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Digital Rights Management

Product Rights

The architecture of the Marketplace product licensing model adopts several IP rights concepts friendly to both open access and Open Source-licensed products as well as commercial developers. While Digital Rights Management (DRM) considerations are debatedly optional in the former cases, they are necessary for commercial ISVs and content vendors to have reasonable protections and insights surrounding their work.

To provide concrete support for the most common payment models, several models related to product-level DRM are provided to form the basis of dynamic product authorization tracking and operations.


Almost all daily consumer interactions with digital content are licensed. Many exceptions exist, such as for Government works and public domain materials outside of copyright, but the average person interacts primarily with copyrighted, licensed digital assets. "Open Source" software under Apache 2.0, MIT, BSD, etc, license is still licensed for use, even though it is "free." In other words the lack of a financial transaction does not imply the lack of copyright nor binding legal obligations.

In the world of "closed source" digital content license rights tend to be temporary. For example, renting a movie for online play may only allow for playback within 24 hours from the start of play, 1 week from the time of rental, with 2 restarts, only during a special promotional period, or including other complex terms. Materials for trial use or demonstration purposes may have similar restrictions, while access to software applications is enforced in more diverse ways. Clinical content -- especially terminology systems -- are typically made available under custom licenses with less regard for international compatibility and legal robustness than most assume.

Marketplace 2 introduces a new concept of Product Entitlement: an acquired instance of a given Product under an available License. (Details in following sections.)

Product Families

Products are often released in functional collections: hierarchical “families;” promotional groupings; domain bundles, or; en masse under a subscription-type license. The API allows arbitrary parent-child nesting of products to support automatic child authorizations without needing to explicitly grant sub-Product Entitlements to every layer in a product tree. This mechanism also permits users to authorize their use of a Product without needing to know exactly how permission was obtained, which is critical for volume licensing scenarios common for enterprise products.


A Marketplace "License" defines usage terms outside of any specific product and regardless of the financial requirements of use. Each License defines one of the following types that governs the way Entitlements to it are dynamically interpreted and enforced:

  • Indefinite: No time-based restrictions. (e.g. F/OSS products, shareware -- Apache 2.0, MIT, BSD etc)
  • Relative: Only valid for a period relative to the datetime the Entitlement was activated. (E.g, long-term subscriptions, short-term rentals, evaluation copies)
  • Absolute: (E.g. end of calendar year only, a specific sale date only, etc -- "beta test" ro "pre-release reviewer" use cases)

A given Product may be offered under any number of Licenses. Operators may further define business rules governing which types of Licenses are offered and when as long as the authorization API endpoints enforce those rules.

When a user acquires a License to a Product (aka "ProductLicense"), that record constitutes an "Entitlement". The Entitlement is bound to the consumer acquiring the Product, and carries additional metadata. Commercial systems may need to extend these records to include references to order processing or ERP data.

All marketplace operators will decide if robust entitlement management applies to their target audience. For national-level resources, the authors support implementing the most diverse set of licensing models as possible for both F/OSS and commercial works. If fully implemented, the specification supports all of the following revenue models:

Business Model Revenue Centers Example
Service & Support (typically for for F/OSS products, e.g. support tickets, custom development etc) Red Hat, MITRE
Recurring Subscription MS Office, Netflix
Freemium/Pro Advanced features, plugins, SLAs GitHub, Dropbox, Skype
Upfront (e.g. 1-time charge per major version) Kindle books, Physical/Immutable goods, mobile apps
Use Per Utility Unit (e.g. CPU-hour, transaction, user, object etc) Amazon, Google, Azure, Oracle
Advertising (e.g. 3rd-party ad views, pay-per-click) Google search, "free" games

Dynamic Authorization

Marketplaces implementing the Entitlement portion of the API carry several functions for both (1) local clients/platforms and (2) products themselves to check for valid entitlement. This authorization mechanism, when restricted by user limits, should verify both time-based criteria and net "claims" to available Entitlements. Marketplaces may provide the baseline simple verification that Entitlements are present and valid, or complex enhancements for directly integrating with financial systems.

Marketplaces that support diverse usage-based or metered business monetization models (as described in the Business Model Revenue Table above) may use the entitlement and claim capabilities to implement technical solutions corresponding to the business models identified in Business Model Revenue Table. For example, to:

  • Inject raw object data when products are deployed.
  • Create time-based constraints.
  • Meter for certain parameters periodically, such as local user count, local CPU count etc.
  • Monitor for possible abuse, such as account sharing and/or excessive claims.

