Working with Copyright–Protected Materials in a Digital Environment






In providing access to digital objects, copyright owners and content providers need to manage copyright and permissions status and implement protection mechanisms as appropriate. In this document, you will find a brief description of digital rights management (DRM), as well as links to websites that introduce DRM concepts, offer suggested guidelines, and track current professional issues and activities.

What Is Digital Rights Management?
The term “digital rights management” refers to procedures and systems that individuals or organizations use to track copyright permission status, access parameters, and other qualities of a digital object that govern its access or use. In their white paper “A Digital Rights Management Ecosystem Model for the Education Community,” the authors organize digital rights management into four areas: 1) defining rights; 2) distributing or acquiring rights; 3) enforcing rights; and 4) tracking usage.

Digital Rights Management Evolving Standards
In its simplest form, a tracking mechanism for digital rights may consist of a table where the content provider collects basic data for each object such as copyright holder, contact information, license or permission status, date range of status, and notes. PFA has developed such a DRM table, for use in clearing permissions for its CineFiles project. More sophisticated systems might track dates when an object comes into the public domain; trigger removal of an object when the permissions end date is reached; embed metadata (such as a watermark) in an object that appears when it is downloaded to restrict types of unauthorized uses; define attributes (such as particular IP addresses) of users with permission to view certain objects; and so on.

As the field of digital imaging matures, many complex standards and rights expression languages are being developed to help copyright owners, licensors, libraries, and other content providers manage electronic resources. The METS (Metadata Encoding and Transport Standard) ( schema is a comprehensive “standard for encoding descriptive, administrative, and structural metadata regarding objects within a digital library” that incorporates a simple rights schema. In her article “An Introduction to DRM: Part 1,” Grace Agnew characterizes the METS rights schema as an example of a “passive” DRM implementation. “Active” DRM implementations include the two rights expression languages, MPEG21-REL, developed by the International Organization for Standardization’s (available through and the Open Digital Rights Language (ODRL) ( In addition, the Digital Library Federation’s Electronic Resources Management Initiative (ERMI) has created a detailed framework with which to address asset management. Organizations including the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), the Digital Library Federation (DLF), the American Library Association (ALA), and many others are also actively designing and debating the future of digital rights management. In May 2005, NISO held a prestandards workshop on Digital Rights Expression; and the second international ODRL workshop was held in Portugal in July 2005; links to their activities are listed below.

Digital Rights Management and Fair Use
Although copyright holders legitimately need to protect their assets, there is concern that some rights management activities may compromise uses currently allowed under the Fair Use clause of the Copyright Act. For example, efforts to embed rights management software that prohibits copying could prevent libraries from making preservation copies or researchers from legitimately excerpting quotes from electronic resources. The American Library Association advocates on behalf of fair use and fair application of rights management in such issues.

Further Online Information
The following URLs link to sites and articles describing some of the basic issues, standards, resources, and professional activites related to digital rights management.

Agnew, Grace. "An Introduction to DRM: Part 1." Online Community Library Center. 2005. (Accessed 8/4/05)
This concise but informative online report and website provides an overview of digital rights management, including Metadata Encoding and Transport Standard (METS), maintained by the Library of Congress; Open Digital Rights Language (ODRL), an open-source standard; and Extensible Rights Markup Language (XrML), a standard maintained by ContentGuard.

Agnew, Grace. "An Introduction to DRM: Part 2." Online Community Library Center. 2005. (Accessed 8/4/05)
This continued exploration of basic DRM issues specifically addresses how DRM affects libraries. The distinct concepts of privacy and confidentiality are defined: privacy refers to safeguarding the identity of information users, while confidentiality means users' ability to access information without having the information observed or recorded. DRM systems can record and monitor identity and information use. In the library context, where libraries are often part of larger government or institutional entities, DRM applications may be employed in an administrative capacity by parent institutions whose policies conflict with library software and policies, as well as the greater library mission.

American Library Association. 2005. (Accessed 8/4/05)
The American Library Association is the largest national association supporting the library profession and providing essential information on libraries, information systems, and public access to information. Their extensive website includes a search feature, a list of frequently asked questions, political and advocacy updates, and a continuing education clearinghouse database. The Professional Tools page includes sections on administration management, collection services, and standards and guidelines, as well as links to numerous electronic discussion lists.

