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By Julian Wright

Rights Management in News Operations

Video rights management used to be so much simpler………

We were quite surprised by the large response to last month’s blog on the rather dry topic of metadata. Of most interest to correspondents was the specific subject of video rights and rights management within an operation. This time we explore that subject in more detail and draw on some real word use cases that we see in news operations where the increasing use of user-generated content has complicated matters further.

The first consumer camcorder was released by Sony in 1983.  It was a monster device so unwieldly that you had to rest it on your shoulder while you recorded to an internally stored VHS cassette.  The difference between professional and consumer video equipment and quality was vast – so vast that any content recorded on a consumer camera was unfit for broadcast.  And it stayed that way for a long time.

Up until as recently as ten years ago, the only place most of us watched any kind of video content was on TV.  We might have hired a VHS or DVD movie from the local video shop occasionally, but the bulk of our viewing was limited to whatever broadcast, cable or satellite stations we had access to on our televisions.  The only way we were likely to see footage shot by any-one other than a professional was when families gathered to watch home movies.

Because content generation was limited to a relatively small pool of contributors, and distribution was restricted largely to television – both of which were firmly controlled by the professional industry – the amount of content produced was limited, so keeping track of video content rights was reasonably simple. But all this has changed in the last decade.

User-generated content has changed video rights management

The advent of video sharing sites, proliferation of smartphones with built-in cameras capable of recording broadcast quality video content and increasing bandwidth availability have culminated in a video content explosion.  Now everyone is a producer and video platforms abound.

User-generated content (UGC) has become part of our everyday media landscape.  YouTube celebrities have created careers out of it, most news bulletins feature footage from those caught up in big events, and it dominates our daily social feeds.  As this consumer content becomes more commonplace, so these everyday video producers are becoming increasingly aware of the value of their contribution and their right to control how their video is used.  And the previously simple task of managing video rights has become a whole bunch more complicated.

When do video rights apply to a piece of content?

In the UK, copyright applies as soon as a video is made available to the public, no matter if the content has been specifically copyrighted or not.  The 1998 Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act states that, for broadcast and cable programmes the duration of copyright is 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the broadcast was made.  When a video is published online, the copyright period lasts for the life of the copyrights owner, plus an additional 70 years.

What video rights data should be tracked?

Content distributors now need to have robust systems in place to track and manage video rights for individuals as well as corporate organisations across a myriad of distribution platforms.  This means that rights metadata is now one of the most important datasets that video producers and distributors need to create, manage and track. Typically restrictions that need to be tracked in a clip’s video rights metadata include the following :

  • Territory : The Geographical location/s in which the video may be shown
  • Purpose : The purpose of the intended use eg : for education, entertainment, advertising
  • Exclusive vs non-exclusive : whether one or many licenses will be issues for use
  • Platform : The medium which the video may be shared on – eg : Cinema, TV, social media, online, etc
  • Duration : The duration of footage that can be used
  • Licence period : How long the clip is licensed for use
  • Attribution/Credit : Whether a credit or reference to the original creator or broadcaster needs to be include
  • Editing/Modification/Derivatives : Whether you’re allowed to make any changes to the clip or change it any way to create a new piece of content.
  • Royalties / Artists clearance – whether there are other performance or royalties involved in the piece and any restrictions associated with these – e.g : model or property releases

How to manage video rights within a MAM

Many news operations rely on their MAM system to provide the tools for managing rights throughout the production process.  Because these organisations deal with so many sources and distribution methods, by breaking down the newsroom rights management process, we can identify solutions for almost any media company’s needs.

Step 1 : Make it mandatory to record video rights information at ingest

Applying rights (restrictions) at the point of ingest is of the utmost importance – setting rights at ingest should be considered mandatory.
For known 3rd party agency ‘feeds’ which are file-based deliveries this is relatively straightforward. Received media is automatically imported into the MAM via FTP or watch-folders. The media object is typically accompanied with some associated XML which carries data about the story together with rights and usage details. This XML is automatically parsed by the MAM and the relevant metadata fields are set and populated.  Other organisational rules defined within the MAM may also be set for particular types of media or sources. File-based deliveries from an organisation’s own field crews will follow a similar ingest path, although obviously the rights restrictions will differ.

Lines (baseband) recordings may be automated in terms of routing and initiating but the rights metadata will probably have to be manually assigned. Ideally customised drop-down menus should be created within the MAM software so that ingest operators that are responsible for scheduling recordings from outside sources can input as much information as possible into the system. Setting simple information, such as originator details, will enable the MAM to derive usage rights based on pre-set rules.
For less controlled, ad-hoc deliveries such as submitted UGC material, operators need to be quite structured as to the way material is imported into the production MAM. Material may arrive on a USB memory stick, attached to an email or uploaded through a web portal. Crucially, the delivery is highly unlikely to come with any inherent rights metadata. In these cases, it the broadcasters’ responsibility to ensure that a formal release agreement exists between the rights owner and the operator. Ideally this should be templated by the operator, but a telephone conversation followed up in writing via email often suffices. Leading MAM systems will allow this correspondence to be appended as a child object of the original media, but the rights metadata will, once again, need to be manually assigned when the content is ingested.

Regardless of how your media is obtained, or what you intend using it for, it’s important that all usage rights and assertions are captured in the MAM at the point of ingest so that producers and output editors can clearly see the bounds of usage. The creator of a piece of content may be happy that it is used in a breaking news situation but not in perpetuity and only on a traditional (non-internet) transmission channel for example.

Step 2 : Keep rights information visible throughout the production process

Like all metadata relating to an asset, the rights data ‘follows’ the object through the production lifecycle. When a producer is making shot or clip selections for a package it is important that the rights information captured at ingest is displayed in the MAM so that they can ensure the material is clear for the given distribution method.
Ideally there should be a tight coupling between the MAM and the editing tools so an operator can view rights information for material in project bins or on the timeline.

Step 3 : Don’t stop tracking rights when you archive

A good MAM should flag any issues with rights in finished packages prior to delivery to the channel or broadcast rundown . In order to do this the sequence or Edit Decision List (EDL) used to create the edit needs to be parsed by the MAM to ensure the source material used in the edit is cleared for distribution on a given platform at a given time.
When a package is finally archived, the links to the source assets should be preserved so that, if it is later restored to be used as source itself in another package, the original rights metadata is carried forward.

Are there video rights standards that can help?

One of the challenges of using metadata to track video rights is that there is often inconsistency in metadata fields and terms between different systems and organisations. The IPTC video metadata Hub is working to solve this by creating standards for naming, managing and exchanging metadata across platforms and organisations.

Tracking and managing video rights might requires a bit of up-front planning and diligence throughout the process, but integrating your MAM throughout your workflow means you should be able to focus on the creating the best content without worrying about infringing on anyone’s copyright.

By Julian Wright

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