What is the Function of Digital Rights Management Software?

Blog 10 min read | Feb 22, 2023 | JW Player


There’s almost always a tug-of-war with video content distribution.

On one side, you want to provide your viewers with easy, seamless, and flexible access. On the other side, you need to protect your content from unauthorized audiences and uses.

It’s a common dilemma, especially for new video content publishers, but this is where Digital Rights Management (DRM) software comes in handy.

With DRM software, video-driven companies can more effectively manage content access without creating a frustrating experience for customers. DRM offers precise yet flexible control over who can access video content and how, as well as what actions they can or cannot perform on that content.

The upshot? Your videos stay safe, and your viewers stay happy.

That’s one major benefit you get from DRM software, but in this article, we’ll dig deeper into why DRM matters and how to know if you should be using it.

What is Digital Rights Management (DRM)? And why is it important?

Without the right safeguards in place, digital assets can be incredibly easy to copy, reproduce, redistribute, modify, and more.

As we shared earlier, Digital Rights Management is a way of controlling and managing access to copyrighted material or sensitive information. It protects copyright holders and prevents unauthorized use of their work.

DRM software gives video-centric businesses a more efficient way to keep their content safe from unauthorized viewing or distribution, while still providing flexible viewing options for legitimate users.

The benefits of Digital Rights Management include:

  • Better protection for your digital assets. The importance of strong protections for copyright and intellectual property is a no-brainer for any business that heavily leverages video and digital content. Keeping online piracy at bay (pun intended) needs to be a consistent priority. That’s why DRM has quickly become a de facto standard for publishers, fitness trainers, e-learning businesses, and other companies.
  • More control over how your content is used. Not only does DRM software offer greater protection for your digital content, but it also allows for more granular control over your content distribution. Beyond limiting who can access and view content, DRM lets you limit what people can and cannot do with a particular asset. For example, Netflix users can watch movies from their iPhones; however, they cannot take screenshots while watching.
  • Work smarter, not harder. The importance of Digital Rights Management goes beyond content protection and access control alone. Adopting DRM software can also align with broader efforts to improve operational efficiency, maintain a high standard of cybersecurity, meet compliance requirements, and protect customer data in general.

No matter what your business goals are, or how your business model works, one thing is certain in the current digital age — without a robust, effective way to protect your content assets from unauthorized users, it’s hard for a content-centric company to stay in business for long.

How DRM technology works

Encryption is key to the way Digital Rights Management works (and yes, that’s another pun).

There’s a great deal of variation in the exact specifics of any given DRM system. For example, a homegrown or bootstrapped approach to DRM is going to look very different than implementing a done-for-you DRM solution.

However, there are three essential components to Digital Rights Management: encryption, governance, and authentication.


Encrypted content can only be accessed by using a secret key to decrypt it. Since technology often takes care of this process “behind the scenes,” this decryption may happen without you being aware of it. In fact, there’s a good chance you rely on Digital Rights Management and its processes every single day, whether you realize it or not.

Video assets get encrypted during the transcoding process. Those videos are then packaged and transmitted in their encrypted form. The only way to watch an encrypted video is by unlocking it with the appropriate key.


Decryption keys are like all digital information: they’re relatively easy to copy and share if they aren’t properly protected.

That’s why DRM software acts as the keeper of the keys for your encrypted content.

By defining when, how, and by whom content can be accessed, you create a set of rules that DRM technology can enforce — a digital license. A DRM-enabled system uses this digital license to govern access to content.


When the rules in the license are satisfied, DRM software allows the system to access the right key and decrypt the content. This is the authentication process.

Digital Rights Management can protect your video content in multiple ways, including:

  • Geographic fences and/or geo-blocking
  • URL token signing
  • Expiration dates
  • Limits on users, devices, and/or IP addresses
  • Blocks and watermarks

Let’s say you run a subscription-based online fitness business. Customers pay a monthly subscription fee that gives them full access to your digital library of workout videos, anytime and anywhere.

DRM is what allows you to ensure that only active subscribers, in good standing, can watch your video content. It’s also what allows you to revoke access to that same content (like in the event that a subscription lapses), or to limit what subscribers can do with the content (like enabling or disabling downloads).

So encryption is like the lock that protects your content. If you want someone to rightfully access that content, you need to give them a key.

But if you don’t have a way to get that key back or to prevent it from being stolen, copied, or shared — then you don’t actually have control over who can open the lock or not.

Digital Rights Management addresses this decryption dilemma. It makes content readily accessible for authorized use under a specific digital license, yet maintains control over the decryption keys to prevent any unauthorized access or use. That way, it’s easy to deliver digital assets to your intended audience and your intended audience only.

In other words: DRM software lets you bridge the gap between keeping your content secure and keeping your customers satisfied.

Examples of digital content protected by DRM

Digital Rights Management is a broad term that can be applied to any form of digital content.

Most commonly, DRM is used to protect music, movies, video games, visual artwork, e-books, and documents from online piracy. But as we continue to live in an increasingly online world, the importance of content protection technologies has only grown and expanded.

Digital Rights Management can be used to protect any digital assets or intellectual property that represents a significant financial and creative investment.

