Publishing Rights Model: Delivering Rights Across the Publishing Workflow

Publishing Rights Model: Delivering Rights Across the Publishing Workflow

Publishing Rights Model

A Publishing Rights Model (PRM) is like other taxonomies within the publishing industry, but more encompassing. The ONIX taxonomy, widely accepted as the industry standard, captures fairly static metadata about a publication, usually for a specific book ‘product’ with limited constraints. This type of taxonomy works for the ‘traditional’ publishing product but is too simple when dealing with the complexities of digital content or custom products.

It’s advantages are that

  • It works for all types of content and is flexible to potentially changing ownership, usage, and constraints
  • It’s meant to capture a live view of the rights acquired and available for the book product, typically tied into the title or work
  • It’s typically built from a collection of rights contracts to establish a uniform view of what actions are available both internally and externally

From this all-encompassing view, a PRM is able to streamline compensation models.


The goals of a publishing rights model are straightforward:

  • Give a consistent approach to managing all types of rights
  • A flexible and extensible model that can be extended to satisfy new needs
  • Constraints on products change over time; rights for a certain territory may expire before another, the number of copies for said product might be limited, etc. With a flexible model, you have the opportunity to go back in after creating the product and modify the rights as need be.
  • Machine readable for interoperable communication within and outside specific publishers and platforms
  • This is vital for any platform because there is no industry standard for a publishing rights model. Being machine readable enables interchange between publishers; having information written in the same syntax allows respective platforms to translate the information being interchanged.
  • Utilize or map to existing open data standards where available & appropriate

Key Benefits




With such a flexible model, creating products becomes easy; having to modify the product does not require starting anew. Rather, if asset rights or agreements between licensees and licensors need to be changed, the contract can be amended.

Flexibility and extensibility enable publishers to adjust their products in whatever manner they need. Furthermore, the publishing rights model provides visibility into asset rights during content creation, cutting down on waste of resources including time, money, and assets further down the line at a later stage. This will help you drive products to market at an accelerated rate. However, to be able to implement such a robust system, the deal terms should be consistently organized.



Key Differences- Publishing Rights Model vs. Other Taxonomies

A publishing rights model will benefit you by establishing a true system of record for rights. Global rights for all levels of content would be housed in a singular location, making it easy and efficient to locate rights during the content planning stage.

An organized historical record of rights, along with knowing exactly what your company is holding in its IP portfolio, can significantly increase the valuation of a publisher as well. With more information readily available on your valuable assets, you’ll be able to better project yourself moving forward.

Elements of a Publishing Rights Model

Before breaking down the publishing rights model, it is important to know the “rights” ingredients needed for successful transactions. Ask yourself these questions to better understand what content you have at your disposal and what you want to accomplish:

  • How can I use it?
  • How can I change it?
  • Where can I use it? And where?
  • How can I sell it?

Once you know your goal, you can begin to build your rights model and the transactions surrounding your rights.

Building a Publishing Rights Model

The core elements of a Publishing Rights Model include:

  • Content (Property, Title, Work, Edition, Asset, etc.)
  • Types of Rights Granted (Usage, Re-Use, Transfer)
    • An example of usage would be producing a hardcover book or e-book from another work. You own the rights to the work and choose to reproduce it in another format.
    • In a re-use case, you’ve created a derivative product from the work you acquired; for example, translating it into a foreign language.
    • A transfer of rights would be if you chose to license the rights of the work to someone else. Granting a transfer rights essentially gives the other party the ability to sell the work.
  • Constraints
    • Formats, Product Types
    • Time Period
    • Count – number of uses
    • Territory/Geography
    • Industry / Channel / Platform
    • Exclusivity
    • Specialized, specific restrictions on use
      • For example, getting a special letter of use
    • Additional Contextual Constraints Related to Asset Rights
      • Subject Area, Topic
      • Allowable Work, Title, Product

**Many of the above elements should be conformed to standard taxonomies, such as those used in ONIX, so as to streamline inter-operability between publishers

With these elements, publishers are able to put together agreements, or deals, that define the functionality of a rights model.

Agreements – The Foundation for Rights Transactions

The transactional building blocks for any rights transaction are the agreements, or deals, because they define the elements of the rights model, the ownership of the content, and compensation (fees, royalties, etc.).

Agreements can vary in complexities. Depending on the structure of the agreement or product in question, there can be multiple constraints listed with slight variances.

  • For example, a single author for one book product could receive different royalty rates based on the territory or maybe different languages have varying limits on the number of copies permitted for distribution.
  • For example, multiple authors. When there are multiple owners for content, the publishing rights model must be able to intelligently combine terms from multiple agreements to give a unified view of rights available.

