Content Gone Wild: Digital Rights Management Best Practices For Retailers

aVP Canto headshotThe massive collection of content, digital images and video that companies collect over time has become about as easy to manage as trying to herd feral cats in the dark. In spite of everything they do to make sure they are managing online and offline channels effectively on a daily basis, retailers have an especially challenging job when it comes to maintaining massive libraries of digital content. To make matters more complex, retailers must always put cross-channel brand consistency, from in-store, to online to mobile, top of mind.  

Besides just organizing content, images, photos and videos, there are other more serious ramifications of not using a systematic approach to content management, one of which is copyright infringement. Not only can retailers be subjected to steep fines for using content that they haven’t licensed for specific uses, they can be ordered to take down web site pages, or even their entire web site, if found guilty of infringement violations. Instead of just having to pay fines that may be in the thousands of dollars, the damage to the company’s brand and loss of sales revenue due to lack of site access could be immeasurable.

According to current Fair Use Copyright Laws, companies may be held liable for using copyrighted images even if:


  • It was used by accident;

  • The image was taken down immediately after a takedown notice was issued;

  • The picture is licensed to a web developer (a brand must carry its own license);

  • The image is backlinked to the source/artist;

  • The site is non-commercial;

  • The image or photo is embedded and not saved on your server; and

  • The image was “sourced” from a creative commons site that used it fraudulently.

Brands and marketers are investing more heavily than ever in the production and curation of photos, graphics, videos and other digital brand assets. Despite this large investment, many lack a systematic way to protect these assets and properly track licensing and usage arrangements with third-party content providers.

Without a Digital Rights Management (DRM) policy in place, and a means to catalog, manage and track digital brand assets, unmitigated chaos is likely. When you can’t find the files that you need when and where you need them, productivity suffers tremendously. According to a study from analyst firm IDC, it can take employees up to 18 minutes on average to find each document, wasting up to $18,000 per employee each year in productivity.

For example, most retailers use one set of product shots in their online store. And many have a channel of distributors that they need to share these same images with so they upload copies of each image in multiple sizes and formats to a shared folder online. And since they don’t want any of their files accidentally disappearing from a shared drive, they keep those exact same product shots in a separate network drive with limited access. In some cases, the graphic designer is the owner of graphic images, photos and videos, and is the only one who is aware of the library of graphic content and where to find it on the server. What happens when that graphic designer isn’t available and another team member needs access to the assets is anyone’s guess.

Copyright infringement can happen just as easily as uncontrolled chaos when the mar-com team has no systematic or consistent process to procure graphic content. Most people take for granted that any image, picture or video they find on the Internet is safe to use. Marketers may find a graphic on Flickr with a Creative Commons license and decide it’s safe to use as long as they give attribution to the artist. The image is uploaded to the campaign folder on the shared drive and forgotten. Fast-forward a few months and another team member finds and uses the same image for a Facebook ad campaign.

This simple action is all it takes to breach compliance. The marketer had no idea where the image was sourced from and assumes the company owns the rights to use it. The marketing team continues to promote the Facebook campaign without any further attribution or backlinks to the artist. If the image in question makes its way onto the company’s online store, the artist is entitled to sue for thousands of dollars and may choose to send a cease and desist letter threatening to take down an entire web site until recompensed.

Because the demands being placed on digital teams today is growing as exponentially as the number of digital files themselves, it’s more important than ever to establish a systematic, policy-driven approach to handling valuable brand assets. Not only will it protect the company’s brand, it will actually allow retailers to scale more efficiently.  

Three DRM Best Practices

There are three simple guidelines that retailers can use to foster a culture of compliance that will protect a company’s investment in digital assets and bring asset chaos under control:

  1. Education Is Key: The consequence of not educating web developers, e-Commerce professionals, digital marketers, bloggers and social media teams on legal obligations can be significant and compounded each time a new campaign begins. Take a methodical approach by rolling DRM training into the onboarding process for new hires and hold regular training sessions throughout each year or as needed.

  2. Document Brand Assets (Licenses & Usage): The optimal way to document brand assets is by using metadata. Metadata is information about the file that describes it, such as a SKU number, pixel height and width, product family the file belongs to and licensing information. Keeping licensing data with the file while processed (Photoshop, etc.) via efficient, centralized workflows only available in a digital asset management (DAM) system, and easily integrated with an e-Commerce platform, is the most efficient and effective method to document digital assets.

  3. Automate The Process: It is human nature for busy people to skirt established processes. Making the process of digital asset management as streamlined and automated as possible will increase productivity by making finding the right files less of a chore. The automation can also entail filing the asset to a central library that serves as the master file, containing all of the licensing and usage data associated with each item. When all product shots, b-roll and photo shoots are cataloged in the digital asset management corporate library — and there are no exceptions — finding files quickly becomes a tremendous time saver.

Conclusion: Investment In DRM Provides Recurring ROI

One of the most powerful advantages of storing digital assets centrally in a DAM system, as opposed to putting them into siloed apps throughout the enterprise, is the power of being able to define different rights, roles and permissions for all who can access and download those files both internally and externally.  

Investing in DRM goes far beyond any technological investment. DRM is as much about investing in process improvement, demanding a zero-exception policy, employee education and accountability as the software investment itself. Without the right processes and tools in place, asset management can feel like an insurmountable task.

In a business climate where how fast you go to market can mean the difference between a successful launch and one that stalls because of inefficiency, DRM and DAM best practices can be the driver to help to protect a company’s brand and to also gain significant competitive advantage in terms of efficiency gains.


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.

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