The Dynamic Authorization aims to provide the core capabilities for F/OSS and commercial products to co-exist under the same set of operational principles.

The distinction is not as simple as "F/OSS vs commercial", with exception cases and a broad grey area. For example, consider the less common licensing cases:

  • F/OSS works that require upstream reporting. This may require entitlement management even though the upstream vendor does not require an external financial transaction to have taken place.
  • Entitlements to commercial works that cannot be purchased, and must be granted by the vendor. This may occur when a vendor:
    • releases updates to a legacy product
    • offers a special product offered only by voucher
    • incentive such as marketing signup. (E.g. timeshare presentations)


An Entitlement represents the specific user's right to "claim" a Product's set of assets, according to the limitations of the specific ProductLicense that was purchased. A given Entitlement -- not the assets themselves -- are always owned by exactly one Marketplace User. However, Claims of the Entitlement are what is counted against any limits of the License. Additionally, Users may be included in any number of Groups, when desirable. This approach should be used when Claims need to be counted at an aggregate level -- such as for organizational licensing -- and do not need to track User-level access.

Entitlements need not be immediately used. They may be purchased in advance, or by user account completely different from the consumer of the Product. When an end user is ready to use the Product, the Product and/or runtime environment may make an API call to the marketplace API to verify user authorization using the claim object data injected via environment variables.

Each authorization call creates an Attempt record for operator reporting and vendor auditing purposes. It is also intended as a data stream for detecting system abuses such as installation fraud and account sharing.


Vendors often distribute evaluation copies of products via digital codes. Each code is a human-readable public identifier for a preconstructed Voucher that is bound to exactly one ProductLicense. Thus, Vouchers are not a form of "gift card" that may be redeemed for unrelated Products, nor may they be used for the same Product under a different ProductLicense. This allows for several related use cases:

  • Channel partner and resale by 3rd-parties. The end user may acquire the voucher through external means and comes back to the issuing marketplace instance for redemption.
  • Offline sales. Internet access is not required for complex manual purchase order processes.
  • Promotional giveaways. Voucher codes may be printed and shared via paper, email etc.

External Transactions

Early feedback on the concept of an ecosystem of compatible marketplaces revealed inconsistent perspectives for incorporating payment processing directly into this specification. Not all operators are capable of providing (let alone interested in) "checkout" processes often present in commercial platforms; however, commercial vendors may find it absolutely critical. For this reason, the approach of allowing, but not requiring, an ordering process has been adopted.

For products requiring an explicit ordering/checkout process for Entitlement, end users should be redirected to an external ordering URL provided by the ISV. If/When the user completes that external checkout flow, the ISV creates an Entitlement via marketplace API prior to redirecting them back to the marketplace. This enables extremely flexible sales processes while preserving a marketplace's ability to manage and authorize Entitlement use. Both marketplace implementations and external checkout processes MUST comply with application regulations concerning data use and privacy policies. In locales absent regulatory requirements, implementors SHOULD still proactively disclose these policies and practices.

The ability to to externalize payment processing allows for operators to optionally avoid the complexities, administrative and legal headaches of being a middleman in a resale arrangement if they so choose. In those cases, focus may then remain on curation and validation activities. Alternatively, operators may do the complete opposite by electing to fully manage the ordering process on behalf of ISVs. Both are acceptable operational models.

Dependencies and Sublicensure

Interoperable, computable clinical content is enabled by common underlying terminology systems and information models. Presence of required dependencies unfortunately does not imply the consumer holds the right to use those dependencies.

This is further complicated by a jungle of terminology-level licensing models. NLM’s UMLS license defines a tiered class system of licensing terms based on the nature of a work, and is used by RxNorm, VSAC, and many others. US users may only acquire SNOMED CT through UMLS license. Under their model, no means of organization-level licensing is provided, nor a means of redistributing UMLS content: not even for Government organizations. It is woefully inadequate and presents significant headaches for content producers wanting to publish computable content with "plug ‘n’ play" ease. Unfortunately, most informaticians seem to ignore the issue. Violations are commonplace.

The API does not attempt to model all underlying dependency licenses, as it is an implausable task at this time. Rather, operators should establish clear submission policies to set expectations for what is and is not permissable to embed within submitted assets.