Copyright Concerns Following Brexit – A Changing Era of DAM?

This feature article was kindly provided by Anne Gretland, CEO at DAM software provider Fotoware.


Digital Asset Management (DAM) is an important best practice for content managers that want to stay on the right side of copyright law and who manage portfolios of digital assets.  In 2021, marketing managers, archivists, and content creators are just some of the organisations that will be affected by the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU) and the implications that has for copyright compliance.  Alongside this new status, moves from technology giants to protect content producers are heaping pressure on digital asset managers to ensure rights are correctly recognised.

While instituting a system to inventory these assets is important, content owners also need to proactively keep abreast of changes to the regulatory landscape.  For both businesses running on-premises and cloud-managed systems, using DAM to ensure compliance is an opportunity to stay ahead of regulations for the coming year and beyond.

New rules, old concerns

Copyright compliance is a vital undertaking for anybody managing digital assets.

Indeed, rights management and licensing was listed as a top challenge among those managing digital assets in recent FotoWare research conducted among those responsible for a multitude of images, videos and documents.

In a post-Brexit world, monitoring legislation will become substantially more complicated, while keeping track of copyright for digital assets will no longer be a ‘nice to have’.  For many, it will be a necessity.

In other findings from the FotoWare research, 55% of digital asset managers said that organising the assets was their top concern.  For any organisation with thousands of pieces of digital content sitting in archives and libraries, putting assets in order is the first towards achieving compliance.  In particular, managers need to make sure that all assets have the correct user rights’ information to protect their organisations and enable any follow up on any theft of assets, on social media for instance.

Startlingly, only 66% of respondents said that they actually have some system in place for keeping track of copyright, for example by using credits and expiry dates, GDPR information, transfer of IPTC copyrights into metadata fields, and documentation of purchased rights.

Given the complexities of the current legislative framework governing copyright as well as changes on the way in the industry, this is an undesirable situation.  Anybody managing large collections of copyrighted digital files – from newspapers through to museums should make sure that they have robust systems in place for taking an inventory of the digital assets they manage, while ensuring strong metadata governance.

After categorising assets, managers need to ensure that the right metadata, including the copyright information, is appended to every asset.  Only after completing these steps can owners feel confident that they have a searchable system for ensuring compliance at their disposal.

Upcoming copyright developments

The following are some of the ways in which the copyright landscape can be expected to change over the course of the coming year.


From 1 January 2021, those managing copyrighted assets will have to bear in mind evolutions in the relationship between the UK and the European Union.  The UK has ceased to be an EU member state, and references to EU copyright directives will be removed from British statutes.

However, because both the UK and EU member states are party to international copyright treatises, UK-based digital asset managers will still need to make sure that they are using copyrighted resources in an appropriate manner.  Meanwhile, those based in Europe will need to understand that the copyright frameworks of the UK are no longer harmonised with those on the continent.

In particular, copyright owners should be aware that the UK will not be implementing the EU Copyright Directive being introduced in June 2021.  The directive governs how online content sharing services, like major social media platforms, should deal with copyright-protected content.

The proposed legislation created fear that authors would no longer be able to upload memes or GIFs since both are generally based on copyrighted materials and were previously allowed under fair use clauses.  Article 13 of the legislation, which would require online platforms to filter copyrighted materials from their websites, aroused opposition.  For those managing digital assets, this should make the job of compliance easier as less copyrighted images will be emerging through these channels.

More social media takedown requests

That doesn’t mean that content producers or users are in the clear, however.  Tech giants such as Facebook and Instagram have announced that they will do more for copyright-holders wanting to protect their assets by enabling both brands and companies to request content takedowns.  Both those that unlawfully originally shared unauthorised copyrighted material and those that syndicated it (for example by resharing) can be targeted by these requests.  The shift in policy is likely to lead to an increased takedown request volume.

More emphasis on rights

The complexities of keeping track of developments in the copyright world mean that digital asset producers and users need to invest more time in compliance in general, with DAM being only one component of that effort.

This is especially true in the media sector.  In November 2020, Alphabet’s Google signed copyright agreements with six French newspapers and magazines, including the daily Le Monde, and is in talks with other French national and regional dailies and magazines, it said, that it aimed to reach a framework agreement with the country’s print-press lobby by the end of the year.

FotoWare enables many publishers, such as The Financial Times (FT), The Economist, Axel Springer and more to work more efficiently with content and manage image rights usage.  An example of a media organisation that has a robust structure in place for  its image management and with that its rights management, is The FT, the world’s leading business publication, which receives an average of 10,000 photos every day.

FotoWare helped this media giant move from a desktop-centric system for managing image libraries through to one that runs in the cloud on Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services.  Today, the FT can easily receive thousands of photos every day, and with the information that travels with the file (metadata) such as the photographer’s name, licenses granted, and the usage rights, they instantly know where and how they can use the photo.

Digital Asset Management’s role in compliance

Regardless of whether a digital asset-holding organisation derives content from sources in the UK, the EU, or elsewhere, correctly cataloguing digital assets in order to stay on the right side of regulatory developments and best practices that are heading their way.

Making sure that all digital assets are properly logged in a DAM system can help users achieve this, as DAMs enable the advanced use and application of metadata across file sets, making it easy for users to search through them.  For instance, users could set asset expiration dates and enter copyright information on all images in their photo library.  If this information were not included, then it would be extremely difficult for producers to keep track of whether they could legally reproduce a photo.

However, in FotoWare’s research, 48% of respondents cited metadata management as a challenge for 2021.  Without strong metadata governance, many assets are hard to find and in danger of remaining unused, while others are saved multiple times with different file names, especially among large collections.  Respondents wanted to speed up the creation of metadata, as writing captions and keywords for all images extremely easily and quickly speeds up asset selection.  Respondents also explained that many assets have small variations and good metadata is essential in finding the right version.

At a minimum, all organisations carrying a large volume of assets need to make sure that they are properly logged and assigned metadata.  With the EU tightening its copyright belt and the UK moving out of standardisation with its directives, matters could become increasingly complicated on the compliance front.

Additionally, even lawful users of images might come under more pressure as social networks exert more pressure on those reproducing images illegally – increasing the importance that those originally sharing resources to be able to prove they are doing so legally.  Doing this will provide companies with the best possible chance of facing these disruptions with the systems.

This year, the world of copyright is in flux.  With the UK having left the EU, copyright regulations are no longer harmonised between the UK and the union’s member states.  Increasingly, major content users are being asked to protect the copyright of content originators.  Implementing a digital asset management (DAM) tool can provide the technological keys to ensure that organisations are using digital assets according to the licensing terms they agreed to.

What can DAM help achieve?

Proper DAM can help users to address the following pain points in their management of digital resources:

  • Inventory: using DAM, users can aggregate all the digital resources in their organisation and amass them in one central and searchable repository which many departments can have access to.
  • Metadata: for this repository to be useful, however, it needs to contain the right copyright information so that users don’t inadvertently use assets that are not under license. A DAM system can make it easier to add and manage metadata at scale across an entire asset library.
  • Workflow management: using a DAM can also standardise workflows for the addition of copyright information to digital assets. This, in turn, can create efficiencies and make it easier for organisations to assign a manager for this area.
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