Digital Rights Management (DRM): What is DRM and why does it matter?

Unless you have a huge in-house staff of writers, photographers, videographers, and editors, odds are good some of your content comes from third parties and likely, some of it protected with digital rights management (DRM). These may be stock photo houses, freelancers, news services, video studios, and the like.

Each of these third party sources has their own business model, and their own rules about how you can use their objects. Some may be print only, some web only, and some can be used for each but with different prices. Prices may vary by size of use, or size of file, or type of use. Some objects are only for your use for a specific period of time, and then the object can no longer be used, or might have to be deleted. Others may require very specific credit lines with exact language and placement. You may need releases from the people in the photos or videos to use their images for a commercial purpose.

And the rights can change over time. We’ve dealt with organizations that originally had total exclusive rights that were later transferred to the photographer, that later went into their estate, that later went to a foundation. This stuff can be complicated!

And there are financial penalties for getting things wrong, or using objects you do not have rights to, or using a print thing in a web domain. So you use them at your peril.

Which is why keeping track of your digital rights on an object-by-object basis is pretty important: getting sued is no fun! A good DAM lets you mark objects with restrictive rights in a special way, either with a color or symbol or both, so your users know up front it is a sensitive object: keeping them informed can save a ton of time. As one example, someone may find the PERFECT picture for their presentation, build a layout around it, and only find out an hour before the presentation they cannot use the object because they do not have the rights for it!

Another place digital rights management (DRM) can come in handy is figuring out where your budget is going. You may want to run a periodic report about how much money you spent last month with Getty Images, or with Ben the photographer or Sally the technical writer, or Phil the videographer.

Mostly though digital rights management is about protecting yourself from costly mistakes, and protecting the rights of the people you contract with. If figuring out your rights to an individual digital object is a lot of work looking in separate systems it can get neglected, and that can lead to serious legal problems. So the more DRM is integrated into your DAM, the better off you are!

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