5 Reasons to Avoid Using DRM On Your Site

When it comes to content theft issues, every one is looking for a magic bullet. We all want that one solution that can make the problem go away and keep us from ever having to worry about where our content gets used again.

Unfortunately, there is no magic solution. If one did exist, Plagiarism Today would not be here and there would not be thousands, possibly millions, of content creators having their works lifted right now.

However, this doesn’t stop people from trying and the DRM crowd loves to talk about disabling right click, preventing text selection or embedding copy into images as viable means to prevent people from stealing your content.

Sadly though, these techniques can only, at best, slow the rate of content theft, not stop it. Worse still, they can be very disruptive to your site and, over the long run, will do nothing to actually protect your content.

But if you think it can’t hurt anything to try it and need a good reason not to, I’ll do four better and give you five.

Top Five

There are many reasons not to use DRM on your site, but here are five ways that it can directly sabotage your Web presence and the very work you are trying to protect:

  1. Search Engine Issues: If you embed your content into an image or use a strange script to protect your content from being copied, you could also be protecting it from the search engines since search engine spiders don’t have all the capabilities of a modern browser. The end result is that no one will steal your content because no one will be able to find it. If you insist on using DRM, at least do a search engine spider check and see if your content is still visible to crawlers.
  2. Accessibility: Users who are visually impaired can be hindered from visiting your site by embedding text into images and by certain script-based tricks. In addition to potentially being a violation of the law, this can put off a very sizable segment of the population that are, by in large, very heavy Internet users.
  3. Mobile Browsing: With cell phones and PDAs being used increasingly to browse the Web, it is important to think about access from them. They often lack advanced javascript features and can not display large images. DRM tricks designed for the desktop world can sabotage mobile viewing, making your site completely unreadable on portable devices.
  4. Usability: Large Web companies often invest tens of thousands of dollars trying to find out how to make their sites easier to use. However, DRM universally sabotages usability by punishing users for doing things that are natural to them including right click to go back, selecting text to hold their place and changing fonts to make the text easier to read. Though some DRM might be invisible to the user, it is pretty much impossible for DRM to actually help them.
  5. Networking: If you want to encourage other sites to link to you and include you in their articles, they are going to need to gain access to small portions of your content. Unfortunately, DRM is mostly an all-or-nothing approach so sites can not copy quotes for legitimate use. This encourages Webmasters to look for other resources for their articles.

If these seem like serious drawbacks, that is because they are. DRM can cripple an otherwise good site and all of what amounts to almost no improvement in the security of one’s content.

The irony of the situation is that, if one is posting their content to a blog and distributing it through an RSS feed, it is most likely the case that the vast majority of content theft is taking place through that feed and not the site itself. In those situations, putting DRM on the site does not address the bulk of the issue.

This is not to say that DRM has no place at all on the Web. I’ve seen some very limited applications when dealing with images that made sense, such as ones that open in their own popup window, but the application is far more limited than any of the fans of DRM seem to be ready to admit.

Digital Rights Assignment

Eliminate DRMRather than trying to manage digital rights through technology, others have taken to digital rights assignment. These techniques instead focus on attaching Copyright Management Information (CMI) and trying to ensure that the information travels with it.

Examples of this include watermarks on images, copyright notices in RSS feeds and Numly numbers on articles. These methods are far less intrusive to users of the site and can provide some protection against misuse by both offering clear licenses for the work to be used under and a means to track it as it is passed around on the Web.

Though these techniques may not stop all content theft, they are not designed to. They instead provide readers, copyright holders and users of the work information about the work and let the copyright holder decide if and how to act on an infringement.


DRM, for the most part, is a fool’s errand. Movie studios and record labels have invest millions of dollars in DRM systems to protect their DVDs and CDs. They’ve planted rootkits on people’s computers and have put DRM directly into the operating systems we use.

Yet, at every turn, those DRM schemes have been defeated, often with explosive consequences. If the greatest minds in computers, with decades of experience in encryption and security, can not produce a viable DRM scheme, what chance does a few lines of code on a Web page have?

DRM doesn’t work and using it can cripple your Web site and hinder your legitimate users. If we’re going to move forward to a better Web for all artists, we need to accept that and focus on techniques that produce results.

Fortunately, such techniques already exist, they just aren’t the pretty “magic bullets” everyone wishes they were.

Anti-DRM Image by Nim and is used under a Creative Commons License

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