Digital Object Identifiers

Posted on 5/26/1998 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



MAY 26, 1998

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) in collaboration with the non-profit

Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI) has developed a system to identify

individual electronic objects as a first step in tracking ownership of such objects.

The system is called the Digital Object Identifier (DOI). In its most basic form a

number is attached to an object (photograph, text, music, film, etc.). A user locating

that number can instantly go to an internet directory that will provide the name and

contact information for the owner, or the organization having rights to license use to

the object.

Additional features may eventually be built into the system such as on-line pricing of

certain items for certain uses, but the content owner always has the final decisions as

to which features he or she wants to adopt relative to any particular object.

Because this system has been designed by a major organization of publishers, and

because it is non-profit, it has a good chance of eventual wide acceptance.

Nevertheless, at the moment it is in its early stages and wide acceptance is not


While the system was designed primarily to track digital use of text information, there


been some discussion in the organizing meetings that it would be a good idea to attach

the DOI number to all printed pieces, as well, just as one would a copyright notice.

This way someone who wanted to make another use of published material would have an

easy way of

locating the rights holder. For the creator who wants to be paid for future uses it

might be more important to have a DOI number listed next to the work than to have a

copyright notice. On the other hand there is probably no reason not to print both.

Obviously, this system works for images as well as text.

DOI numbers have a prefix and a suffix. In the photo business the prefix would indentify

the individual or stock

agency. The suffix can be used to identify the specific image and a host of other

information depending on the needs of the creator or user in each specific case. For

example a credit line could include a DOI number:10.1486:[JHP1089]. The 10.1486 would

identify the stock agency and number in brackets would identify a specific image. The

information in brackets can be in virtually any format or length. (There is a maximum of 128 characters for each DOI number.) Other information can follow

the brackets.

Publishers could use these DOI numbers to track usage of individual chapters or

photographs within a publication. This could be particularly helpful in compensating

creators for specific articles or chapters of a book when sections of books are used in

"course packs."

A DOI for an illustrated article, might indicate that the publisher can license rights

to the article, but use of the photos attached to the article must be licensed

separately by contacting the creator identified in the DOI for the photo.

Negotiating rights for initial uses may become much more complex, but there is

the potential that photographers can now be paid for many uses that were given

way free in the past.

One thing that certainly should be part of any negotiation is whose DOI number will

appear by your image in their publication. Publishers will want to put their own

DOI number there. Photographers and agents should insist on using their DOI

numbers, unless there is a clear agreement on how the photographer will be compensated

for future uses.

Even if you give the publication unlimited rights to re-use the story in which your

image appears, it is still a good idea to insist that your DOI number be attached

to the image. This way if someone, other than the publisher, sees your image in the

original story, and wants to re-use it in some other way, they will contact you instead

of the publisher.

Stock agencies or individuals can register for a prefix for a one-time fee of $1000,

and an annual mantenance fee of less than $.01 per DOI (prefix and suffix combination).

You can have an unlimited number of DOI's attached to a single prefix. At the current

time the CNRI is waving the annual maintenance fee. For most photographers it will

probably be more practical to use their stock agent's DOI

than to have one of their own.

The idea is to use a suffix attached to the organization prefix to identify each

individual item (photograph). However, there would also be value in attaching the

prefix alone, particularly in news situations where no one knows until the last minute

which specific image will be used. This way at least someone spotting the image could

use your prefix number to locate the image owner. At that point there would need to be a

discussion to determine the specific image of interest.

In order to effectively use the DOI number on digital files it would help if there were

some standardization as to where the number should be placed. An ID bar with the image

number can be built into the image file, but that is somewhat time consuming. The file

name of the image file could contain the entire DOI number. With Photoshop it is possible

to create a text file

connected to each image. However, this file is separate from the picture file and does not have

to stay with it.

Their are about 50 organizations that are CMRI members at the present time. They include

ALCS, a writers collecting society in the UK, and music publishers as well as many text

publisher associations. The Copyright Clearance Center, manager of the MIRA photo database

is also a member. There are an estimated 500,000 DOI's registered at the present


The idea is to use a suffix attached to the organization prefix to identify each

individual item (photograph). However, there would also be value in attaching the

prefix alone, particularly in news situations where no one knows until the last minute

which specific image will be used. This way at least someone spotting the image could

use your prefix number to locate you. At that point there would need to be some

discussion to determine which specific image they were interested in.

If you are interested in learning more about DOI, Carol Risher of the AAP will be speaking on the copyright panel

at Photo West Expo in Anaheim, CA on June 19th at 10:30am. Or, you can go to the Association of

American Publishers web site at .

For information about Photo West

Expo see: .

Paula Berinstein of Berinstein Research has done an excellent article in InfoToday

"DOI: A New Identifier for Digital Content" explaining the system


Another useful article by Bill Rosenblatt can be found at:


Copyright © 1998 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-251-0720, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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