Do you have the rights?

Do you have the rights?

The propagation of digital assets could expose careless marketers to damaging litigation.

The exponential growth in digital assets (photos, video and audio) is seen by most publishers, broadcasters and advertisers as a huge opportunity to build their brand. As people increasingly shift away from traditional media consumption patterns, it’s giving brands of all kinds the chance to fulfil consumers’ voracious appetite for digital entertainment, information and social media interaction, whenever and wherever they want it. As a result, organisations have the chance to engage and converse on a deeper level than ever before.  

The scale of digital assets is vast. The most up-to-date figures from AOL/Nielsen (2013) how that 27 million pieces of content are shared every day, and it can only be assumed that this has shifted significantly upwards in the past two years. Not only is this giving companies a headache in terms of how to manage the sheer scale of the assets they are producing, it is also opening them up to a potential litigious nightmare too.

How so? For any organisation using, sharing or creating digital assets there are a number of issues. Every piece of professionally created digital content is likely to be sold on the basis of a number of specific usage restrictions. You may only have the right to use it for a specified time period; you may be restricted in terms of where you can use it – perhaps in print but not online; often there are geographical limitations about where it can be used; and so on.

For instance, any brands using models or celebrities – or imagery bought from photographers – need to understand how they are allowed to use the images. For publishers and broadcasters the same is true for TV series licensed from abroad or syndicated articles. In any of these instances, there are likely to be rights issues around their use. Far too many people are flouting these – often it’s a case of not understanding them, but unfortunately ignorance is not an excuse.  

Tracking and implementing these permissions across a big organisation can be difficult. A number of different departments may be buying or using assets for different reasons and there may be no central repository for them.

Other organisations do track them, but do so manually. This is a laborious and mind-numbing task. It’s better than not having a system at all but is still less than ideal; for instance, when permissions expire it often goes unchecked and assets continue to be used.

If it sounds like a minefield, it is – and it’s getting worse. Did you know, for example, that proposed EU rules might make it illegal to publish your own photos of famous landmarks, such as the London Eye, without permission from the copyright holder?

However, marketing automation technology provides a way to manage and control digital asset rights in the form of a Digital Asset Management (DAM) system. A DAM system, such as WoodWing’s Elvis, will also create a workflow so that gaining, tracking and acting on permissions becomes part of an automatic process. Those who buy in assets upload them to the DAM and have to input the relevant licensing, copyright and usage restrictions – the system will flag up if more information is required. Content can be restricted so that it is ‘locked’ unless the person who wants to use it agrees to comply with the permissions. If an asset’s permission expires then it is locked automatically.

A DAM system is as useful for protecting your own digital assets as it is for complying with the rights of those you buy in. By using something like Elvis as the basis for a searchable repository of assets, you make it easier for people to use the correct ‘on brand’ imagery, and provide them with clarity on how, where and when they are allowed to use it. Otherwise, you can lose control of your brand as people use Google as an alternative means to find what they’re looking for and end up using old assets.

Building digital asset management into a business has become a ‘must have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’, as legal action from artists, agencies, publishers and photographers is becoming more widespread. Often when assets are misused it might just result in small fines or lost time spent fixing problems, but this can really add up.

There are also landmark cases. For example, photographer Daniel Morel was awarded US$1.2m when Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Getty Images used his photos from the Haiti earthquake without permission.

Implementation of DAM is only the start of the process though. Organisations also need, at the same time, to educate the business on the basics of digital asset rights (don’t use a photo unless you have permission) and embed this into the culture to ensure people err on the side of caution.

Russell Pierpoint is managing director of Evolved Media Solutions.

Russell Pierpoint Managing Director Evolved Media Solutions
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