Report on the NISO Pre-Standards Workshop on Digital Rights Expression

Held May 18-19, 2005
Denver, Colorado

Prepared by Katharina Klemperer, Library and Information Systems Consulting

Background information:


Overview and goals

In response to industry-wide interest in the expression and management of rights to digital content, NISO sponsored a two-day invitational meeting to explore the current state of digital rights expression, with a focus on scholarly and educational needs. A broad spectrum of the industry was invited, representing libraries, museums, journal publishers, textbook publishers, e-learning system vendors, and content aggregators and vendors.

The stated goals of the meeting were:

The meeting was planned by an expert international cross-industry committee:

Keynote speaker - David Seaman, Executive Director, Digital Library Federation

David Seaman opened the workshop with an overview of the rights-management activities of the Digital Library Federation Electronic Resource Management Initiative (DLF ERMI). DLF ERMI is a group of 33 academic and national libraries plus 5 "allies:" CNI, RLG, OCLC, LANL, and JISC. The initiative was created to focus on large libraries' needs with regard to digital libraries, specifically those that had not yet been addressed by library system vendors. The DLF ERMI final report, released in August 2004 ( includes recommendations, requirements and specifications for functionalities needed by libraries to manage their electronic resources.

The first phase of the DLF ERMI work has been successful in that a large number of vendors have released or are planning to release Electronic Resource Management modules which were informed by the requirements of the DLF ERMI report. These include Innovative Interfaces, Ex Libris, VTLS, Endeavor, Dynix and Serials Solutions.

A large part of DLF ERMI's work involved rights management for digital content. The final report includes a list of data elements needed in a "record" to represent a license.

The publishing industry has also shown interest in expressing licenses in electronic format, as evidenced by the activities of EDItEUR ( in its ONIX for serials activities, the DOI foundation ( and RightsCom (

The DLF ERMI group is now considering its next steps, which are likely to include addressing the following outstanding issues:

In conclusion,


Panel 1: Community requirements for rights expression

The goal of this panel was to gain an understanding of the rights expression requirements of various stakeholders in the industry: publishers, e-resource developers/vendors, e-learning system developers, and libraries.

Geoffrey Adams (Director of IT Solutions, Elsevier Science) summarized the current needs from the publisher point of view:

  • Authentication (are you who you say you are?)
  • Authorization (what are you allowed to do with a particular item?)
  • Personalization (how do you want to receive the information: version, format, level of granularity, level of resolution)

    However, needs are changing, and 5 years out there will be additional needs, which will include:

    We will also need to keep an eye on federated solutions, where information from various sources and in various formats is aggregated, repurposed, redistributed. Rights may be inherited from multiple sources.

    Nathan Robertson (Database programmer/analyst and systems librarian, Johns Hopkins University; and member, steering committee, DLF ERMI) reviewed the requirements of libraries:


    Robby Robson (President, Eduworks Corporation; and Chair, IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee), outlined the requirements of e-learning systems. To support e-learning activities, rights expression must:


    The e-learning environment poses special challenges to rights management because learning objects are frequently reused, restructured, disaggregated and reaggregated, causing interruptions in the value chain: the party that permits use is often not the party that originally owned the rights. There is a need to pass along rights through the value chain.

    Gillian Harrision (Senior Manager of Library and Product Research, NetLibrary, a division of OCLC Online Computer Library Center) pointed out that vendors are "stuck in the middle" between creators and publishers on the one hand and libraries and users on the other. As intermediaries, vendors require standards probably more than any other players.

    Creators and publishers ask vendors for:


    Libraries and users ask vendors for:


    And vendors would like:


    Questions and comments on panel 1:

    The following points came up during the Q&A period for panel 1:


    Panel 2: Rights expression and management in the supply chain

    Panel 2 explored rights expression and management issues from the points of view of several players in the supply chain: aggregators, libraries, multimedia aggregators, publishers, and e-learning system vendors.

    Steve Potash (President and CEO, OverDrive, Inc.), represented a content aggregator that collects digital objects from many producers and channels them to further intermediaries, ultimately to the end user. Content rights are "layered" through the supply chain, from the creator-author-agent-publisher, who grants distribution rights to the aggregator-distributor-clearinghouse, who applies rules and limits upon use by the channel partners (retailers, libraries, schools, etc.), who set policies for use by end users.

