How Does DRM Work? Digital Rights Management Explained

Blog 6 min read | May 8, 2023 | JW Player


Digital rights management (DRM) is a must-have security protocol for anyone that produces digital content. Whether you publish videos or live streams, you need to ensure bad actors don’t steal, modify, illegally use, or distribute your assets.

That’s easier said than done.

Long gone are the days of con artists sneaking into movie theaters to illegally record showings. Now, they use sophisticated technology to screengrab content and bypass simple passwords to access your videos from home.

Starting to worry about your video content? Don’t panic.

Fortunately, DRM software has evolved to keep up with bad actors’ ever-changing tactics. With the right DRM solution, you can safeguard your content and ensure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Below, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about how DRM works to protect your videos. We’ll go through all the best security tactics you can use to add multiple layers of protection to your digital assets.

How Does DRM Work?

Digital rights management is the use of software, technology, and tools to protect your video content from unauthorized users, modification, and redistribution.

Often, we only think of stealing in a physical sense, such as running out of a retail shop with a valuable necklace or Xbox Series X. However, theft extends into the digital realm, too—and it’s just as malicious and illegal.

Digital theft isn’t something new, either. It’s been going on since the days of LimeWire, FrostWire, and Napster—and there’s evidence of “digital attacks” that date back as far as 1834 when attackers stole financial market info from a French telegraph system.


DRM aims to implement security protocols and best practices to safeguard your content. It prevents bad actors from accessing and recording your content, and it also monitors for illegal publishing and redistribution for when cybercriminals do manage to breach your systems.

DRM protected content provides the following benefits to your business:

  • Income: Earn more from your digital content by ensuring bad actors don’t steal your profits by illegally selling and redistributing your videos.
  • Ownership: Safeguard your copyrighted material to ensure nobody tries to claim your digital content as their own.
  • Secrecy: Protect your sensitive files to ensure only the right users with the correct privileges can access them.
  • Education: Let buyers know their rights (and yours) before they violate the terms. Tell your customers what they can and can’t do with your digital content upfront.

10 Best DRM Technology and Tactics

No single DRM tactic is foolproof—each has advantages and disadvantages that make it more appropriate for certain types of content.

While you don’t need to implement every DRM system on this list, it’s a good idea to use a handful of security protocols. Look for ways to provide layers of protection for each stage of the process, such as during signup, viewing, and post-viewing.

1. Blocks

Add code blocks to your website and applications to prevent end-users from doing screenshots, screengrabs, forwards, shares, and saves. These code blocks can be simple or advanced to prevent determined hackers from illegally accessing and distributing your videos.

2. User Limits

User limits set restrictions on the number of times, users, devices, locations, or IP addresses that can simultaneously access video content. You might have experienced this before when you were unable to watch videos on a family streaming service like Netflix, Spotify, or YouTube TV.

Setting user limits prevents accounts from widely sharing their password. While it’s sometimes within the terms of service to share account credentials with a handful of people, user limits stop sharing from getting out of hand and hurting your bottom line.

Communicate any user limits with your buyers beforehand during the sign-up process. Consider providing adjusted plans to accommodate families, couples, or nomadic viewers.

3. Expiration Dates

Expiration dates set a limit on how long a user can access your content. For example, you might want to let users rent a movie or TV show for a week or 24-hour period. Or you may want to give users access to your video content only while their subscription is active.

Expiration dates ensure your users don’t abuse content privileges or try to watch content offline without an active license.

4. Watermarks

Watermarks add logos to your videos and images to verify ownership. They’re not a standalone fix to pirating, though. Hackers can get creative to crop or cut these logos out, or they might redistribute them with the watermark included.

However, watermarks do act as a first-level deterrent that prevents most simple screengrabs and screenshots. While you still don’t want people stealing your content, watermarks do give you proof of ownership and spread awareness if a hacker does illegally share your videos.

We recommend adding watermarks in addition to other layers of DRM security practices.

5. Geographic Fences

Geographic fences (or IP restrictions) block specific geographic areas from getting unauthorized access to your content. Implementing geographic fences can limit your viewer pool (even your legitimate buyers), but it might be necessary for areas with high online piracy rates.

Consider adding geographic fences for areas of high piracy where you don’t believe you’ll have high viewership.

6. AES Encryption

Encryption standards can protect your digital content at rest and in transit. It uses an encryption key to ensure only viewers with the required decryption key can get access to your videos. This prevents hackers from intercepting your streams and illegally watching or downloading your content. We recommend adding encryption protocols to all your video content in conjunction with other DRM tactics.

7. Password Protection

Password protections lock your videos behind a required password. This is a simple and easy-to-bypass security protocol, but it can be effective for less premium content—and it’s an easy-to-implement deterrent that’ll likely turn away less-invested bad actors.

Since password protection isn’t the most sophisticated security protocol, we suggest using it in conjunction with other DRM technology. For example, you might use token authorization and passwords, or you might add a password requirement to your geographic fencing.

8. IP Whitelisting

IP whitelisting is like a reverse form of geographic fencing. Instead of listing areas you want to restrict, you create a shorter list of areas you want to permit. Only the IPs you whitelist will have access to your content.

IP whitelisting doesn’t usually work if you’re trying to market your content to a larger audience. However, if you’re a local church or news station that doesn’t want regular broadcast content to be stolen, you’re probably safe implementing IP whitelisting for communities in your area (or at least your state at large).

9. Token Authorization

Token authorization prevents content from being embedded in third-party players or other websites. Different DRM solutions go about this in various ways, but the most popular method is signing a token ID to the URL of your video content. This allows the server to quickly determine if an incoming request is coming from a legitimate customer.

10. Multi-DRM Integrations

Studio-level DRM lets you add integrations with other DRM platforms to deliver real-time content over Google Widevine, Apple FairPlay DRM, and Microsoft PlayReady DRM solutions. This adds additional layers of security to your video content to ensure it’s protected at rest and during playback.

Protect Your Video Content With JW Player

In this day and digital age, you can’t afford to produce unprotected video content. Creating and monetizing VOD and live streams without DRM protection is like leaving your shop unlocked at night without any security cameras—bad things can and will happen.

Fortunately, content creators and content providers don’t need to go down an endless internet rabbit hole looking for integrations and solutions—we have just the thing you need.

JW Player’s platform lets you host, deliver, and monetize premium video content with studio-approved DRM solutions like geo-blocking, token signing, and more. Our studio DRM integrates with JWP web, Android, iOS, and CTV SDKs to protect your content across websites, apps, third-party players, and connected STBs.

Want to see how JW Player can accelerate your video strategy at scale? Talk to a JWP video expert to get a hands-on walkthrough of our end-to-end video platform.