Windows Tip Sheet

Can I Get a DRM with That?

Maintain exact control over user access to information through digital rights management, but be prepared to explain its complex licensing structure.

Something your users may be running into—soon, if not now—is Microsoft’s digital rights management, or DRM. While DRM has been around in products like Windows Media Player for some time, it’s finally starting to hit a critical mass and finding more widespread use; with DRM also built into the latest version Microsoft Office, you can really start taking advantage of it—or confuse your users.

The whole point behind DRM is to allow information—whether it’s a Word doc or a video—to be freely distributed but only viewed by someone who obtains a license for it. Obtaining a license can be swift and silent in the case of a license that’s free, or it may involve a payment process. What’s confusing to many users is the fact that licenses are so flexible.

For example, all licenses can have a lifetime, which may be tied to a time period or to a use counter. For example, a license might allow you to play a video for a week, or just two times—a popular scheme for many movie-on-demand services like MovieLink. A license can also control what you do with the licensed information. For example, a DRM-protected audio file might allow local playback on your computer, and it might give you the ability to burn the file to an audio CD five times. It might prevent you, however, from copying the file to a portable media device. It’s all up to whoever issues the license, so tip one for your users is to investigate what a license allows them to do before paying for it.

Licenses use a form of digital encryption to do their job, and they’re keyed to unique aspects of the user’s computer, such as a unique copy of Windows Media Player or Microsoft Office. That means licenses can’t necessarily be carried between computers (although they can be backed up for safekeeping). A movie file’s license, for example, might only ever work on a single computer; if your user gets a new computer, they might also be required to obtain a new license. Again, it’s all up to the license issuer, and those are important details to check out in advance.

Cool Gadget
LightScribe CD-R
[Click on image for larger view.]
You can laser etch grayscale images and text onto LightScribe CDs and DVDs.
Have you seen a LightScribe-equipped CD burner? LightScribe is an HP invention, and it uses a special laser and CD to burn a visible, monochrome image into the top of a CD, in much the same way a laser is used to burn data into the bottom. LightScribe is a cool way to burn data CDs with burned-in labels, eliminating sticky paper or plastic labels. Units are available from HP and other manufacturers.

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About the Author

Don Jones is a multiple-year recipient of Microsoft’s MVP Award, and is an Author/Evangelist for video training company Pluralsight. Don is also a co-founder and President of PowerShell.org, a community dedicated to Microsoft’s Windows PowerShell technology. Don has more than two decades of experience in the IT industry, and specializes in the Microsoft business technology platform. He’s the author of more than 50 technology books, an accomplished IT journalist, and a sought-after speaker and instructor at conferences worldwide. Reach Don on Twitter at @concentratedDon, or on Facebook at Facebook.com/ConcentratedDon.

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