    James Mouw (Assistant Director for Technical and Electronic Services, University of Chicago) discussed the challenges faced by libraries in providing access to electronic serial literature. Libraries sign agreements but do little to inform their scholars of the terms of those licenses. Libraries may acquire the same content from different providers, and it is difficult to explain why the same content many have different rights from different sources. As gatekeepers, libraries need to


    William Ying (Chief Technology Officer, ARTstor) explained the requirements of a multimedia aggregator. ARTstor is a not-for-profit organization that is developing a digital library of images to enhance scholarship, teaching and learning in the arts and humanities. ARTstor images are collected from a number of sources and licensed for non-commercial educational and scholarly use. The content is so heterogeneous that it is difficult to apply individual permissions. Consequently ARTstor has applied the lowest common denominator; for example, only a low-resolution image is provided for all content. However, in order to interoperate with other systems such as Dspace and JSTOR, more finely tuned permissions will be necessary.

    Mladen Maljkovic (Executive Product Manager, Pearson Education Central Media Group) discussed the challenges of a publisher focused on the academic and textbook market. Because they combine and repurpose material to many parties through many channels for use in many places, these publishers would welcome a standard way to express and manage rights across different channels and systems; that specifically would communicate:


    Jan Poston Day (Director of Standards and Interoperability, Blackboard, Inc.) gave the perspective of e-learning management systems, which do many things:


    They need DRE standards that:


    Questions and comments on Panel 2 revolved around whether or not there is a need for yet another rights expression language, or indeed whether any is needed at all.

    Panel 3: Rights issues and policies with licensed and non-licensed materials

    Peter Hirtle (Co-Director of the Cornell Institute for Digital Collections, Cornell University Library) represented the Archives point of view. Archives serve the following purposes:


    Rights expression can serve the needs of archives


    There are some dangers with enforceable rights expression languages:


    Sharon Farb (Director of Digital Collection Management and Licensing, UCLA Library; member, steering committee, DLF ERMI) explored the issues surrounding the representation of copyright in metadata. For licensed works, libraries need to convey the expressed rights to users. For copyrighted works, the same rights need to be conveyed, but the information is often not readily available.

    Problem areas in copyrighted works include:


    Current metadata schemes do not carry enough detail to represent all the niceties of permissions for copyrighted works. Librarians should not be in a position of having to interpret these rights and even less of having to enforce them. Even if they had the time to do so, librarians should not be held liable for misinterpretations. Libraries need the details supplied to them, so that they can inform their users of their rights and permissions.

    Susan Chun (General Manager for Electronic Information Planning, Metropolitan Museum of Art) described the needs of a museum that creates and licenses secondary versions of original works for use in a variety of end products, including books, recordings, films, audioguides, web sites, coursepacks, e-reserves, aggregations such as ARTstor, etc.

    Currently the main problem confronting the museum is managing the licensing process. A standardized license expression will go a long way to streamlining this process. Rights expression needs to be sensitive to a matrix of both use types and user types, because the permissions will be different for different users and uses. A limited number of standardized licensed types would be extremely helpful.

    Michael Carroll (Associate Professor, Villanova University School of Law, and member of the Board of Directors of Creative Commons, Inc.) directed attention to the concept of "copyright events;" that is, any action that involves the exercise of one or more of the exclusive rights under copyright. Some events infringe upon copyright; others, such as fair use and privileged use activities, do not. The number of copyright events has increased exponentially with internet use - for example, every browsing of a website is a "copy."

    We do need standards in order to allow machines to communicate rights, license terms, and possibly denials.

    We need to recognize the distinction between standards for expressing terms, and standardization of license terms themselves, and we need to be clear about which of these goals we are pursuing. It should be possible to create a standard license expression for libraries and to map licenses to this standard; in fact, DLF ERMI has already begun this process.

    Carroll proposes the following approach:


    Creative Commons has followed this approach: as new possibilities come up, a new sample license is created.

    Leslie Johnston (Director of Digital Access Services, University of Virginia Library) addressed the issues surrounding library repositories and the documentation of rights, distinguishing between institutional repositories, which collect material produced by members of the institution, and digital library repositories, which manage and deliver content that may have been produced by the institution or acquired from elsewhere, resulting in a mixture of rights which may have been transferred down the value chain. In all cases, repositories require that

    A rights expression standard will help to achieve all of these goals.