Ideally, the above global model is highly available and leveraged as part of content discovery and use – to prevent after-the fact rights clearance activities that consume time and increase costs.

A publishing rights model can get complex quickly, as there are many constraints that come into play. For example, a book may be produced in different formats, territories, channels, and languages. With so many variations of how, when, and where content can be utilized, publishers must be ready to account for different types of rights associated with advances, royalties, exclusivities, etc.

For a more in-depth example, listen to the latest installment of the BISG Rights Education Series, Planet Rights: The Rights Ecosystem.

Rights Transactions

The second basic element of a rights model is the rights transaction you create within your workflow. This can be further broken down into rights “in” and rights “out,” representing both sides of the flow of transactions.

  • Rights “In”: This is what managers must manage based on the terms of the rights in question. From what you license in, such as an author’s story, you’re able to create products to put out into the market. Eventually, products will be placed on the market and sales numbers will have to be connected to the deal. From here, publishers will have to calculate royalties and do general accounting (pay royalties, generate statements).
  • Rights “Out”: On this side of the transaction, publishers can license out rights for their products and generate a stream of revenue as a licensor. From the sales revenue generated by the licensee, you’ll receive royalty payments in, which then have to be properly divided between all entities (publisher, author, etc.)

Emerging business models, such as subscription-based (read more in depth below), are quickly complicating the rights acquisition and transaction workflow. The complexity of a deal, other than by the elements of the transaction themselves, vary based on how creative the acquisition team is for licensing the rights or by how much influencer the publisher or author has over the deal. Different publishers operate in different ways, meaning that no two deals could look the same. In this case, having an industry standard would ease the pain of deal creation, implementation, and compensation.

Compensation based on the Publishing rights model

Sales and Usage transactions (advances, fees, royalties, reserves, etc.) must ultimately be tied into the publishing rights model to streamline compensation calculations. As mentioned above, agreements and the processes that follow can get complex. When the agreements become more complicated or must be combined, there is a lot more work to be done in calculating author compensation. Manual calculations are prone to errors and are time consuming.

Compensation Models

Within publishing, there are several different ways in which compensation is based:

  • Traditional products such as print or e-books can be directly linked via Work, Format, and Language. This method of basing compensation lacks visibility into rights; since the compensation is linked directly to work and not the ISBN, no real relationship between the content and the sale exists.
  • Custom Products are well supported via Bills of Materials (or Rights Bills of Materials where partial content is used). For more information on this, check out our previous webinar in which we discuss rights bills of materials at length.
  • Products having complex content models typically use the DAM/Asset management information to connect product sales to track uses/sales of the included assets.
    • For continuous publishing models, where products are updated with fresh content on a regular basis, the version of the product is also an essential part of the compensation process to connect with the assets included in each particular version.
    • Subscription Sales are typically not tied to a product – they are instead tied to a subscription platform where specific usage is managed. Subscription Platforms track usage by Work or Asset and report usage in that context to support royalty processing and consumption of allowed uses. For more detail, watch our first installment of our Coffee Talk Webinar Series focused on subscription sales models.

Leveraging the Publishing Rights Model

For Internal purposes, within a publisher or publishing group, having the global model in place along with tools can be very effective in managing rights availability and production of new products that must respect those rights. As you produce your content, you can ensure that the assets conform to your goals.

However, externally, there are no universal standards within publishing at this time, making it necessary to build external integrations on a case-by-case basis. This is why making a rights machine readable is of utmost importance.

Mapping a Universal Standard

Over time, we can leverage a publishing rights model to help build a mapping of a universal standard for the industry to adopt.

There has been some headway already with some taxonomies which offer benefits:

  • Use cases such as those in the BISG rights pilot would use these building blocks to execute and manage rights requests and granting. The BISG rights pilot offers a consistent way to work. The BISG Rights Committee focus areas are:
    • Simplify!
    • Rights Standards enable clear communications
    • Standardize statements
    • Think out of the box!
  • Emerging standards, such as ODRL can also be used to represent many types of rights transactions.

To get expert opinion from BISG and FADEL on this topic, watch our latest webcast.

FADEL’s Perspective

‘Rights First’ is more than a concept – the Publishing rights model needs to be inherent to every type of transaction in Rights, Royalties and Permissions platforms. A flexible model will give you the ability to meet current and future demands as the industry continues to evolve. Be wary of platforms that are still tied to legacy concepts of ‘product’ or that align to fixed rights models – they will not scale as publishing processes continue to transform.