What is a DRM license?

After the cinema halls and outdoor entertainment shut down due to Covid-19, the OTT sector registered an explosive growth. The industry leaders acquired a new subscriber base by offering liberal user policy in new business territories. However, this throws a challenge to OTT platforms, as it can lead to piracy, which causes revenue drain of unimaginable proportions. The digital rights management (DRM) technology helps OTT platforms enforce copyright limitations and control piracy.

The DRM technology operates through licensing conditions which are issued by DRM technology providers, like Google, which protects video content through its Widevine DRM. Under the DRM technology, a piece of content, also known as a payload or video asset, is encrypted into multiple blocks using an AES 128-bit key. This content becomes redundant for the purpose of piracy unless it is decrypted using the encryption key. The AES encryption key is managed by a licensing server. When the client device issues a playback request, the OTT platform checks user credentials and requests the DRM licensing server to issue the encryption key securely to the client, which lets the client decrypt the video asset.

The licensing condition for DRM video protection can contain user information that fits the business logic of the OTT platform. For example, it can have information about the number of simultaneous devices a video asset can be played on, the duration for which a video asset is available (this feature is used in live events), the video resolution that a device is allowed to access, etc. The DRM encryption key can have information about the interval after which a newer key is required to decrypt the next block of the video asset. This feature is particularly useful to control piracy, since major Hollywood studios do not allow the access to the whole high-resolution video asset in one go. Even if a pirate manages to access one encryption key, they would still need many more such keys to obtain the whole video asset.

It should be noted that a DRM license for a Microsoft-ready device is different from, say, an Apple device for the same video asset, since the devices need to communicate with different licensing servers – the PlayReady server in the case of Microsoft and the FairPlay server for the Apple device – and have different device IDs even if the user ID is the same. It is for this reason – and ease of packaging video assets – that most OTT platforms go with a multi-DRM SaaS provider and effectively address device fragmentation.

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