    Questions and comments on Panel 3

    There was disagreement with how difficult it would be to develop standardized language for codifying license terms. In addition, it was pointed out that sometimes there is conflict between the restrictions of the library and of the University IT department. The IT department may do its own access control, and if may differ from what the library wants.

    Other speakers

    Deirdre Mulligan (Acting Clinical Professor of Law; Director, Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic) spoke on the dangers and current pitfalls of machine control of rights. Taking examples from the music industry, she pointed out the fine line between monitoring usage to ensure compliance and invasion of privacy through spyware. She also decried the excessive restrictions that have emerged out of the fear of piracy and made some recommendations to tip the balance more in favor of users:

    Unfortunately current DRM practices are driven more by commercial than academic requirements.

    Philip Merrill reported on the work of the Digital Media Project, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to "promote continuing successful development, deployment and use of Digital Media that respect the rights of creators and rights holders to exploit their works, the wish of end users to fully enjoy the benefits of Digital Media and the interests of various value-chain players to provide products and services". The DMP has identified 88 "Traditional Rights and Usages" that need to be addressed in any Digital Rights Management scheme, and has attempted, through wide discussion, to identify which parties in the value chain (rights holders, middlemen, or end-users) would need to use each of those rights. These traditional rights and usages include such activities as


    Many of the 88 rights have already been clearly established and recognized legislatively. The DMP hopes to build public awareness about the issues and drive informed policies in the marketplace.

    Small group discussions

    Periodically the workshop broke into small groups to discuss particular topics.

    Round 1 -Small group discussions: Examination of use cases

    The workshop planners described eight use cases to illustrate and bring to life the interrelationships, dependencies, and complexities inherent in the digital information world. Participants were assigned to small groups and asked to identify the different communities involved in each case and identify the rights requirements for those communities.

    In summary, the communities can be grouped according to their rights roles:


    Specific communities may play different roles at different points in the supply chain. Rights holders need to be defined throughout the entire chain. The entire chain needs persistence of rights.

    Rights Expression requirements for the rights roles can be summarized as follows:


    A persistent theme was the need for rights to travel through the supply chain in some form. There needs to be a method of amending or inheriting rights as content moves through the supply chain. Whenever content is reused, rights to the content for the next user must be clear.

    Round 1 -Small group discussions: Opportunities and priorities for standards work

    In a second small-group exercise, participants were asked to identify some critical-path problems, opportunities or priorities that could be effectively addressed by standards. All groups then reconvened to summarize their recommendations for upcoming and ongoing activities. Each participant was given 5 votes to distribute among the activities.

    The results, in priority order, were:

    1. Develop a reference model of requirements for content providers, users, libraries, museums, archives.

    2. Create a collection of standardized rights "bundles" that could be attached to digital objects, similar to the Creative Commons licenses.

    3. Investigate the technical aspects of persistent association digital objects and their rights.

    4. Educate users about rights and permitted uses of licensed materials.

    5. Extend the DLF ERMI activities to include non-licensed objects and extend it to other library and non-library communities.

    6. Develop a glossary of terms relating to rights expression.

    7. Develop a specification for creator metadata that can be used in rights expression.

    8. Develop model license agreements.

    9. Define a protocol to seek and grant permissions, including ambiguity.

    10. Produce an "Understanding Rights Expression" document, similar to NISO's "Understanding Metadata" document.

    11. Work on requirements, language and permissions for locally-owned archives

    12. Move the discussion forward to discover if DLF ERMI focus can go beyond licenses and academic/research libraries.

    13. Undertake research to discover what systems do with communication back from users.

    14. Develop concrete implementations for hands-on activities such as e-signatures, provenance identification, rights resolution discovery systems.

    15. Develop standards for contact information (need accurate contact information for tracking down breaches) and permission information, to travel with objects

    Summary and conclusions

    Karen Coyle (Digital Library Specialist) wrapped up the conference by defining key areas of activity:


    The following next steps will be proposed to the NISO board:

    In the near future:


    Somewhat further out:


    It is recommended that the top-priority activities listed above receive early attention.

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