Beyond the realm of typical content assets and entertainment media, DRM may be used to safeguard valuable things like proprietary information, sensitive intellectual property, business-critical documents, software products, database subscriptions, and more.

Some real-world examples of Digital Rights Management include:

  • Country-specific Netflix content: Depending on where you are when you access a Netflix account, you may see different content options.Since license agreements for the shows and movies available on a streaming service like Netflix can vary between countries, geofencing allows Netflix to hide titles when they aren’t accessible from a user’s current geographic location.
  • Watermarked stock photography: Services like Adobe Stock rely on watermarks to protect their image assets. Thanks to watermarking, anyone can freely browse the available images in Adobe’s collection without being able to use the original images.Then, once someone does want to purchase the rights to an image, DRM allows them access to the watermark-free version instead.
  • Enterprise document management: When it comes to sensitive documents, proprietary business information, or confidential employee data, many enterprise companies use DRM technology to control access to digital files.This typically involves being able to track who has viewed a file, revoke access when it’s no longer needed, and prevent certain actions such as duplicating, printing, or saving to a new location.

Copyright laws do still apply to digital content, but Digital Rights Management enables a more proactive approach to content protection. That’s because, once it happens, piracy is very difficult to catch and stop. It’s much more effective to prevent your digital content from theft or unauthorized distribution in the first place — which is exactly what DRM aims to do.

How to deploy DRM for your video content

While there are many different ways to go about implementing a DRM solution for your video content, the best bet is to choose an online video platform that offers robust built-in functionality for DRM and content protection.

When it comes to online video, there are three major DRM technologies that are important to know: FairPlay (Apple), PlayReady (Microsoft), and Widevine (Google). These three technologies provide content playback support that encompasses the vast majority of platforms, browsers, and devices.

(Author’s note: if you’re considering using JWP as your video hosting platform, know that it’s compatible with all three. This means you can benefit from robust DRM support without getting bogged down by extra work.

While keeping workflows simple, JWP bakes comprehensive content protection and access control into your standard processes. You can leverage pre-configured policies right out of the box, or you can customize policies to suit your specific audience’s needs. Either way, it’s all centralized into one convenient hub.)

Regardless of which DRM provider you use, there are several basic steps involved to set up DRM for your video content.

Step 1: Define your DRM requirements

Before you jump into evaluating providers, take the time to figure out what you truly need from a Digital Rights Management solution.

To figure out what you require from a DRM provider, ask yourself questions such as:

  • What are the rules that will govern content access and usage?
  • What types of features are necessary to support your business model and the promises you make to your customers?
  • Where and how will authorized users access your content? What platforms are you targeting?
  • What specific technical considerations need to be addressed? Are there any non-negotiable integrations you need?

By figuring out what you need versus what would be a nice-to-have, you’ll be better equipped to assess potential providers and solutions.

Step 2: Decide how you’ll encrypt your videos

To take advantage of DRM protection, your video assets must be converted into an encrypted form.

Encryption happens before or during streaming, downloading, or other transfers. As part of video encoding or transcoding, the video file gets encrypted with media keys from one or more DRM technologies. It’s then packaged into a format that’s compatible with the DRM systems you need to support.

With a full-featured online video platform like JWP, adding an encryption step into your workflow can be done fairly quickly and simply. But the more homegrown and customized your player is, the more work it’ll likely involve before you can enable DRM support.

Step 3: Prepare your license server

Whenever a viewer wants to playback video content, the video player will make a request to your license server.

Then it’s up to the license server to determine whether the viewer and playback device are authorized to access that content. If so, a decryption key unlocks the video and playback can begin.

So whether you choose a DFM provider that handles all of this for you, or you opt to set it up manually — your license server is an essential component of a functioning DRM solution.

Step 4: Integrate with your video player

You need a DRM-capable player in order to communicate with the DRM platform and enforce playback restrictions.

In other words: if your video player cannot request keys from your license server and decrypt videos, it cannot support DRM.

Again, by choosing a video hosting platform with built-in DRM capabilities, you have a better chance of avoiding the need for any custom or manual integrations (which can be expensive and easily broken).

The future outlook of Digital Rights Management

DRM has been around for several decades already, and new innovations in DRM technology are emerging all the time.

And as DRM solutions continue to evolve, the threats and risks it protects against will evolve along with it. Advances in other areas, such as blockchain technology and machine learning, can be incorporated into DRM solutions to strengthen content protection capabilities.

There’s also great opportunity associated with DRM. Subscriptions are one of the fastest-growing industries globally; one UBS report predicted that, between 2020 and 2025, the market for subscription business models could grow from $650 billion to a whopping $1.5 trillion.

With new content creators popping up every day and AI tools like ChatGPT or DALL-E disrupting content production as we know it, there’s no shortage of content available online.

Without DRM policies and software that effectively protect your high-value content, you risk losing the competitive advantage that your content is working so hard to build.

So if you’re ready to incorporate DRM into your business and you want to test out a video platform with comprehensive out-of-the-box DRM functionality, you can try JWP for 30 days completely free of charge.