Here are answers to some common questions about digital rights management (DRM), media usage rights, and protected Windows Media files. If you don't see your question listed here, see Windows Media Player FAQ.

Show all

What is DRM?

DRM stands for digital rights management. DRM is a technology used by content providers, such as online stores, to control how the digital music and video files you obtain from them are used and distributed. Online stores sell and rent songs and movies that have DRM applied to them.

Windows Media Player as well as most online stores and new devices support or use Windows Media Digital Rights Management 10 (DRM 10). For more information about devices that support Windows Media DRM, see the Find devices webpage.

What is a protected file?

A protected file is a file that has DRM applied to it.

What are media usage rights?

Media usage rights are permissions to use a protected file in a particular way. Content providers, such as online stores, can specify how you can use the protected files that you obtain from them. For example, a content provider can grant you the permission to play the file on your computer (a play right), to burn the file to an audio CD (a burn right), or to sync the file to a portable device (a sync right).

Each right can have certain qualities. For example, the content provider might grant you the following usage rights:

  • The right to play a particular song on your computer an unlimited number of times

  • The right to sync that song to two portable devices five times per month

  • The right to burn the song to an audio CD twice

Are media usage rights stored in the audio or video file?

No. Media usage rights are stored on your computer separately from your audio or video files. For information about how to view the usage rights of a protected file, see the question in this topic about finding out how you are allowed to use a protected file.

What is a license?

A license is another name for media usage rights.

How does the Player use media usage rights?

When you try to use a protected file in the Player, the Player checks to see if you have valid media usage rights installed on your computer. If the media usage rights permit you to perform the action that you have requested (for example, synchronizing the file to a device), the Player performs that action for you.

If the Player does not find valid media usage rights on your computer or if they do not permit you to perform the action that you have requested, the Player does not perform the action. Typically, the Player will either display an error message that indicates why it could not perform the action or it will display an Error button Picture of the Error button or an Information button Picture of the Information button beside the protected file that you can click or hover over for more information.

How do I download media usage rights?

In most cases, you don't need to worry about downloading media usage rights. The Player usually downloads them automatically when necessary.

However, there may be times when the Player cannot download media usage rights for you. In these cases, the Player typically displays a message that indicates what your options are. Just follow the instructions on the screen.

If the Player directs you to an online store, you might be required to enter your account name and password to proceed. The online store might require you to update your billing information or to pay a fee to download additional usage rights, such as the right to burn a song to an audio CD.

Note that the Player cannot download media usage rights automatically if the Download usage rights automatically when I play or sync a file option is turned off (by default, it is turned on). To verify that it is turned on, do the following:

  1. Click the arrow below the Now Playing tab, click More Options, and then click the Privacy tab.

  2. Verify that the Download usage rights automatically when I play or sync a file check box is selected.

In addition, if you subscribe to a music or video subscription service through an online store, it is recommended that you turn on the Automatically check if protected files need to be refreshed option (by default, it is turned on). When this option is turned on, the Player will periodically scan your library for purchased and subscription files that are missing media usage rights, files that have expired rights, or files that have rights that are about to expire. The Player will then try to download the rights from the Internet. This helps improve the playback, burn, and sync experiences with purchased and subscription files. To verify that this option is turned on, do the following:

  1. Click the arrow below the Now Playing tab, click More Options, and then click the Privacy tab.

  2. Verify that the Automatically check if protected files need to be refreshed check box is selected.

If your computer is missing all the media usage rights for files that you have obtained from an online store, the store might offer a way to restore them. For more information, see the question in this topic about how to restore media usage rights.

How do I tell whether a file is protected?

There are several ways to tell whether a file is protected:

  • If you are in the library and you want to see which items are protected, you can display the Protected column in the Details pane. "Yes" appears in the Protected column beside each file that is protected. To sort by the value in the Protected column, click the column name.

    For information about changing the columns that are displayed in the library, see Change how you display items in the library.

