In recent years, the big question surrounding digital rights management (DRM) software in publishing has been whether or not publishers should use it at all. But with its new offering, the Sony User Rights Management System (URMS), Sony is betting that better DRM can change the narrative.
Sony is not new to the DRM business—it has a strong 15-year history, primarily in gaming, and entertainment media. But, according to Spiros Rally, v-p at Sony DADC DigitalWorks, after publishers reached out to the company about a solution for e-books, Sony decided to take a fresh approach, evaluating the publishing DRM market “from scratch,” to see where it could add value. So, how did Sony set about improving DRM for publishers? First, with greater flexibility. “DRM is just technology,” Rally says, adding that “most of the problems we see with DRM are more about business rules.” To that end, Sony built its URMS to support many different types of business cases, including lending, gifting, sharing, or “if the business rules allow it,” even reselling an e-book. And, he adds, the DRM is manageable on a title-level, allowing for a wider array of opportunities.
Of course, the Sony URMS also offers superior content protection, Rally says. The URMS is “renewable,” meaning that if the DRM is cracked—and all DRM will be at some point, he stresses—quick updates plug holes. And with the URMS, publishers don’t have to send unencrypted files to retailers or other distribution partners, closing a worrisome hole in some DRM products now on the market.
For consumers, the goal is for them “not to know that the DRM is there.” To that end, no special log-in credentials are required—buy the e-book, and that’s it—no need for a separate Adobe ID, for example. The system also offers a feature called “common bookshelf,” where users can combine content from several sources, and the DRM can easily allow for multiple devices. Rally also stresses the DRM’s design: the software is Marlin-based. “It’s an open system,” Rally says, “It’s not a closed system like Adobe, where it’s one company. That’s a key benefit. ”
Sony is targeting the corporate, library and educational markets, where the URMS product could help with a number of current issues—for example, sharing in classroom settings. But the solution will likely be attractive for trade publishers, too, as their digital businesses mature and diversify.
“We’re not pretending we’re going to replace proprietary systems at Amazon and Apple,” Rally says. “However, we do think that we offer a powerful alternative for trade publishing in the library space, and around direct-to-consumer sales.”