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Digital Publishing and Digital Rights Management (DRM)

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According to Wikipedia, “Digital rights management (DRM) tools or technological protection measures (TPM) are a set of access control technologies for restricting the use of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works. DRM technologies try to control the use, modification, and distribution of copyrighted works (such as software and multimedia content), as well as systems within devices that enforce these policies.”

The use of digital rights management is not universally accepted, and when it comes to accessibility issues it gets even more complicated.  Proponents of DRM argue that it is necessary to prevent intellectual property from being copied freely, just as physical locks are needed to prevent personal property from being stolen and that it can help the copyright holder maintain artistic control. These are real and valid points.

Those opposed to DRM contend there is no evidence that DRM helps prevent copyright infringement, arguing instead that it serves only to inconvenience legitimate customers, and that DRM helps big business stifle innovation and competition. Also true in many ways.

It is very important to balance the need (and legal requirement) to create accessible digital media products with the rights of the creators.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) consider the use of DRM systems to be an anti-competitive practice, a good indication that the topic is complicated. The key to accessible digital publishing products is to find a fair balance between the right of creators to control their work with the right of people with disabilities to access the same information as the non-disabled.

Digital publishers should make sure that any DRM protocol that may be applied to a particular title or document does not inhibit the accessibility of that title. Often even though a title may be accessible, those very features that make a document accessible can be negated by DRM features.

DRM can restrict accessibility technology, preventing users from reading the content of protected titles. At present, many screen reader manufacturers do not want to pay the annual licensing fees that are required to become integrated with industry standard DRMs, so offering a file with DRM can therefore render the content completely inaccessible.  Digital publishers should monitor DRM developments carefully and understand their impact on accessibility.

Worldwide, many laws have been created which criminalize the circumvention of DRM. These laws are part of the United States’ Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the European Union’s Copyright Directive.