Digital Rights Management (DRM)

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Note: Information on this page is no longer being updated and may not reflect current law or policy.

The Basics

As publishers and copyright owners increasingly issue content exclusively in a digital format, issues surrounding digital rights management (DRM) become more important to libraries and consumers. DRM is a term used to describe any technology that controls how or when consumers use digital content.

Publishers and copyright owners have a right to protect their products with DRM measures in order to avoid illegal use or copying of those products. Many publishers and copyright owners, however, implement DRM technologies without regard to long-standing equitable copyright laws and principles such as fair use and the first sale doctrine.

The potential of publishers and copyright owners to lock their content away from lawful owners and users is troublesome because the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA") includes provisions that make it illegal for ANY consumer to override DRM technologies that may interfere with lawful access or use to a digital work. This means that if publishers and copyright owners implement restrictive DRM measures, lawful consumers will be unable to control digital software they buy, including CDs and DVDs.

Additionally, publishers and copyright owners have been lobbying Congress to force manufacturers to include DRM technologies in their products. If such legislation becomes law, it will ensure that consumers no longer can control the digital content they buy or to which they should have access.

DRM issues are intertwined with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA") issues, particularly the DMCA's anticircumvention provisions, and fair use issues. For more information on these topics, please see the DMCA and fair use sections of our web site.


The following information will help AALL members understand the issues surrounding database protection and how they affect libraries and librarians.

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