Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Digital Policy Management Workshop

Neil Beagrie and Mark Bide report on a one-day invitational workshop on Digital Policy Management sponsored by The British Library, JISC and UKOLN under the aegis of the British Library/JISC Partnership, held in the British Library Conference Centre on 24 April 2006.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology is commonly portrayed as a mechanism for restricting access to and use of digital content. On the contrary, a properly implemented Digital Policy Management infrastructure will facilitate the widest possible use of digital content, supporting the interests of library users, libraries and rights owners.

'Access and use policies' are a traditional element in the management of every library collection. There are many reasons why every item in a library collection may not be accessible to every library user; and the uses to which different items may be put are frequently not uniform across the complete collection. Policies may derive from internally determined library practice, from the legal framework within which the library operates or from licence agreements with controllers of copyrights. In the physical world, the management of these policies is relatively easily managed by physical constraints and occasional human intervention.

However, if libraries are to take full advantage of the opportunities that the network creates for wider access to their growing digital collection, relying on physical constraints and human intervention creates insurmountable barriers to efficient management. In a networked environment, there are no convincing arguments that physical constraints provide the optimum mechanism for managing policies (for example, by restricting access to content to particular terminals in particular physical locations). Rather, we should seek to find technical solutions to a technical problem.

The Workshop

This invitational workshop on Digital Policy Management was held at the British Library Conference Centre in April to explore these issues.

It is one of three joint British Library, JISC and UKOLN workshops organised for 2006 as part of the British Library and JISC Partnership [1].

Its aims were that by the end of the workshop, the participants should:

This should contribute to:

Delegates heard overviews from Mark Bide (Rightscom), Richard Boulderstone (British Library), and Amber Thomas and Liam Earney (JISC); and specific case studies on the JISC JORUM service and Creative Commons from Susan Eales (JISC), The British Library Digital Object Management (DOM) programme from Richard Masters (British Library), ONIX for Licensing Terms from David Martin (Book Industry Communication/EDItEUR), and Standardisation in Other Media and in Consumer Electronics from David Gooch (International Federation of Phonogram and Videogram Producers). All Powerpoint presentations from the workshop and the programme have been made available on the Web [2].


The following recommendations were made by the meeting delegates:

  1. The bringing together of the group itself drawn from the British Library, JISC Executive, JISC services and projects, and publishers and industry representatives was seen as having been a valuable exercise in sharing of expertise; this reflected the complexity of the challenges, and the value of learning across traditional boundaries. The organisers of the workshop were invited to consider how the group (or a similar one) might be best used in future.
  2. The minimisation of complexity (but equally the avoidance of a 'lowest common denominator' approach to access) is dependent on the wide implementation of standards, and in this light a warm welcome was given to the development of ONIX for Licensing Terms (OLT) [3]. It was agreed that it would be valuable to express the JISC National Electronic Site Licensing Model Licence for electronic journals [4] in the OLT messaging format; this should be accompanied by (plain English) documentation stressing the extent of what is permitted under the terms of this licence as well as what is not permitted. In addition, it was noted that in many contexts clear explanations of permissions and restrictions are rarely available to end-users. 'Click-though' licences were felt to be particularly inadequate in this regard. Finally the close alignment of evolving digital policy management for the DOM system with OLT within the British Library was also noted and welcomed.
  3. The significance of the role of system providers - and particularly of Electronic Rights Management system vendors - in the widespread implementation of OLT was acknowledged. It was agreed that specific activity (perhaps jointly sponsored by the British Library, JISC, and publishers) should be undertaken among the vendor community to 'evangelise' OLT at both technical and strategic level; and that this should be reinforced by raising awareness among librarians of the potential benefits (so that the system vendors could be made aware of real market demand).
  4. The group recognised that seeing 'DRM' in the rather wider context of 'policy management' gives an additional perspective to the issue. For the orderly management of policy, it needs to be possible to express in machine interpretable formats (for example) Open Access policies and Creative Commons licences as well as Publisher Licences. An area that requires further exploration is the development of Creative Commons-like licences that are more appropriate for the specific requirements of the UK Higher Education/Further Education communities.
  5. Although recognising the inherent challenges to exceptions to copyright, it was recognised that there may be lessons to be learned from the music industry in the development of services based on effective DRM and that these might be further explored in future.
  6. It was agreed that the British Library and JISC should share their responses to the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property [5].
  7. Other issues that arose that would benefit from future discussion included: 'one stop shop' rights clearance for e-learning and teaching materials; a better understanding of trust, identity and provenance models; the management of students' outputs; accessibility; and an understanding of the application of policy management to academic models of 'right, reward and responsibility' (which are different from the economic models of the copyright industries).

Notes and References

  1. The British Library/JISC Partnership was established in 2004 to carry forward and develop earlier collaborative activity between the British Library, the JISC and UK Higher Education. Further information on the Partnership and current joint activities are available online from the British Library Web site at
    http://www.bl.uk/about/cooperation/jisc.html, and the JISC Web site at http://www.jisc.ac.uk/part_bl_info.html
  2. Presentations are available from the Workshop Web pages at
  3. For further information on ONIX for Licensing Terms see the Web page at http://www.editeur.org/onix_licensing.html
  4. For further information on the JISC NESLI Model Licence see Web pages at
  5. For further information on the Gowers Review see Web pages at

Author Details

Neil Beagrie
British Library/JISC Partnership Manager
The British Library

Email: neil.beagrie@bl.uk
Web site: http://www.jisc.ac.uk and http://www.bl.uk

Mark Bide
Rightscom Limited

Email: mark.bide@rightscom.com
Web site: http://www.rightscom.com

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