There is a nice primer on DRM technologies on wikepedia, although I think some of the information may be dated. Basically, DRM (which stands for “Digital Rights Management”) refers to technology that allows the publisher of certain content to place restrictions on said content, inhibiting unsanctioned reproduction and transmission of said content. It can be applied to virtually anything digital: from music to movies, from computer games to e-books. Obviously, our interest here is in e-books.
Here’s an old post written by an DRM opponent. At times, it almost sounds like paranoid delusions, but it does raise some very good points (and perhaps, computers should be a cause for paranoia).
Anyway, here’s the issue in a nutshell. You can write a book over the course of a year or two, slaving away, toiling day in and day out to dress it up in elegant prose, make your characters multi-dimensional and full of all-too-human charm, devise ever-more intricate plot twists and turns to produce the next literary masterpiece. And all that effort and work can be encapsulated in a few thousand kilobytes of data storage, whereupon it can be copied almost instantly by the click of a mouse. It is so easy to copy digital information. In fact, it is too easy.
Enter DRM. DRM is an attempt by the big media and technology companies to protect the intellectual property of authors and other artists from exploitation by unprincipled people who want to consume their works without rewarding them for their efforts. Unfortunately, the solution is a bit of an Orwellian bear. The classic example of overreach occurred when Amazon remotely deleted copies of (ironically) George Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm” (again, see the Wikipedia link for further details).
The fear, and it is a legitimate concern, is that the big technology and media corporations like Apple and Amazon and others, will gain access and control over more and more aspects of our digital lives through the use of DRM. Do I really want someone from Amazon snooping around my computer, or setting up software that will snoop around my computer automatically (which is far more likely), in the name of DRM? The potential for abuse is nearly unlimited.
But I, as a writer, still want to be paid for my work. And as competition drives the prices of e-books lower and lower, I am filled with increasing concern that I’ll never be able to make a living at what I love to do; so, every sale counts.
In the end, I think I must rely on the goodness of strangers (I know that sounds cheesy). But really, I think most people are generally good and most people will generally choose to pay for an e-book if they are aware of the relevant issues, particularly if the e-book is priced reasonably. So, I think the potential abuse of DRM is the greater evil here. Even though I am a writer, I think DRM should go.
That appears to be the way the tide is shifting, anyway. Check this out.