DRM added to Android Marketplace to combat app piracy

Google confirmed a new anti-piracy digital rights management (DRM) service as some Android developers voice concerns related to licensing and piracy issues.

The internet server based DRM is now available for all apps designed for Android 1.5 or later, Google confirmed.  The Mountain View-based search giant plans to continue working with developers and Android app users to try and find a fair middleground so that the addition of added security doesn’t frustrate users.

DRM added to Android Marketplace to combat app piracy

The idea behind the DRM is to use real-time protection to help ward off unauthorized use of apps.  In theory, developers will be able to receive app status details immediately after a user downloads and uses an app.

“At run time, with the inclusion of a set of libraries provided by us, your application can query the Android Market licensing server to determine the license status of your users,” said Eric Chu, Google Android Developer Ecosystem official, in a recent blog post.

It’s a difficult situation Google is trying to work through:  DRM, which may help protect intellectual property rights, has obvious drawbacks.  Most consumers think negatively of DRM and will compare it to a closed off system, which Google has avoided by being as open as possible.

Another major concern with this scheme is the possibility of the licensing servers dropping unexpectedly, which could cause apps to become crippled and unusable since the DRM check would not work.  We’ve seen this type of server based DRM cause many issues in the past.

Assuming Google’s DRM doesn’t prove overly intrusive and it doesn’t cause issues due to server downtime, it’s likely that Android users will accept the new “feature” with little complaints. Even so, it’s disheartening to think about a smartphone application that might not work if it can’t check-in with a licensing server.