2015-23-January-Photographers.jpgOne of the many advantages of the Internet is the ability to share content and experiences, with people all over the world. There are quite a few downsides as well. This post will delve into just one of them: copyright infringement, which can pose a threat to everyone from the individual content creators up to Fortune 500 organizations.

So, what’s the fuss all about?

Luck Isn't a Policy

There’s a lot at stake, including costs and reputation, if an effective digital rights management (DRM) policy isn’t in place. And most marketers recognize that what was previously fairly straightforward, with intellectual property protected by copyright and patent laws -- some of which have been in effect for more than 100 years -- has now faded into a large gray area.

This gray area has emerged due to the proliferation of shared digital content. At the same time, concerns about copyright infringement have become magnified because of how easy it now is to create campaigns using videos and graphics from content found through simple Google searches.

For marketing professionals, managing the use of digital content has become a very complex issue. As marketers create digital campaigns intended to grab clicks and convert browsers to buyers, they are often up against tight deadlines and budget constraints. At the same time, “Creatives” or content creators are putting time and effort into creating images, written content, photography, etc., designed to make an impression. Content is their creative bread and butter. The creators have a stake in knowing where, when and how their work is being used because the work represents their brand, so it must be protected, and their ability to make a living depends on it. Given current copyright laws, including the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), organizations are responsible for making sure they stay in compliance without breaching copyright and license agreements.

This is where DRM comes in. The DAM glossary defines DRM as both the technology and practices used to protect intellectual property from being used in any way that might breach the terms of a license agreement. In a sense, DRM is the ability to apply analog copyright techniques to our digital world. The Internet has made it extremely easy to search and find content, use it and sometimes, due to sheer luck, experience no ramifications for using unauthorized content.

If your company is relying on sheer luck to avoid lawsuits related to copyright infringement, which may result in damages from thousands of dollars to upwards of $1 million depending on the violation, rethink your policy on DRM. If you don’t yet have a solid policy in place, it’s time to make DRM a priority.

Understand that consumers have come to expect a rich, visually engaging Internet experience that usually includes a wide range of graphics along with video. It’s no exaggeration to say that DRM impacts every business, regardless of the industry you are in.

Getting Started

So, where do you start?

The first step to becoming DRM-compliant is to ask the following questions:

  1. What or who is the source of our content?
  2. Where did the digital file originate?
  3. Do we have the right to use the creative content in the way it’s being used?
  4. Does our marketing/creative team understand the legal implications of misusing copyrighted work?
  5. Are we creating our visual content in-house, procuring, relicensing or repurposing it?
  6. Are we diligently keeping track of how we’re using content?

Marketers today need to have a plan and technology in place to capture the answers to all of these questions for every piece of creative content they use -- every time they use it. Of course, with the right technology and business process much of the information and enforcement can be automated.

Any way you slice it, a lawsuit is not a good thing. Take for example the case of Andrew Paul Leonard, a professional photographer who specializes in microscopic subject matter using a scanning electron microscope. He sued a company that used his work without his consent and was eventually awarded $1.6 million in damages.

Setting the Policy

So what are some key principles to consider while you’re creating a solid DRM policy that can easily be adhered to across your organization?

  • No Exceptions -- All content should be treated equally. There should be no exceptions in the handling and usage of any procured content. Once you allow certain exceptions, finding loopholes and workarounds will be inevitable, which will weaken the entire policy.
  • Simplicity -- Make the policy clear and concise so it’s easy to remember and follow.
  • Accessibility -- Key stakeholders should have easy access to the licensing information that provides details on what’s allowed for each piece of content and how it can be used or whether the license has expired. Best if this licensing metadata about the file lives together with the file, as opposed to a separate spreadsheet that would likely not be looked up.
  • Educate -- Train employees and new hires on what DRM is, its importance and how to follow the policy. Ongoing education and training will help create a company culture that prioritizes DRM compliance.
  • Regular Audits -- Yearly audits will help managers assess the use of creative assets, from new downloads to the frequency of content usage. Audits also help identify whether the policy is being followed consistently.

Technology platforms have emerged to automate DRM across the organization. Digital asset management (DAM) systems are increasingly being utilized to support DRM compliance and avoid copyright infringement issues. DAM lets you control who sees what in your organization -- imagine certain staff only see watermarked versions of a file and then must issue a request for the original by detailing usage, geographies, duration, etc.

DAM systems provide organizations with a headache-free, systematic way to store files and metadata centrally, annotating and cataloging assets for easy retrieval. DAMs also manage the retrieval and delivery of assets in appropriate file formats as designated by license and copyright agreements. The ability to catalog information -- and provide easy access to specific information, such as a presentation, brochure or sales collateral that included a specific image -- makes DAM a good defense against copyright infringement and the glue that supports DRM policy and its successful execution.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  wwarby