Digital Rights Management in the United States and Europe

Posted: 9 Jun 2005


Over the last ten years, legislators and courts worldwide have created a comprehensive legal framework surrounding Digital Rights Management (DRM). Starting from a description of the technologies underlying DRM, the article analyzes the implications of this legal framework in the U.S. and the European Union. Compared to other contributions in the field, the article stresses that the real innovation of DRM systems is not the protection of content by technology or some other means of protection alone. Rather, it is the intertwining of different means of protection (technology, contracts, technology licenses, anti-circumvention regulations and traditional copyright protection) that leads to the unique problems of DRM. Furthermore, the article analyzes several patent and know how license agreements that deal with DRM technologies in detail.

The article demonstrates that, both in the U.S. and the European Union, this intertwining of different means of protection may lead to a new property right making copyright protection obsolete. It also highlights that there is a danger of over-protection: questions of fair use and droit d'auteur limitations to traditional copyright law have to be addressed. If competition is not able to solve this tension between the interests of content providers and the interests of users or the society at large - which seems doubtful at least - it is the law that must provide a solution. The article analyzes and compares the different solutions the U.S., the European Union and Germany have adopted concerning the relationship between copyright limitations and the protection by technology, contracts, and technology licenses. In particular, the article compares the solutions provided in 1201 of the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 and Art. 6 (4) of the European Copyright Directive of 2001.

Keywords: Digital rights management, copyright, Digital Millennium Copyright Act, European Copyright Directive

JEL Classification: O38

Suggested Citation

Bechtold, Stefan, Digital Rights Management in the United States and Europe. Available at SSRN:

Stefan Bechtold (Contact Author)

ETH Zürich ( email )

IFW E 47.2
Zurich, 8092
+41-44-632-2670 (Phone)


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