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Rights expression language – Regulating content

by Casey Schmidt  |  October 16, 2019

3 min. read
Computer programmer working on REL.

The 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 digital languages.

What is rights expression language?

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

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 to prove they expressed directions on how not to damage the shirt. REL is the directions on the tag, only for software instead of a shirt. It lets 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 – 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 or 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.

REL provides a link between 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.

Benefits of REL

REL is fairly complicated but it’s not difficult to understand how it helps companies. Here are some of the key benefits REL offers:

Consistent work-ability between different systems

REL ensures that each user who comes into contact with a file, document or program will be able to use it regardless of the system they use. This creates a functional seamless working reliability for all involved.

Clarifies license restrictions

REL makes certain that all restrictions attached to a document are clear. It ensures that every time a program or document is used, the user is aware of what is permissible within the license agreement.

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.

ODRL is just one of the languages of REL 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.

Consider the ways REL helps companies apply licenses and permit or restrict user accessibility. Make sure you correctly apply REL when creating your own software systems or protecting a particular document file.