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Getting Global Rights Management Right

This article was written for ANA Forward and originally published on the ANA website.

As brands look to do more with less, global rights management becomes a focal point

As the advertising industry continues to grow and innovate with more opportunities for marketers to reach audiences in increasingly surprising ways, the world seems to be getting smaller. Sophisticated creative asset management can provide brands and their agencies with a secure, central source for creative assets. Global, omnichannel campaigns can be deployed quickly and seamlessly, but there is one aspect of launching and maintaining global campaigns that has become a roadblock to rapid execution: managing the complex rights associated with each creative asset.

Responsibility for tracking the rights related to performers, music, and other elements in commercials generally falls to multiple production teams. For example, it’s not unusual for a brand to be supported by several agencies, each of which has its own way of tracking final creative assets and their associated rights. Moreover, it’s likely that each team uses a variety of methods for managing those rights (e.g., spreadsheets, internal calendars, file folders), which together determine when, where, and how an asset can be used.

Further complicating the task is the lack of a standardized contract for those rights. Union talent operates under agreed terms and conditions, but non-union talent is completely open to negotiation. One performer’s terms may differ from another’s. Ancillary rights (i.e., music licenses, stock film, font licenses, rights of publicity) add even more complexity.

The solution for simplifying all that complexity is to standardize and centralize rights.

Defining Global Rights Management
When brands produce creative assets they are also obligated to acquire the rights to use elements within that asset, such as the talent, music, and fonts, among others.

Every rights agreement should have three main attributes:

  • The term. The length of time for which a brand holds the rights
  • The territory. The geographic region in which the brand holds the rights
  • The media. The specific communication channels

Due to the explosion of channel options for reaching consumers, media is the most complicated attribute in a rights agreement. Rights can be acquired for broadcast TV but not streaming, or for the internet but not podcasts. All of these media endpoints are collectively known as the media taxonomy. Adding to the complexity is the fact that talent, music, images, etc., can each have their own media taxonomy and may have their own start and end dates. For instance, a brand may possess the right to use a commercial on broadcast TV until the end of February, the right to use it in cinema until the end of March, and on the internet until the end of June.

Moreover, rights holders — examples of which include SAG-AFTRA, music licensors such as Adobe, stock imagery houses such as Getty, and individual celebrities who own the exclusive rights to their own likeness — likely have their own media taxonomy.

The Risk of Mismanagement
It’s not enough for a media team to simply ask if they can use an asset. There could be five license agreements in one 30-second TV spot, so those answering such requests must consider the complexity of the associated rights. For example, if the media team were to ask production if the brand can use a creative asset in June on broadcast TV in the Americas, the answer may not be a clean yes. The talent rights may expire in August in North America and in May in South America while the music license extends through September around the world. Navigating that complexity is a lot to manage — and any mistake could be costly.

In fact, a commercial used out of compliance carries serious financial risks.

“We’re aware of very large fines for ads that run out of compliance with contracts,” says Stephen Robinson, general counsel and chief privacy officer at Extreme Reach. “The payments for fines and right-of-publicity claims can run as high as seven figures, depending on the size of the cast and whether a celebrity is involved. In addition, the reputational risk is something taken very seriously by brands.”

SAG-AFTRA defines three main categories for penalties: late payments, unanticipated use, and unauthorized use. These apply when a brand or agency is late in paying the rights holder, an ad runs on a channel for longer than the agreed-to term, and when an ad runs after a license has expired. While unanticipated use can be corrected sometimes by payment to exercise the option for a longer term, for an unauthorized use, which includes when an ad runs after a license has expired or appears on a medium not included in the agreement, there may be no option to extend use.

While each of these infractions can carry significant financial cost, per Robinson, there is risk in doing harm to the brand’s reputation to consider as well.

“Brands, of course, want to be trustworthy — and to be seen as trustworthy — to agents, potential talent, and customers,” Robinson says. “Multiple instances of running ads out of compliance can negatively impact that trustworthiness and may even have an effect on future talent negotiations.”

Doing More with Less, On a Global Scale
The current global advertising environment is built around a desire to do more with less, and strong usage rights management is essential to ensuring organizations minimize or eliminate the risk of misusing assets. Beyond helping to avoid potential fines, global rights management standardizes and normalizes creative rights data so that it may be used by multiple platforms and repurposed for future campaigns.

For example, a beverage brand likely holds the full rights to footage of its product being poured into a glass. When this creative is cataloged and tagged with the appropriate rights data, finding these compliant, reusable, evergreen images becomes a simple process for creative teams and saves the brand team the cost of reshooting the same concept multiple times.

As brands increasingly look to maximize their ROI, robust rights management efforts improve speed to launch, enhance reach on a global level, and extend the life of well-performing campaigns. Doing more with less is not just an efficient way to manage complexities and cost, it has become a global imperative that touches all aspects of the value chain. When a brand looks for solutions to managing its rich assets in the most efficient manner, the asset management solution must be able to provide brand managers with a clear and full compliance picture for each and every asset.