Another DAM Blog

Blog about Digital Asset Management


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Can Digital Asset Management reduce liability?

During one of the many DAM events, a fellow Digital Asset Management (DAM) professional stopped me and asked whether I believe part of our job was to minimize liability within an organization. I answered yes. In fact, there are plenty of reasons why that is true and why organizations use this (in part) as another justification to acquire, implement and use Digital Asset Management properly:

  • The general nature of sharing digital assets within the organization (minimizing the cost of re-acquiring or re-creating assets) along with the permission structure per role/group (self-regulation) which can make digital assets known to many people and accessible only to those who should be able to use them (access control).
  • Use of Digital Asset Management with Rights Management for each use of a digital asset (yes, more than one use per digital asset can increase ROI) and can be part of a business plan.
  • Minimize the piles of work for general counsel (lawyers) by significantly reduce the amount of:
    • copyright infringements (where is the link to these contracts and terms as metadata?)
    • usage rights violations (where is the link to these contracts and terms as metadata?)
    • property/model release violations  (where is the link to these contracts and terms as metadata?)
    • over extensions of talent contracts (where are talent contract expiration dates kept and are they linked to the assets they appear in?)
    • mergers and acquisition of unusable digital assets which can represent a major loss in value (those assets could have been migrated into a DAM)
    • Paperwork (PDF is an ISO standard. PDF with good OCR is your friend. Paper is not a digital asset. PDFs often appear as digital assets in a DAM.)
  • Simplified discovery and internal disclosure of what assets were created vs. acquired for the purposes of rights management (a big liability per use of a licensed digital asset if not cared for properly). See US copyright law and digital millenium act when it comes to laws within the US. There is no international copyright law. Not surprising, but laws and regulations can vary per country. It is also not a secret that large media vendors are making a lot of  money pursuing violators once the fees exceed a certain financial threshold before turning on legal action since it can cost fair amount to do this in the first place. Yes, lawsuits are still one of America’s favorite indoor sports. However, many infringements and violations are settled out of court to avoid negative publicity and additional fees. In full disclosure, I am not lawyer nor have I studied law. I do know how to read though.
  • Information about digital assets and all of their usage (where and how these are used by the organization) should be clear and documented with the assets in the DAM. Tracking the assets can help as well. Here is a podcast interview where we touch on these points.
  • Many of these reasons save green. How much less time is being burned in searching and finding appropriate information in a centralized database with references to the source of the digital asset? What is that amount of time worth to an organization? What is that time worth when it comes to reducing the time to market for many digital assets in many media formats to be delivered across different marketing and sales channels nationally or even globally? Forget physical delivery of marketing materials which can be outdated or misprinted (another liability which can be managed/corrected through digital delivery…not email) by the time a new product or service is released publicly (and when it should be released).

As Digital Asset Management professionals, we are regularly in contact with legal entities because clients sometimes require guidance from a SME (like myself) on technical details and contracts which are sometimes written by a vendor to the client’s disadvantage. Some organizations vet all agreements through their legal counsel prior to signing them. While many attorneys can catch the bulk of the issues in a contract, technical details are something where they may require an experienced SME’s eye to catch technical issues, clarify into understandable English and help guide them to a more favorable position.

If you need vendor neutral assistance or advice on how to reduce liability with Digital Asset Management, let us know.

If you work with Digital Asset Management on daily basis, how do you reduce your organization’s liability with digital assets?


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Can a DAM handle Rights Managed assets?


Many organizations license Rights Managed (RM) assets such as photographs from vendors like Corbis or Getty Images. Many organizations do not manage these licensed assets well nor keep track of when they expire.

The Stock Artist Alliance (SAA) reported “…nine out of every ten images [were] unauthorized uses.”

Many of these ‘unauthorized uses’ involve Rights Managed assets.

