Digital Liability Management
The opposite of digital asset management might well be digital liability management. When a digital asset is erroneously released -- whatever the circumstance -- it can become a corporate liability in no time. If you've always fantasized about your shared content going viral, release the wrong asset and watch what happens. Just ask the NSA.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways a DAM solution can help you keep things under control.

User rights management (permissions)

At the very least, your DAM should enable you to define granular user rights (permissions) schemas that can account for any situation. Gone are the days when it was enough to offer general permissions across an entire catalog or database. If you can’t specifically control what each user can view, edit or download, you are lacking an important aspect of digital asset management that could lead to trouble.

What’s more, user rights shouldn't be static. Automated rules-based workflows should be able to make any change that’s needed, on the fly, and without any human intervention. When you think of user rights in terms of rules, you more closely reflect how the world works.

“Boss, may I take Friday off?”

“Sure, so long as you've completed that report and you find someone to cover the phones.”

There’s usually some catch to a permission, so your DAM needs to reflect those catches. This is what enables us to embargo the distribution of press releases. It’s also what prevents us from being able to download assets that haven’t been approved for use by the art director, brand manager and Legal.

Granular permissions and rules-based user rights management can help you sort out how things are managed within your DAM, there’s no reliable way for you control what happens to your assets once they leave your DAM -- that’s just a fact. Another fact is that some people will do what they want to do with your content, and it’s becoming easier for them to do so every day.

These facts in mind, your goal must be to do what you can do to defend any ownership claims or usage restrictions you have placed on your content. This is a two-step process, and only the first step is easy.

The easy part is to make sure your DAM software can (and is configured to) embed usage restrictions and copyright notices into every outbound asset whose format supports embedded metadata. Though a friendly embedded-metadata reminder won’t deter malicious use of your erroneously released materials, when you’re defending yourself in court, your case might be stronger if you can show you made a good faith effort to communicate the rules.

The hard part, of course, is the prosecution of those who wrongfully or illegally use your content. Finding offenders is actually the easy part. But prosecuting to recover damages can be a complex, lengthy and expensive process. So it’s best that you focus your efforts on the upstream preventative measures that protect content and control access, rather than thinking you’re going to turn wrongful-use cases into a business model.

Asset license management

For the most part, the asset licenses you need to concern yourself with most are those attached to the assets you've acquired from external sources. The first step to ensuring you never violate these licenses actually has nothing to do with your DAM software. You first need to fully understand the licenses for the assets in your possession. Only then will you be able to configure your DAM to reflect those restrictions.

You can start by making a list of the sources from which you've acquired your content. Stock photo houses make it easy for you to learn the rules; but restrictions imposed by photographers, freelancers and other sources can be more complicated. For example, just because Lisa from Accounting snapped a great photo of the Mona Lisa doesn't mean Mona in Creative can use that photo on the box of your next product. Lisa might have something to say about it, and so might the Louvre.

When in doubt, confirm.

Once you understand all the rules, you can configure your DAM to manage those restrictions. If your DAM restricts you to using only a single metadata schema across the entire catalog or database, it might be tougher to make clear to users what they may and may not do with a given asset. If your DAM permits you to define per-asset or per-asset class metadata schemas, then create classes for each license type and assign those classes to the appropriate assets.

For example, consider the following (fake) usage licenses from three different sources:

  • Freelance photographer: Asset may be used for any purpose for 5 years.
  • Stock photo house: Asset may be used by the original licensee for print media only.
  • Government agency: Asset may be used in Spain only.

In the case of the freelance photographer, you have two basic considerations:

  1. The asset may be used for any purpose.
  2. The asset may not be used after 5 years.

In the case of the stock photo house, you also have three considerations, though one is inferred:

Learning Opportunities

  1. The asset may be used indefinitely.
  2. The asset may be used only by the organization that purchased the license.
  3. The asset may be used only on printed media.

And in the case of the government source:

  1. The asset may be used infinitely.
  2. The asset may be used only in Spain.

Right away, you can see the value of having separate metadata schema to manage these assets. One license defines a valid period, while others don’t. One restricts media and the user, while others don’t. And the third has a geographic restriction.

In these simple examples, you could certainly get away with using “Time Period,” “Region” and “Media” metadata fields across all assets, but once you get into more complex licensing restrictions, things could become confusing if users are forced to see fields that don’t pertain to the asset they’re considering.

A license audit of the content in your possession now can be time well spent. In will also enable you to better classify new content that comes in, and configure your DAM to manage it all.

Multi-tenant deployment

True multi-tenant DAM deployment is another way to protect assets, assuming your DAM is used by multiple stakeholders, such as departments, subsidiaries or clients.

Permissions assigned to user groups can help here, but they are not enough. When granular user rights become complex, having to negotiate how they work across user groups can be difficult to manage. You’re much safer using a DAM that can manage the virtual wall between stakeholders for you.

For example, system statistics, download options, user collaboration features and other system features can provide windows into the goings on of other user groups in a DAM that wasn’t built for multi-tenant deployment.

Statistics for follow-up

View and download statistics are a great way to audit who has seen and accessed what in your DAM. Though you can’t use statistics to stop people from doing what they like with what they’ve seen or downloaded, if you realize that an asset has been erroneously released, you might be able to email the users who have seen it to ask them to not mention or distribute it.

Most would-be usage offenders will happily refrain from using restricted content if warned ahead of time. So, while user rights and DAM system configurations can help you control things up front, never forget that you can simply email people when they've acquired digital assets they shouldn't use. If your DAM can’t show you real-time access statistics that include contact information for users, tell your DAM vendor a feature update is long overdue.

Digital rights can quickly become digital wrongs if you’re not using DAM software to its fullest, or if your DAM software predates modern usage concerns. While you’re leveraging your DAM to share your content with the world, make sure you’re doing everything you can to prevent your digital assets from becoming digital liabilities.

Title image courtesy of Natalie Burrows (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more of David's DAM musings, see Cloud DAM vs. On-Site: There is No Real Contest