Rights Management Experts: Content Legality, Profitability Equally Important

If you need assurance of just how important modern rights management systems are for content companies, ask a lawyer.

Ed Klaris, founder of New York-based media and entertainment law firm Klaris IP, and former SVP of IP assets and rights for Condé Nast, sees major media and entertainment companies still struggling today with the legal minefields around their content, with some still relying on trying to ask their legal counsel for advice.

“You need to put together how many rights you’re leaving on the table, how you would like to exploit them in the future, and if you can do that without investing in workflow, data creation and a system that enables that. Without those things, you need to call the lawyers, who’ll get back to you in a couple days,” he said, speaking July 20 during a rights management systems panel at the Rights & Metadata Madness event in New York.

“Six months later that same lawyer is going to have to look it up again,” he said. “It’s a very inefficient process, because you don’t have all your rights in a database.”

Klaris may have just been representing the legal side, but his fellow panelists — coming from the content and rights management technology corners — were in full agreement.

“Just having a system where you can analyze ‘What horror films do I have made after 2012 for Belgium in a Flemish language,’ knowing that answer means money,” said Jason Kassin, founder and CEO of FilmTrack, which supplies a suite of rights management solutions to media and entertainment companies.

The combination of shrinking release windows and the ability to digitally distribute content around the world overnight has created both opportunities and headaches for content owners and distributors, Kassin said. That’s where a rights management system comes into play, allowing entertainment players to quickly and easily know how, where and when they can use their content.

“There are quite a few use cases — and some of these are extreme — where people have seen in a 12-month period a six times multiple growth in revenue just because … they opened up availability,” Kassin said of FilmTrack’s clients.

And on the content side, Rick Hunt, senior director of media platforms for PBS, said it wouldn’t be possible for his company to effectively manage its content without a rights management system.

PBS doesn’t own much of its own content, he noted, with the company relying mostly on licensing from others to fill its broadcast and digital slates. That means knowing what rights PBS has to that content can mean the difference between a profit and a missed opportunity, he said.

“Whether or not we’re renewing it, whether or not we’re relinquishing exclusivity, those are the things that fit into the ROI for us,” he said. “Linking the metadata to our rights for an asset … helps us decide if we can use it the way we want to.”

And — in a nod to what Klaris and other IP attorneys have to deal with — Hunt said that have a rights management system in place is “first and foremost” a barrier in place to avoid litigation. “We have to make sure we’re not overextending and using the rights outside of windows, and we need to make sure we’re collaborating with all the other business units,” Hunt said. “Another big element is underutilization. We’ve paid for those rights, and we need to make sure we’re exploiting them to their maximum value.”

Bill Rosenblatt, president of GiantSteps Media Technology Strategies, added that it’s surprising how many major companies continue to ignore the benefits of a mostly-automated rights management solution. “There are a lot of companies that do need to get their houses in order in terms of rights management,” he said. “There’s the difficulty of creating good metadata … [and it] requires a lot to do, that people aren’t used to doing.”

For Klaris, it’s a simple ROI question for M&E companies who’re behind on their rights management solutions: can you make more money off exploiting your rights compared to the investment in the solutions that make it work?

“We think about things like how are you using your content today, and how would you like to use it in the future?” he said. “And what inefficiencies are getting in the way of that, what redundancies are getting in the way of that? What rights do you have in your contracts that you aren’t optimizing?

“What are you leaving on the table?”