Rights Expression Language – Regulating Content


Rights expression language is a staple in the fight to maintain digital content protections such as copyright and ownership. Learn the ways it’s used and how it relates to other languages.

What Is Rights Expression Language?

Rights expression language (REL) is language embedded into code that helps identify digital rights to files and software. Rights expression language also provides rules and regulations about content use. The language REL communicates is machine language and includes open digital rights language.

Think of REL as the tag on a t-shirt. The directions indicate whether or not the shirt can withstand certain types of washing methods. If the user washes the shirt using the wrong method, the company can cite the tag as they expressed directions on how not to damage the shirt. REL is the directions on the tag, only for software instead of a shirt. That way users know which types of manipulations to a software are acceptable.

How REL Uses Metadata to Contribute to Digital Rights Management

REL install onto files as metadata. Metadata is data about data, so for example the author, date or any other description. REL is then part of a digital file’s metadata. This is important because it helps show things like ownership and authorship, and provides rules for the digital content it’s attached to.

A young man works on a computer.
REL incorporates metadata to uphold digital rights.

This then helps REL provide a link between the digital content and digital rights. Because of this, REL is a big part of the digital rights management process. Digital rights management (DRM) is the overarching regulation of a company’s protection of digital assets. By keeping important information attached and integrated, REL is boosting DRM efforts.

Rights Expression Language and Open Digital Rights Language

Open digital rights language (ODRL) is one of the languages of REL. It provides a guideline or instruction of how to handle or use software. It’s  a rulebook that a program or system automatically understands. It simplifies the uncertainties concerning sold digital files and software so that there is an understanding of how they can be used, shared, resold or manipulated.

A man uses multiple computers to work.
ODRL is one of the languages of REL.

Open digital rights language is just one of the languages of rights expression language, but it is an important one. This is mostly because it plays a role in digital rights management, which rights expression language is a big part of.

When a machine reads the language of REL, it understands the rules that apply to it. It also can relay information about authorship and dates if needed. REL is a protector of digital ownership.