What Every Marketer Needs To Know About Digital Rights Management

Contributor Leslie Weller explores the six reasons DRM policies fail and how these failures can be detrimental to your business.


Who owns the rights to the creative works you’re using? Compliance with copyright and license agreements for creative content is something every marketer should be knowledgeable about today – or face the prospect of costly lawsuits and fines, as well as damage to their brand’s reputation.

In a world where images can be pulled off the internet and added to a website or other creative piece with a few clicks, the reality is that many organizations haven’t taken steps to reduce risks associated with copyright infringement.

The Elements Of A Successful Digital Rights Management Plan

To avoid lawsuits that can range from thousands of dollars to upwards of a million dollars or more, it comes down to having a plan in place. Enter digital rights management (DRM).

A DRM plan should take into account everything about the digital content that a company may use, including the source, along with information on where the digital file originated and the scope and reach of the associated access rights.

An effective DRM policy will also track whether creative content is developed in-house or procured, and it will outline the specific authority that the organization has for relicensing and repurposing it across various creative projects.

No doubt, DRM can be complicated. And although the rewards of effective DRM far outweigh the complexities, many companies still aren’t taking DRM seriously.

In a recent survey conducted by Canto (my employer) across a group of 75 marketers, IT leaders and brand managers, respondents said DRM has failed in their organizations for these six key reasons:

1. Lack of Staff Training/Knowledge: A majority of respondents (41%) said their staff simply didn’t have adequate training to implement a program to track and manage the licensing of creative content, and they also lacked an understanding of the importance and impact of copyright law.

2. Information Not Captured: For 20% of respondents, having no centralized, convenient place to capture the licensing data made them unable to avoid the risks involved. Without a plan for cataloging licensing data and making the information accessible, these marketers continued to use unauthorized images, hoping their luck would hold out and no problems would arise.

3. No Efficient Way To Store Licensing Requirements: Some organizations take steps to get employees to store and maintain licensing data, but the workflows they put in place are too complicated and impractical – as a result, they lead to noncompliance. For example, if a business sets up spreadsheets or an external database for licensing information, and the time required for employees to access that spreadsheet every time a photo is used is excessive, people will avoid the effort. This challenge impacted 17% of the Canto survey respondents.

4. Too Time Consuming: A smaller group of survey respondents said that while their employees indeed had understanding of DRM along with the opportunity to view licensing information, they skipped this step when selecting creative content due to severe time constraints during their workdays. Deadlines are tight for modern communications teams, and when business moves quickly — the newsletter needs to be sent, the Twitter feed needs to be fed – shortcuts are taken frequently.

5. Copyright Problems Are Quickly Forgotten: A number of respondents also said it’s easy to forget about fines or legal suits. As marketers go about their busy days, they don’t want to think about the problems that can arise, and they avoid addressing the issue.

6. Technical Shortcomings: Tracking where and when a specific image is used can be complex. When a license expires, for example, survey respondents said it can be challenging to track all usages across subpages, social channels, brochures and ads. Not having a solution in place to effectively track and manage this process also leads to ineffective DRM.


Understanding Your DRM Options

It’s clear that many organizations have no processes or systems set up to safeguard against wrongful use of creative works. An increasingly popular practice is to use material that is available via free Creative Commons licenses.

Creative Commons is a license that allows usage at no charge, but often with the requirement of attribution and backlinks.

Flickr, for example, lets you perform targeted searches for Creative Commons photos and videos that may be used commercially. However, even Creative Commons licenses require users to follow a certain process to stay in compliance. And even so, total reliance on Creative Commons won’t be enough to meet the digital demands of today’s media-hungry consumers.

The preferred choice is to present visual content that you want your brand to reflect – and not limit yourself to a single resource. That’s why most forward-thinking organizations go far and wide to actively create, procure and repurpose their own creative content.

But to get it right, these same organizations also know they must educate their teams and set up a formal DRM policy, process and system to manage digital licensing usage rights for all visual content that is used publicly.

For many businesses, this means turning to digital asset management (DAM) systems.  These metadata-driven platforms are designed to help marketers and other users across the enterprise take a systematic, efficient and painless approach to DRM.

DAM systems are built to provide a way to centrally manage the retrieval and delivery of creative assets in appropriate file formats – as designated by license and copyright agreements, as well as by pre-defined user roles.

My company is only one player in a field that includes competitors like Adobe (with Experience Manager), IntelligenceBank Marketing, WebDAM, MediaValet, Bloomfire and Asset Bank. Some offer cloud-based software, while others are installed locally.

The payoff of investing in DAM technology as well as a DRM policy can be huge: not only do they provide valuable security and more efficient organization and use of important digital assets, but they also help businesses avoid damage claims from outside parties. That is reason alone to get started with DRM in 2015.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Leslie Weller, director of marketing for Canto has a deep respect for the way technology connects people with the things they value most. She joined Canto to help marketers, brand managers, product managers and content managers understand there is a better way to make use of their organizations’ massive amounts of digital content. Weller earned a master’s of business administration degree from California State University, San Marcos and a bachelor’s of science degree in sociology from Brigham Young University.

(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)


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