often subject to compatibility issues. In addition, many users felt that the installation of such hardware made software use needlessly inconvenient and complex. However, while this type of copyright protection is not commercially popular, it is reasonably successful in the professional market, where high-end, system specific applications can be much more expensive than commonly distributed software.


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