Usage rights for images – and other types of assets like video – are a tricky, but important part of Digital Asset Management. Am I allowed to use this image for my publication, under which conditions, and will I have to pay for it? Are there any restrictions? A DAM system must help answer these questions.

As is the case whenever money is involved, details matter. Only a subset of my publications might be allowed to use the image, and only for a limited time. I may or may not have to pay again if I reuse the same image. Assets may have to be prohibited from reuse due to legal reasons. An exclusive deal may lock out everyone else from using the same image (or even variants – and probably only for a limited time, or only in a certain geographical region).

Capturing all these details as structured data is the goal of the PLUS Coalition‘s Picture Licensing Universal System. It looks like a great standard for exchanging rights metadata, but we feel it is overkill to use internally within our DC-X DAM system: We need something that’s simple enough that checking usage rights for hundreds of assets has no noticeable impact on response times. (But we’re still planning to add support for PLUS metadata during image import and export.)

Here’s how DC-X manages usage rights metadata:

There’s a database table for rights metadata properties, with columns for a property name and a value, scope, publication, remark, and date from/to. A simple example: Property name=”Fee Required”, value=”1″, scope=”Online” means that usage on an online website incurs a fee (value=”0″ would mean “no fee”).

Predefined property names are “Contract”, “Embargo”, “Exclusive Rights”, “External Syndication”, “Fee Required”, “Internal Syndication”, “Notice”, “Price Category”, “Purchased”, “Rights Agent”, “Rights Unclear”, “Singular Usage”, “Usage Permitted”. This list will certainly be expanded, and customers can define their own types.

Usually a contract exists with each provider, defining common rights for all images sent by them. To make this easier to handle, DC-X rights metadata properties can be bundled into “rights profiles”. We recommend creating one rights profile per provider (or multiple rights profiles if there’s different conditions for subsets of their images). Example: A rights profile named “Reuters images” could combine the properties UsagePermitted=”1″, FeeRequired=”0″, ExternalSyndication=”0″, Notice=”Credit required” if your contract with Reuters allowed you to use all images sent by them with no additional per-image fee, but images must be credited and redistribution is not allowed. (If different parts of your organization have different contracts with Reuters, you could even use the “scope” or “publication” fields to limit properties to a certain part.) And if your contract changes, you simply update the rights profile; all images will immediately reflect the changes.

Rights profiles must be attached to documents (multiple profiles per document are allowed). This can be done manually, or automatically during ingestion: At the moment, you can configure DC-X hotfolders to automatically attach a certain rights profile to all images coming in through it. In the future, it will also be possible to have DC-X determine the appropriate rights profile by looking at the document’s metadata (like the IPTC Credit or ByLine field).

If you need to override certain properties – like when a certain Reuters image must not be used anymore for legal reasons – you can also attach rights metadata properties directly to documents (without rights profiles). Here’s a screenshot from DC-X that shows an image with both a rights profile and a directly attached property:


To visualize usage rights in search results, DC-X displays icons like the Euro sign or the globe in the screenshot above. They are called “flags” and represent rules being dynamically applied to each document. Example for the “Euro sign” flag definition: “Display if the rights property FeeRequired=1 exists.” (Flags can do much more; they can inspect other document metadata like IPTC fields or image file properties like size and colorspace.) Any number of flags can be defined by the customer.

Rights properties can be used in the DC-X user interface to detect whether certain actions are allowed (i.e., the export to the online CMS can detect that you’re trying to export an image for which you do not have online usage rights). Finally, usage rights can be queried and even changed through the DC-X Web Service API.

Differences compared to DC5: DC5 had no notion of usage rights built in, rights handling was meant to be implemented during the installation and customization phase.


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