Selecting Content

Cheryl Cain
Central to any web business is the practice of securing good content to grace your pages. The basics are well known, having been practically cemented in the daily plug of webmaster lore in terms of quality, price and documentation. We all know that we want to select good quality content and material at a resolution that loans itself to resizing. Most also are aware of the volumes of reputable content brokers and studio outlets that are teaming with choice and cost effective options. Finally, everyone is now well aware, or at least they had better be, of the necessity to obtain the legal documentation required by federal statutes.

So is that all there is to content selection? Hardly. Suffice it to say that as with any product, the details are in the fine print. Everyone is aware of the license, but it would seem that very few webmasters bother to read the thing. A daily reminder of this is the constant parade of websites for sale where the webmaster is offering all content with original licenses and documentation. Experienced webmasters will sit quietly by with a raised eyebrow knowing that the vast majority of licensed materials do not allow transfer of the license holder without a transfer fee per license.

So add to the considerations of selecting content the "suitability of purpose" of a given license. To break that down in more defined terms, one must refer back to their business plan. Questions to be answered might include:

What are transfer requirements? If your plan considers an exit strategy, and it should, how does it deal with the question of the materials transfer? If your exit plan only calls for the sale of the domain and related traffic, there is no need to worry about this. Indeed most website sales these days are traded on domain name popularity based on the traffic as opposed to the website itself. However, if your exit strategy calls for the sale of a turnkey operation, license issues must be addressed.

What are the restrictions on presenting the materials? If your plan calls for an affiliate-like disbursement of the licensed materials, this question definitely needs to be dealt with. The vast majority of licenses I have seen are based on a finite number of domains, often in the range of 5 or 10 individual domains. Very few licenses allow for unrestricted domains, and in that case most of them govern saturated materials anyway. Even if you are not planning an affiliate-like use, you could still run against the limit if you employ a diverse network of similar sites, a marketing tactic known as "cloning." Dodging that issue with a multitude of sites pointing to a common location may or may not hold legal water, but nevertheless dictate a need to understanding that provision of your licenses.

Are there restrictions on modifications? If you are using the materials in advertising, the license may impose restrictions on its use not only in terms of where it can be viewed, but also how it is cropped and what can be added to the image. Adding graphics, wording or merging into other images may be in violation of your "terms of use." In rare cases there can be restrictions on adding a URL, or use in association with certain text descriptions and even how you must refer to the model depicted in the content. In at least a few cases the license dictated that content must be pixilated to be used outside of a paid members area.

Aside from these more obvious questions, licenses have been used to govern a number of uses of the content they cover. I have seen licenses restricted in terms of the media they can be shown on, restricted from AVS sites, or from being viewed outside of a paid member's area at all. I have even seen licenses that bar the use of content in terms of geographic availability; for example restricted from a country or even based on a country's theology.

Remember a license is your agreement with the vendor that outlines the terms under which you may use the materials governed by that license. This is definitely not a "one size fits all" specification but rather an agreement that protects a producer or vendor's rights are they see it. Your option as the customer is to accept the terms as provided, negotiate new terms for a specific use, or simply find another provider.

A quick review of any licenses you already have will illuminate a number of differences and requirements that you never knew existed. Very few webmasters take the time to read the long-winded legal mumbo jumbo detailed in those documents. Consequently, you might be surprised to find a number of ways in which you may already be operating in violation of some of them, thereby rendering your right to use the material invalid.

Selecting a professionally run content broker is one way to keep from having to sweat the details. A good provider will know their business and the terms they are selling under and be able to direct you to materials that are suitable for a specific purpose. Other avenues would be to deal directly with the producer, so that you can state what you need and tailor a license for your use and perhaps even to govern all future materials. And lastly, there is always the option to self-shoot if you are so inclined in skill and capabilities for your chosen niche.

But as demonstrated in the above text, content selection entails more than what meets the eye. The license is not simply a pass to do as you please, and more importantly may affect your long-range plans in a yet unknown way. Imagine your frustration to have labored for years on a web endeavor only to find that the business entity you built is not marketable. Executing your exit strategy is not the time to find this out. Select your content with a measure of wisdom and pay attention to the licenses. Only in this way can you properly gauge your assets.