I met Rob Wilson of RCWS consulting at the DAM London conference last summer, where he talked about digital identifiers. He has long career working on information architecture for range of organisations and industry standards bodies, including the ultimately doomed e-GMS project, which was an attempt to unify government metadata standards for sharing and interoperability.

Identifiers are a hot topic at the moment, and so I was pleased Rob was willing to talk to me and some of my colleagues about some of the problems and attempts at solving them in the wider industry. Rob described the need for stable and persistent IDs for asset management and that this is not a new problem but one that has been worked on by various groups for many years. He distinguished between ID management and metadata management, pointing out that metadata may change but the ID of an asset can be kept stable. In just the same way that managing metadata as a distinct element of content is important, so IDs need to be managed as distinct from other metadata.

Rob is an independent consultant and has no commercial affiliation with the EIDR content asset identifier system, but suggested it is a robust model in many ways. The EIDR system embeds IDs within asset files, using a combination of steganography, strong encryption, and watermarking and “triangulation” of combined aspects to create a single ID. The idea is that the ID is so deeply ingrained and fragmented within the structure of the file that it cannot easily be removed and can be recovered from a small fraction of the file – e.g. if someone takes a clip from a video, the “parent” ID is discoverable from the clip. Rob thought the EIDR system was better than digital rights management (DRM) methods, which rely on trying to prevent distribution, and “locking” content after a certain amount of time or use, which gives an incentive to everyone who has such content to try to break the DRM system. If an individual can still access their illegally held content despite the ID, they have little incentive to try to remove the ID.

The system does not try to prevent theft from source, but helps to prove when copyright has been breached, because the ID – the ownership – remains within the file. It is intended as a tool to deter systematic copyright theft by large organisations, by making legal cases easy to win. Large organisations typically have the funds, or insurances, to cover large claims, unlike individuals, so it is unlikely to be cost-effective to pursue individuals.

The EIDR system also has an ID resolver that manages rights and supply authentication (as well as ownership) so that when content is accessed, the system checks that the appropriate rights and licences have been obtained before delivery.

Rob also outlined the elements of information architecture that need to be considered for unified organisational information management – establish standards, develop models, devise policies, select tools, maintain governance, etc. He emphasised that IDs are not a “silver bullet” to solve all issues, but that if a few problematic key use cases are known, they can be investigated to see if robust federated ID management architecture would help.