If you remember the dawn of the internet you know as a matter of fact DRM is evil. That the free and open standards-based internet is the complete opposite of everything DRM stands for. And I am here to tell you that is wrong. DRM is the Future.

So let’s start this off with a Quick refresher on DRM.

What is DRM?

DRM is digital rights management, and it basically is designed to prevent you from doing things with content that the person who created or currently owns the rights to the content does not want you to do with their content.

In general the limits they want to put in place are one of these things.

List of DRM Design Goals and Features

  • It can only be seen by certain people
  • It can only be viewed for a limited window of time
  • It can only be viewed for a certain number of views
  • It cannot be copied
  • It cannot be forwarded
  • It cannot be screenshotted
  • It can only be seen in certain geographic locations
  • It is encrypted
  • It has record of ownership
  • It ensures payment to the creators

In theory it makes sure that creators can be paid for the work they did to create the content or information.

Why did DRM fail in version 1.0 of the Internet?

Well you can read lots of articles and posts on that topic. For me the basic problem was that it was not used to protect Digital Rights, but that the initial implementations were designed to slow down internet adoption and prevent digitization and disruption of existing business models. In other words, it was designed to break things, and it was reactionary.

They were inherently anti-digital media and pro-physical media. They gave almost no credit to users to allow fair use, backup of physical media, format transcoding (I already bought the CD, and I want to listen to it on my MP3 player while I go running). And if they did somehow sell a digital version. They were often designed to mimic the worst features of physical media.

On the DVD video side, things were just as badly managed. Digital video in addition to the limits on the Digital Audio side also placed limits on the systems and screens you could play back video. Concerned with people screen-scraping or recording the video output once their DRM and Encryption (DCSS) had been decoded, Digital Video DRM systems would not play unless the video output from the device was encrypted all the way to the screen. So you needed to have a TV set that could accept encrypted video signals! Thats right, with HDCP You needed to buy a new TV or your Digital Video would not play when connected to your computer.

The end result was a lot of systems designed by lawyers in a boardroom and not by users or technologists. And history is littered with failures of DRM technologies along the way.

  • DivX, the original intentional crippled DVD competitor launched by Circuit City, not to be confused with DivX the open source video player.
  • Sony/BMG DRM Root kit scandal where they basically implemented their CD/MP3 solution as a virus that was injected like a boot sector virus that could not be uninstalled.
  • All the way to present with the Xbox One Always on phone hometo secure game rights DRM.

If you chose not to play along with these heavy DRM schemes, you had to essentially break the law to “Rip a CD” or DeCSS a DVD. And of course the response there was lawsuits from most famously the RIAA. And factor in file sharing sites like Napster that took up the void left by a legitimate lack of legal online sources for digital music.

And many more. The end result was a general lack of trust around media companies in general and DRM in particular.

It went on roughly like this until Apple was able to create a DRM with the original iTunes store that was generous enough to the end users to allow for most common uses, and was profitable enough to get the Record labels to stop fighting the digital conversion. It also relaunched Apple as a major force, and created the iPod dynasty.

And fittingly Steve Jobs essentially killed the DRM era with his open letter “Thoughts on Music” in 2007, capping off a roughly 10 year battle between the record labels and their customers and firms like Napster.

RIP DRM. Long live the open free internet!

Well, kinda.

So As I write this roughly 10 years past the Steve Jobs letter that ended the DRM battles of Web 1.0, it looks to me like DRM is back and stronger than before.

I would say it started with Facebook. Facebook is NOT an open internet content company. It is all about managing access to content. Facebook is a walled garden to the rest of the internet, but more than it is walled internally.

If DRM is evil, why would people pick Facebook over hosting their family pictures and thoughts on a family website? Simple Answer, nobody in Russia needs to see pictures of my kids. I have about 50 family members that I want to share stuff with, the other 7 Billion people on the planet need to NOT SEE that stuff.

And that is the first point I want to make.

DRM RULE 1: Content Creators want DRM: As we start creating our own content, we care more about who can see it and when.

But facebook is still fairly limited in its DRM options, and as people started losing jobs and scholarships due to social media stalking by employers and schools, the need for more and better DRM options grew.

And we see the next wave of social media companies have that. Look at this comparison between snapchat and Facebook vs the DRM list at the top of this article.

You can see that snapchat adds a TON of DRM features that are not available on Facebook. And if you look at twitter it looks a lot like Facebook in terms of DRM assumptions. If you look at Telegram and the new iMessages or group chat tools, we see more and more snapchat like DRM. The more we create content the more we will want and demand DRM.

Think about it this way the current generation is not accepting the limits of the internet that we built in the 90’s and 00’s which leads me to point two driving the future with DRM.

DRM RULE 2: The old rule for posting things on the internet “If you put something on the internet assume everyone can see it and it never goes away” is no longer good enough.

My generation just accepted that. The current millennial and Gen Z do not accept that. Think about the celebrity photo hacking scandal. If digital photography had DRM like the checklist I laid out above where all those controls on visibility and distribution were baked into the system, then people could create content without fear of real invasion of privacy.

Same thing for revenge porn issues. And now add in reuse of images for fake porn with apps like deepfakes where with 500 of our publicly available images that program could be used for internet scale programatic extortion.

But again as more and more of us create content, especially private content that we want control of. All of us now need to start facing the issues that the RIAA and MPAA were dealing with in the late 90’s.

That leads me to the next trend that will drive DRM, fake photos and videos.

DRM RULE 3. The easier fake digital media is to create, the more important signed and verified content will become.

This ties in with the celebrity hacking in some ways, but goes well beyond that. The standard of truth will need to be a digital file that is encrypted and signed and probably with a hash logged to a public block chain to prove that an image we see has not been altered and was taken where and when it claims to be.

We are quickly approaching the end of the uncanny valley for fake videos. Here you can see the latest where audio is synched with different video for President Obama. Take that with other audio generation demos like this one from adobe (be sure to watch until at least 2:40).

To have any chance of trusting things we do not see with our own eyes. And to prevent our own private photos from being remixed into non-consensual mashups companies like Cannon, Nikon, Apple and Google will need to encrypt, location stamp, date and time stamp, Digitally sign and log verification hashes for all photos and videos we take. And browser will need to have “fake image” checking added as an option.

Without that ability to trust the media we are presented with has not been altered or tampered with, we will be in for a very very long decade.

The last trend I think that will drive DRM is monetization.

DRM RULE 4: As our content get monetized, we will demand compensation and auditing for all our content.

My kids list “be a youtuber” as a career aspiration. And based on the numbers I have seen, the top youtubers do quite well. But outside of Google handling the monetization and running the books, there is not much yet that has proven successful for creators to earn a real living.

I have tried out Paetron and that works for some people but doesn’t really work for all creators very well.

A friend of mine shot a video of a room service delivery robot at a hotel he was staying at. The video went viral. And he got offers from news outlets for exclusive rights to the video. That is a source beyond youtube, but again not something to build a career or a new economy from.


DRM failed in web 1.0, because it was all about fighting the internet. DRM will succeed in web 3.0 because in the last 10-20 years we have become creators. In the next 10-20 years we will all be creators at some level, and the creator economy will demand functional efficient DRM and commerce transactions.

If you want to be successful there, you will need to clear your mind of the lessons you learned from 1997-2007. The new wave of social media users and apps already has.