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Avoid Infringement Troubles: Six Ways to Simplify Digital Rights Management

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Digital rights management (DRM) is a serious and important aspect of business in today's world, and marketing professionals need to familiarize themselves with it not only for legal implications but also for financial reasons.

Yet, the importance of DRM's correct usage is often misunderstood, underestimated, or neglected.

Digital Rights Management Defined

Digital content—illustrations, photos, videos, and other graphics—is used all the time by organizations to augment their communications, written content, and marketing collateral.

DRM has two goals: to provide security for creative works and to avoid damage claims for a company using those works without permission.


Because of the prolific creation of digital content and the demand and urgency for its use, knowing when, where, and how you are allowed to use your creative content legally is key. One violation, and your company could find itself in costly legal trouble.

How Does Infringement Happen?

As a marketing professional, you have surely used photos and videos to illustrate collateral, websites, and other marketing materials. But inadvertent infringement could happen easily when, for example, your staff copies content without an explicit license agreement.

Say your company buys a photo from an agency and uses it in a brochure, and the brochure then gets translated for a foreign market. You could possibly be violating the licensing agreement if it pertained only to US rights for the photo.

If you have several people—from your marketing team to freelancers—working with digital assets, you should have a policy in place to mitigate risk. Employees may be unaware of the regulations governing the specific assets they are working with, and it's up to marketing leaders to put in measures to prevent mistakes or oversights.

How to Protect Your Organization

Digital rights management is not rocket science, but it does require ongoing oversight; to be performed effectively, it also takes time and a systematic approach.

No matter what industry you're in—retail to medical, high-tech, banking, automotive, architecture, and other markets—following these simple steps can help your organization stay on the right side of the law.

1. Plan for simplicity

When you keep the workflow simple, the potential for failure diminishes. Map out licensing data that is relevant for your digital ecosystem, and set up a plan to document that information.

For example, data points may include the license status, source of images or videos (such as photographer's name, restrictions, and attributions required), expiration dates, and geographies approved.

Good planning will result in simplicity for the user.

2. Increase employee awareness

Explain to your team members the problems and consequences of careless handling of unlicensed material. If they understand the reasoning behind the policies, they will be much more likely to adhere to them.

Empowering employees with knowledge about handling copyrighted material will allow them to help you prevent leaks.

3. Make it manageable with metadata

The preferred method is to bind the licensing data to each asset rather than in a separate spreadsheet or database. Automating and connecting this information reduces the chances of using expired photos or making input errors, and it saves time as well.

Using a centralized digital asset management (DAM) system means that you can arrange to have the license information—stored in each file as metadata—imported automatically with items such as photos and stock images.

Beyond the licensing of data, metadata also offers a lot of other information that can be integrated into your work processes. Some DAM systems, for example, can help you track down the brochure or PowerPoint slide in which a photo might have been inserted. With the ability to call up such information with just a few clicks, you can greatly simplify collaboration and communication across teams and ensure proper licensing practices.

4. Increase visibility of licensing info

Providing a way for your marketing team to view licensing information easily is important. By using a visualization tool, such as a color-coded system, for example, every viewer can tell at a glance whether assets are cleared for usage. Or you may choose to allow only watermarked downloads for externals.

By presenting corresponding license information in your DAM system, you can give your employees an overview of the current inventory and the usage rules for each image. They will then have all the relevant data at a glance, and as a result they will be able to save time making accurate decisions while increasing response times.

5. Automate warning and reminders

Try to integrate license management into your workflow. Set up a system that queries the information and issues warnings automatically when used. Installing protective mechanisms, such as emailing team members when a license is about to expire, allows them to flag a potential conflict. Let routine administrative tasks be executed by a DAM program to save time and prevent errors.

6. Manage permissions and define roles

By assigning customized user roles, you can manage permissions based on the responsibilities of each team member. Each will then have precisely the rights they need, and such a process will go far toward preventing copies of unlicensed pictures' being used.

For example, if you're working with freelance graphic designers, they may be given the permissions to upload design files without having access to the rest of your content. Or you may grant access to low-resolution or watermarked images only, keeping the high-resolution licensed files safely in-house during the creative process.

* * *

Digital rights management is clearly no longer optional; it's a necessity as you work to safeguard against wrongful use of creative works in your organization.

To properly address DRM, marketers must have processes and systems set up, including the adoption of company-wide practices. Otherwise, you are simply putting your business at risk.


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Leslie Weller is director of marketing for digital asset management firm Canto, which helps marketers, brand managers, product managers, and content managers make better use of massive amounts of digital content.

LinkedIn: Leslie Weller

Twitter: @Leslie_Weller

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