See especially:
American Library Association, Digital Rights Management and Libraries. 2005. (Accessed 8/4/05) The Digital Rights Management and Libraries page provides an overview of digital rights management for library professionals, including "DRM: Statement of Library and Higher Education Concerns," with specific sections on legislation, public advocacy groups, and DRM as it relates to the entertainment industry, Collier, Geoff, Harry Piccariello, and Robby Robson. “A Digital Rights Management Ecosystem Model for the Education Community.” 2004. 8/4/05)

This white paper examines specific case study issues such as commercial content, community college video use, faculty-developed test banks, and rights management for catalog records, as well as the ecosystem model for content life cycle. The use of "course packs" for sale as supplementary material to college text books is also examined as a case study. Case study considerations include market models, legal and policy context, important actors/agents/organizations, expectations of management of rights, acquisition and distribution of rights, enforcement, usage tracking, services required, services provided by existing technology, and future technology possibilities. The paper also summarizes basic terms and concepts relevant to DRM.

Coyle, Karen, "Rights Expression Languages: A Report for the Library of Congress." 2004. (Accessed 8/4/05)
This PDF document available on the Library of Congress website is a government-commissioned report entitled "Rights Expression Languages: A Report for the Library of Congress," by consultant Karen Coyle, dated February 2004. The 53-page report documents issues related to rights expression languages, including copyright integrity, data elements, and business models. The purposes of the RELs documented in the report include expression of copyright, expression of contract or license agreements, and control over access and/or use. The author develops various categories to analyze a language, including its purpose, machine-actionability, and its data element content. The report discusses four leading REL initiatives: CreativeCommons, METSRights, Open Digital Rights Language (ODRL), and MPEG-21, Part 5 (MPEG-21/5).

Digital Library Federation, Electronic Resource Management Report of the DLF ERM Initiative. 2004. (Accessed 8/4/05)
ERMI is a collaborative undertaking among the members and allied organizations of the Digital Library Foundation. The project addresses the many institutional issues around acquiring and making use of licensed electronic resources, and is relevant to libraries, systems providers, and standards organizations. ERMI may become the licensing standard for the developers of ONIX, the primary metadata scheme used by academic and trade publishers in the U.S.

International Organization for Standardization. 2005. (Accessed 8/4/05)
The International Organization for Standardization has an extensive website. An Information Centre is jointly managed by ISO and IEC, the International Electrotechnical Commission. The Information Centre provides access to the World Standards Services Network (WSSN), information about standards issues regarding world trade and international standards bodies. Available for sale are hundreds of publications related to standards issues in a vast array of professional fields. Databases available for online use archive international graphical symbol standards and country codes.

National Information Standards Organization. 2005. (Accessed 8/4/05)

The National Information Standards Organization is a nonprofit organization accredited by the American National Standards Institute. Essential standards references overseen by ANSI are available for download, as PDFs or as hard copies that can be ordered. NISO oversees a standards development pipeline that disseminates standards information to professional communities, including libraries, archives, information systems managers, and many others.
This site features detailed information and monographs on evolving digital image metadata standards and issues. Standards are available in development, and for comment and approval. A free monthly newsletter on digital standards issues is available by subscription, and an archive of past newsletters is available on the site.

See especially:
NISO Initiative on Digital Rights Expression. 2005. (Accessed 8/4/05)

In May 2005, NISO held an invitational meeting on digital rights expression to explore standards needed to support digital rights expression and management for scholarly and educational information. The workshop report is available online. According to the website, "Key outcomes included recommendations to:

  • Extend the Electronic Resources Management Initiative (ERMI) model to include nonlicensed objects and communities in addition to libraries.
  • Create a standardized collection of rights "bundles" similar to the Creative Commons licenses.
  • Identify a core set of requirements for rights expression relevant to the NISO community.
  • Build a reference model for content providers, libraries, and museums that includes a glossary of standardized terms for rights expression.
  • Launch a campaign to educate both users and practitioners about rights and permissions. A short-term goal will be to produce a freely available, basic reference document similar to NISO's "Understanding Metadata."

Open Digital Rights Language Initiative, 2nd International ODRL Workshop 2005. 2005. (Accessed 8/4/05)
The Open Digital Rights Language Initiative second annual seminar in Lisbon, Portugal, which took place in July 2005, featured papers on international standards issues. The Initiative is an international organization dedicated to developing and promoting an international standard for the Digital Rights Management expression language. All papers presented at the conference are available in PDF and slide format.