How To Avoid A Digital Assets Time Bomb

Duncan MacRae is former editor and now a contributor to TechWeekEurope. He previously edited Computer Business Review's print/digital magazines and CBR Online, as well as Arabian Computer News in the UAE.

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Russell Pierpoint, MD, Evolved Media Solutions, explains how brands can avoid a litigious nightmare in the digital age

The huge growth in digital assets (photos, video and audio) is viewed by most publishers, broadcasters and advertisers as a fantastic opportunity to build their brand.  With people shifting away from traditional media consumption patterns, these tools are giving brands the chance to satisfy consumers’ voracious appetite for digital entertainment, information and social media interaction, whenever and wherever they want it.  And the great thing is, this is helping organisations to engage and converse with customers on a deeper level than ever before.

However, as organisations create more and more content of different kinds, we are seeing two side effects. First is the bad headache they are getting as they try to manage the sheer scale of the assets they are producing and secondly, they are also opening themselves up to a potential litigious nightmare too.

Sharing and creating

For any organisation using, sharing or creating digital assets there are a number of issues to get to grips with. For example, if a brand uses models or celebrities in its marketing, or buys images from photographers, it needs to have a clear understanding of how and where it is allowed to use these. For publishers and broadcasters the same is true for TV series licensed from abroad or syndicated articles.  In all of these cases, there will be rights issues around their use – but far too many people are contravening these. Often it’s a case of misunderstanding, but unfortunately, ignorance is not an excuse.

Every piece of professionally created digital content is likely to be sold on the basis of a number of specific usage restrictions. Perhaps you only have the right to use it for a specified time period; you may be restricted in terms of where you can use it – maybe in print but not online; often there are geographical limitations about where it can be used etc.

Tracking and implementing these permissions across a big organisation can be understandably tricky. A number of different departments may be buying or using assets for different reasons and often – even in big organisations – there may be no central repository for them. This hampers the logging and tracking of permissions. Other organisations do track these but do so manually, which is a laborious and monotonous task. This is better than not having a system but is not ideal as, for instance, when permissions expire it’s unlikely that assets stop being used.

If it sounds like a minefield, it is – and it’s only going to get worse! For example, the EU is trying to make it illegal to publish your own photos of famous landmarks, such as the London Eye, without permission from the copyright holder. How is that going to be managed?!

Thankfully marketing automation technology provides a way to manage and control digital asset rights in the form of a Digital Asset Management (DAM) system. A DAM system, such as WoodWing’s Elvis, will also create a workflow so that gaining, tracking, and acting on permissions becomes part of an automatic process. Those who buy in assets upload them to the DAM and have to input the relevant licensing, copyright and usage restrictions – the system flags up where more information is required. Content can be restricted so that it is ‘locked’ unless the person looking to use it agrees to comply with the permissions. Similarly, if an asset’s permission expires then it also becomes locked automatically.

Equally, DAM technology helps organisations to protect their own digital assets as well as keeping them compliant with the rights of those they buy in. By using something like Elvis as the basis for a searchable repository of assets it becomes easier for people to use the correct ‘on brand’ imagery and provide them with clarity on how, where and when they are allowed to use it. Otherwise, brands lose control as people use wrong logos and old imagery they find on Google when there is no easy alternative for them to find what they think they’re looking for.
Digital asset management is now a business ‘must have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’ as legal action from artists, agencies, publishers and photographers is becoming more widespread.  Often when assets are misused it leads to wasted time sorting out problems or small fines which can really add up. Landmark legal cases such as when photographer Daniel Morel was awarded $1.2m as a result of Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Getty Images using his photos from the Haiti earthquake without permission show that the courts are taking the issue much more seriously.

According to a survey released by Adobe this year, organisations using a DAM system are achieving a 23 percent reduction in risk by preventing the non-compliant use of licensed content, the wrong (or unapproved) assets being used and/or intellectual property being leaked or stolen. However, implementation of DAM is only the start of the process. Organisations should also, at the same time, educate staff on the basics of digital asset rights (don’t use a photo unless you have permission!) and embed this into their culture to ensure people are less gung-ho with what they share, where, and understand the need to err on the side of caution.