  • If you are playing a file that you have downloaded to your computer, right-click the item in the List pane, click Properties, and then click the Media Usage Rights tab. If the file is protected, the license terms appear in the Media usage rights box. If nothing appears in the Media usage rights box, either the file is not protected, the file is protected but the usage rights are not present on your computer, or you are playing a file that is being streamed to your computer over the Internet (for example, you are playing subscription content directly from an online store's website).

How do I find out how I am allowed to use a protected file?

The content provider specifies what usage rights it grants to you. To view the usage rights of a protected file, do the following:

  1. In the Player, click the Library tab.

  2. In the Details pane, right-click a protected file, and then click Properties.

  3. Click the Media Usage Rights tab.

    The usage rights are indicated in the Media usage rights box. If no information appears in the Media usage rights box, it might be due to one of the following reasons:

    • Your computer is missing the media usage rights for the file.

    • The media usage rights for the file have expired.

    • The file is not protected.

    • The file has not been downloaded to your computer. For example, the file might be subscription content that is streamed to your computer from an online store.

What's the difference between purchased and subscription content?

Purchased content refers to audio or video files that you obtain from an online store for a one-time fee. For example, when you purchase a song, most online stores grant you the right to play, burn, or sync the song with few or no restrictions.

Subscription content refers to audio or video files that you rent from an online store, typically for a monthly fee. For example, when you rent a song, most online stores grant you the right to play the song for a specific period of time. Some stores also grant you the right to sync the song to a portable device a limited number of times. No stores grant you the right to burn subscription songs to an audio CD. If you choose not to renew your subscription after the rental period ends, you will no longer be able to play or sync that subscription content.

To determine if a file that you've downloaded to your computer is purchased or subscription content, view the media usage rights of the file. Subscription files typically have expiration dates noted in the Media usage rights box. For more information about viewing usage rights, see the question in this topic about how to find out how you are allowed to use protected files.

In some cases, you can also identify purchased and subscription content by showing the Keywords column in the library. For information about how to show this column, see Change how you display items in the library.

For more information about using online stores, see Shop online.

Can I remove DRM from a file?

No. Once DRM has been applied to a file, DRM can't be removed from it.

If you ripped a CD with the Copy protect music option turned on, those files are protected. Although you can't remove DRM from those files, you can delete those files and then rip the CD again with the Copy protect music option turned off.

For more information about copy protection and ripping, see Rip music: frequently asked questions.

What is personal copy protection?

When you rip a CD, you have the option of copy protecting the ripped files so that the files can only be played on a limited number of computers. This process is sometimes referred to as personal copy protection to differentiate it from the "standard" copy protection that online stores use for the files that they offer. Personal copy protection and standard copy protection both use DRM to restrict how the files can be used. However, in the case of personal copy protection, you are considered the content provider of the files (as opposed to an online store). For more information about copy protecting CDs that you rip, see Rip music: frequently asked questions.

How do I back up my media usage rights?

This version of the Player does not permit you to back up your media usage rights. However, depending upon where your protected files came from, you might be able to restore your rights over the Internet. For more information, see the question in this topic about how to restore your media usage rights.

How do I restore my media usage rights?

If you encounter an error message that indicates you are missing play, burn, or sync rights for a file and you had these rights previously, you might be able to resolve the problem by restoring your media usage rights. You have several options to do so:

  • If you obtained the file from an online store, the store might offer media usage rights (license) restoration (some stores refer to this procedure as computer activation, computer authorization, library restoration, or license synchronization).

    The procedure for restoring your rights varies from store to store. For some stores, you can click the arrow below the Online Stores tab, point to the store name, and then click a command such as Restore My Library. For other stores, you might need to click Browse all Online Stores, click the store in the list, install the store software, and then click a customer service or account management link on that store's page.

    The store might limit the number of times that you can restore your rights or limit the number of computers on which can use the songs or videos that you obtain from them. Some stores do not permit you to restore media usage rights at all. For details about the store's policies, see the store's customer support or Help links.

    For more information about using protected files and online stores, see Windows Media Player FAQ.

  • If the file is a song you ripped from a CD with the Copy protect music option turned on, you might be able to restore your usage rights by playing the file. You will be prompted to connect to a Microsoft webpage that explains how to restore your rights a limited number of times.