This is a legal liability for many businesses and there is very little done about this issue today. There is little awareness about this issue and the widespread education about Rights Management is abysmal. There are a handful of associations who try, but have such as limited audience and even less people listening to what they have to say about Rights Management.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) solutions try, but do not resolve these issues. Why? Rights Management is about knowing:

  • Can you use/reuse this asset?
  • What rights do you have to the asset?
  • Where can you use the asset?
  • How long can you use the asset?
  • How can you use the asset with the license(s) you acquire?

DRM attempts to do this by simply trying to limit the use of the asset.

There are so many ways DRM often fails to work. For starters, DRM technology rarely remains intact when an asset is copied, renamed or reformatted. Creators of content such as movies, music and photographs are the most common victims to suffer from this type of theft and result in huge losses in sales. This is because DRM technologies are fighting an almost fruitless battle. The money it costs to pursue offenders must vastly out weight the possible royalties and money to be regained in a law suit.

Giulio Prisco, chief executive of Metafuturing Second Life, formerly of CERN said “You cannot stop a tide with a spoon. Cracking technology will always be several steps ahead of DRM and content will be redistributed on anonymous networks.”

Very few DRM track the use of the assets. A few technologies track the illegal uses of the assets after the fact and report this back to the content owners. Then again, do the owners of the content and licensors even know where these assets are supposed to appear? Good record keeping on all sides is part of the solution here.

Rights Management can be quite complex. Many people simply do not understand rights management. Anyone ordering rights managed assets from a vendor must understand licensing and copyright. Otherwise, this is a liability to the organization and ignorance is not an excuse.

Rights Managed (RM) assets are negotiated and licensed, not purchased, with finite terms which may include:

  • Where the asset can be distributed (geographically)?
  • How the asset can be distributed (in what media)?
  • How can the asset be used (on the home page, cover of a book, inside,etc)?
  • Where will the asset be used in the media?
  • How many people will receive or see the asset?
  • How long will the asset be used?
  • What size will the asset be used?
  • How much of the asset will be used?
  • Who can access the asset?
  • Is this exclusive or non-exclusive to the organization?
  • Are there other restrictions from the creator, licensor or vendor?
  • Are there any third party rights?

Can a DAM handle Rights Managed assets? This is far more than simply an issue of storing Rights Managed assets in a DAM and associating some metadata which state the terms of the asset. Most Rights Managed assets can not even be archived if they are not currently licensed. A few vendors do not even want you to archive the asset at all, so check with the vendor/licensor directly. If you have Rights Managed assets, what system do you have in place which will:

  • Warn you before the license expires?
  • Tell you who contact when you renew the license?
  • What are the licensing terms are/were?
  • How much you paid and when?
  • Track how and where an asset has been used?

This is part of good record keeping.

What if you have multiple licenses for the same asset used different ways? This is getting complex, isn’t it? A highly customized DAM could do this for your organization. Or you could have another system to handle just the licensing separate from  the assets themselves. I would recommend one centralized system instead of separate systems do each task which can be even more costly and time consuming.

It is possible to store licensed Rights Managed (RM) assets in a DAM, but major customizations are often required.

In order to use a DAM for this, the DAM would need to track every use of every RM asset ordered out of the DAM. If an asset can be ordered from the DAM, it can be tracked by the DAM with a record of what has been used where. Some DAMs can apply licensing information into the embedded metadata. There are a few DAM systems which can even apply DRM to an outbound asset (we talked about DRM though). The idea is the DAM order must include how and where the asset will be used. The DAM can act as a central repository for all assets as well as the rights management information. This information can be relayed to the vendor for the proper licensing each and every time. There are workflows to accomplish this.

The good news is that in the past years, more of the market has become Royalty Free and DRM-free. That does not directly affect what you have licensed to date  though. Much of historic content that is not public domain hangs on to the Rights Managed model of doing business. After all , it is a bit hard to recreate history after it happened.

So how is your organization handling the licenses of Rights Managed assets today?