Wednesday 14 December 2016
Why is everyone talking about Rights Management? Clare Hodder explains...
It is a topic at conferences, systems have been developed to support it and even new kinds of jobs are now dedicated to it. But why? Hasn’t the publishing industry always had to manage its rights? Aren’t rights fundamental to the very existence of publishers?
Well, yes, but it turns out that, by and large, we were somewhat relaxed about managing our rights when the world was based on paper, and digital (as with every other aspect of publishing) has made it all much more complex. In order to publish anything, we have always relied on an agreement with the person who created it (or those they had agreed could license it on their behalf), be that an author we commissioned, an in-house writer under an employment contract, or a photograph whose rights were secured via an image library.
Agreements were fairly standard and usually granted publishers a broad range of print based rights which would last for at least the edition’s lifetime, if not the full term of copyright. The likelihood of anyone straying too far from what was enshrined in these agreements was small, and the impact, if they did inadvertently exceed licensing terms, minimal. Consequently, most publishers did not worry too much about it, as long as they had an agreement with the main contributor, and had obtained (or got the author to obtain) permission for any 3rd party content, they had done their job, documents were filed, end of story.
However, as publishers have innovated in the digital space the range of rights they demand from rights holders has increased – seeking more rights, to cover more products, for longer periods of time. Rights holders have understandably responded cautiously, wanting to protect their revenue (and future earning potential), reputation and, importantly, control over how their content is being used. Publishers are not simply getting the rights they are asking for, or are getting them on more limited terms, and this poses some problems.
Add to that, the fact that all this innovation in the content that publishers are putting ‘out there’ means it is not just author contracts and a few permissions agreements to worry about, but you also have to get rights agreements with the person who shoots your video, records your pod-cast, the users who contribute user-generated content, the freelance writers who write your blogs, the software developer who created your app, and many, many more creators who have been engaged to deliver content. More rights in more content from more people = a bit of a headache!
How do you know who has given you what rights, for how long, and with what restrictions? You can no longer assume that everything you might want to do with the content is covered by the agreement you put in place several years ago, the big issue now is that you actually have to check. And you do actually have to check, you can’t bury your head under the duvet and hope it will all go away because ‘we’ve never had to do all this before’.
There is now a very real chance you will be sued if you get it wrong, or at least have to deal with a time-consuming settlement for an eye-watering amount of money. Suddenly, having the author manage some of those agreements or shoving everything in an archived, paper, editorial file doesn’t seem like such a good idea. It becomes necessary to think up front, before you even commission a project about what rights you will need to make the project viable and whether you are likely to be able to get them.
Time taken to acquire the rights and budget needed to pay for them needs to be factored into the process and the product needs to be monitored post release to ensure that all of the licences remain valid and re-clearance arranged (and paid for) where necessary. Documents and data about rights acquired need to be collated and stored and new workflows need to be established. And, so Rights Management as a ‘thing’ has emerged, with staff and systems and blog posts to boot, and it’s a ‘thing’ we all need to get to grips with, and quickly.
Clare Hodder, is a copyright and licensing specialist at Rights2 Consultancy. She will take part in the ALPSP and PLS webinar Effective Management of Rights on Monday 23rd January. Register now to secure your free place and find out more about how to manage rights management in your organization.