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What exactly is Open Digital Rights Language ODRL?

by Casey Schmidt  |  February 4, 2020

3 min. read
A digital image of a computer hud.

Open Digital Rights Language (ODRL) is a necessity for companies and intellectual property owners. As you explore the many facets of ODRL, focus on ways to use it for your business. This type of focus allows companies to narrow in on the most important aspects and details. Learning about ODRL begins with the understanding of broader concepts. Let’s begin with these and then transition to the main issue.

To understand ODRL, you first need to learn about Rights Expression Language (REL). REL is a language that conveys details of intellectual property provisions. This creates and displays guidelines for things like copyrighted digital material. REL discloses coded languages which are comprehensible to both the computer and the user. In easiest terms, REL is attached to software so manipulations don’t break the copyright. With that in mind, let’s start breaking down ODRL.

Code on a computer screen.
ODRL ensures proper file use.

What is ODRL and how is it used?

Open Digital Rights Language is a Rights Expression Language. It’s a way to relay protocol and guidelines. It’s terminology of dynamic data design, language and coding structure that declares how to use intellectual digital property. Ultimately, ODRL reduces complexity and difficulty of maintaining order among shared and sold intellectual property.

Here’s an example that illustrates ODRL using a common scenario. If you bought a film on VHS, DVD or similar format you would have the right to watch it as many times as you like. However, if you decided to set up an outdoor theater to play that film – charging money for people to watch – you’d be in violation. ODRL is like the warnings that play before the movie begins, warning you of this very example. It delivers rules about the product or service.

A laptop with animated features around it.
Computers use ODRL to define rules.

How ODRL enhances digital rights management

Digital rights management is a solution that oversees and regulates licensed and copyrighted content. Companies use digital rights management to organize their collection of digital assets and keep them secure. As the complexities of copyrights grow, digital rights management systems evolve into a complete arrangement to secure content.

A basic component of digital rights management is REL, as it contains data the digital rights management system utilizes. A digital rights management system creates rights expression languages. As ODRL is a subset of REL, it’s a part of the process digital rights management systems undergo to keep intellectual property secure. ODRL lets companies control what is permissible for their copyrighted software or media assets.

A human hand navigating a digital surface.
ODRL enhances REL.

Can companies use ODRL in place of a DRM?

ODRL is a big component of a successful digital rights management system. However, not every industry relies on DRM to oversee copyrighted content. This is why ODRL plays a role in these industries, as it provides an established language for handling digital content. It also manages digital language beyond the confines of a digital rights management system.

For example, if a media company wishes to set a language standard for all of its content without a DRM, they could turn to ODRL. They would then implement the user agreements and other requirements for their media. This is a likely scenario for companies sharing large quantities of content through numerous channels.

Open digital rights language provides the basic formula to maintain and secure copyrighted content digitally. It’s headed in a direction that benefits a majority of companies in need of dynamic intellectual property protections. Make sure you have a firm grasp of it, starting with the subcategories surrounding it.