Ten Steps to Better Rights Management

Useful tips from PLS’ group of rights experts

Getting rights information in good order can help publishers to increase their revenue, protect their copyright and improve their reputation. If you are getting started in rights management or want to improve your practice, here are ten useful tips from PLS’ group of rights experts.

1. Be clear on your rights

It is impossible to sell what you don’t own, so before staring to license content or grant permissions, publishers need to understand which rights they possess. If you are uncertain, audit your contracts. As well as checking heads of contracts to establish ownership of various types of rights, you may need to review other agreements relating to Intellectual Property and ensure they are aligned. Look in particular for any limitations to your potential licensing and information relating to permissions, which may be maintained separately.

2. Establish a filing system

Good rights management starts with good filing. Store all contracts and documentation relating to rights and licensing in a logical manner, whether physically or digitally. Each of your titles or pieces of content should have a separate folder. Efficient storage gives you an overview of your Intellectual Property and avoids the need to hunt for information when you receive enquiries, which can often lead to revenue opportunities being missed. Think of your filing as your company’s IP archive. If you don’t yet have a filing strategy, time spent planning and implementing one now will save a lot of effort in the future.

3. Educate your staff…

Licensing and permissions should not just be the concern of a company’s rights person or team. All staff should understand the importance of copyright, the way that the business manages rights and at least the basics of contract terminology. This is particularly important for editorial teams, who are liaising with content creators; and for marketing departments, who may be seeking to use IP elsewhere. Staff should know where and how rights information is stored and accessed—but they must also understand what they should and shouldn’t do with it. This will help avoid confusion with any rights or permissions issues, or duplication of tasks.

4. …And your content creators

As with publishing staff, content creators need to understand their publisher’s approach to rights. This applies especially to first-time authors or illustrators who may not understand the intricacies of copyright and the types of rights and permissions that publishers handle. Authors and researchers who are likely to be seeking permission to reuse other IP owners’ content might also need some basic instruction. It may be useful to draft and maintain an introductory guide or FAQ for circulation to content creators.

5. Find a gatekeeper

It can help to establish a single point of contact for a company’s rights information. This person can establish and communicate rights management policies across the company, and field any internal enquiries about licensing or permissions. He or she can also feed back any views on rights management from editorial, marketing or other staff in the business so that practice continues to improve. The gatekeeper is usually someone involved in obtaining and selling rights, rather than editorial professionals who may not have the same understanding of the value of IP to a business.

6. Be consistent

Rights management is much easier if contracts and procedures follow the same standard templates and procedures. Consistency with contract terms and conditions is particularly important, and its benefits may need to be reinforced among editorial as well as rights teams. Wherever practical, and unless there is a good reason to deviate, everyone within a business should follow the same policies on contracts and licensing—and appreciate why it is important to do so.

7. Review old content

Managing rights for frontlist titles should be straightforward once good systems are in place, but the task can be more complex for old content. Licensing information may be contained in a paper contract that cannot be found, or may not have been agreed at all; or publishers might have lost contact with its creator. Straightening out this information can take time, and publishers need to judge if the effort justifies the likely returns on licensing. If contract information cannot be found, publishers might decide to pursue licensing opportunities regardless, though they should be aware of the risk of litigation if it emerges that they sold rights they do not possess.

8. Allocate enough time

Rights management often suffers because people do not dedicate enough time to it. If the task falls to a member of staff with other responsibilities, it can be easy to get distracted, and customer service—especially around permissions—can suffer. Ensure that staff have sufficient time and support for rights management work, perhaps by setting aside an agreed number of hours a week for it.

9. Think like a customer

Take time to understand the journey through licensing or permissions from a customer’s perspective. What are they likely to seek, and how do they wish to obtain it? What can you do to make it easy for them to spend money with you, and what frustrations do they encounter that could deter them? They may not be experiencing the smooth journey through licensing that you imagine, and the long time taken to secure simple permissions is a particularly common annoyance. Identify the pinch points in a user’s journey and adapt processes accordingly.

10. Find help if you need

If you do not have the expertise or in-house resources to manage rights effectively, help is available. Many publishers find that acquiring rights management software substantially reduces the labour that is required and makes it easier to access information relating to IP. Good software should integrate well into other systems in a business, and will future proof your systems as you grow and publish more titles——though obviously an investment cost applies. Permissions services like PLSclear can also streamline tasks. Specialist rights management consultants are available too: as well as advising on software and systems, they can provide training for staff to reinforce the value of copyright and rights.