Metadata Principle 4

Metadata Principle 4: Good metadata includes a clear statement of the conditions and terms of use for the digital object.

Terms and conditions of use include the copyright status of the object—whether it is in the public domain or is copyright protected—and any restrictions on use. The user should be informed how to obtain permission for restricted uses and how to cite the material for allowed uses. The institution should also document whether the resource is published or unpublished, and whether the creator or rights holder is known. Contact information for rights holders should be maintained.

If this information is the same for all the materials in a collection, documenting it in collection- level metadata is adequate (see COLLECTIONS). Otherwise, it should be recorded at the object level.

Many metadata schemes have designated places to put this information; if they do not, an external scheme or locally defined element set should be used.

Rights metadata is a rapidly evolving area. Rights metadata is generally expressed in XML (eXtensible Markup Language) and may serve three complementary but distinct purposes:

Rights description, which may include the description of the copyright status of works, rights holder requirements for use of the resource, and user attributes required for authorized use of a resource and agreements between both parties for resource use. PREMIS rights metadata, <indecs>rdd (rights data dictionary) and Creative Commons licenses are examples of rights description. The California Digital Library's copyrightMD Schema is a rights description schema for recording detailed copyright information that may evolve into a standard ( 

Rights licensing is an emerging area of rights management within the library environment focused on the development and exchange of license information for resources. ONIX-PL (ONIX for Publications Licenses) and the PLUS License Data Format are metadata schema for communicating license terms for library subscriptions and picture images respectively.

Rights workflow – rights expression languages support rights transactions between the rights holder and the user. They are designed to be actionable within a suite of standards and protocols to manage the digital workflow of rights management, whether it is the authorization of users, enforcement of rights agreements, control of resource access, tracking of resource use, or all of the above. Rights workflow generally incorporates licenses but goes beyond simple license messaging to providing an end-to- end actionable platform for managing agreements between parties. R XrML, the core technology within the MPEG-21 rights expression language, ORDL (Open Rights Description Language) and XACML (eXtensible Access Control Markup Language) are examples of rights expression languages for workflow.

Rights metadata has the distinction of being the only legally enforceable type of metadata.  The WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT) are international copyright treaties that have been ratified and incorporated into the national law of most signatory countries, including the United States and members of the European Union. The WCT and WPPT treaties require that signatory countries provide legal remedies against any party that knowingly removes or alters rights management information, where this information is defined as “information which identifies the work, the author of the work, the owner of any right in the work, or information about the terms and conditions of use of the work, and any numbers or codes that represent such information, when any of these items of information is attached to a copy of a work or appears in connection with the communication of a work to the public” (WIPO Copyright Treaty, art. 12, Geneva, SZ: World Intellectual Property Organization, - P66_786\5).

Institutions are likely to encounter this metadata in file headers, particularly file headers for images and documents that utilize XMP, the extensible metadata platform, that utilizes RDF (Resource Description Framework) to provide data and storage models for incorporating and handling metadata within file headers. Adobe introduced XMP in 2001, and its adoption along the digital object creation and management chain has been steadily increasing. XMP is predominantly used for documents and images but is extensible to most digital file formats. 

Other avenues for incorporating metadata within digital objects include the metadata track in the MPEG-4 multimedia file format, and metadata support within MP-3 and ogg container format for digital multimedia. Institutions can expect to encounter rights metadata, which cannot be removed or altered by law, in many commercially distributed digital objects, such as resources that are licensed from publishers or distributors. The metadata that is integrated into digital objects may contain useful information about the creation and provenance of the object as well as permissions and restrictions on use that can be useful to populate metadata databases through automatic data capture, as long as the data capture does not modify, delete or interfere with the actionability of the metadata. 

Last updated: 04/17/2008