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The management of digital assets requires the unbroken maintenance of the ownership of a digitized object while permitting access to those who have obtained rights to that access. Once a media object enters the digital domain its owner can control who else may view, use, or modify the asset and asserts that control by applying some sort of encryption method used for digital rights enforcement. Applications that implement digital asset management (DAM) apply their digital rights management (DRM) method of choice when new digital objects come under management, whether by importing them from the analog and/or digital domains (by scanning, optical character recognition, etc.) or by authoring them as new objects.
The indexing of objects that exist only in analog form (printed documents or photos on paper, for instance) in a digital system (i.e. an online database of published works) is not DAM, as an encoded, binary-data form of the object must be available to have DRM applied before a DAM application may import such material.
The term "media asset management" (MAM) may be used in reference to DAM applied to the sub-set of digital objects commonly considered "media", namely audio recordings, photos, and videos. Any editing process that involves media, especially video, can make use of a MAM to access media components to be edited together, or to be combined with a live feed, in a fluent manner. A MAM typically offers at least one searchable index of the images and videos it contains constructed from metadata harvested from the images using pattern recognition, or input manually
An enterprise content management (ECM) provides a management solution for a wide range of document and asset types that includes intake, distribution, output, and writing collaboration features to all members of a particular enterprise by facilitating, and possibly even enforcing, the corporate policies on content lifecycle. 
Smaller DAM systems are easier to categorize as to content and usage as they are used in a particular operational context, for instance in video production systems. The key differentiators between them are the types of input encoders used for creating digital copies of assets to bring them under management, and the output decoders and/or formatters used to make them usable as documents and/or online resources. The metadata of a content item can serve as a guide to the selection of the codec(s) needed to handle the content during processing, and may be of use when applying access control rules to enforce authorization policy.
Assets that require particular technology to be used in a work flow need to have their requirements for bandwidth, latency, and access control considered in the design of the tools that create or store them, and in the architecture of the system that distributes and archives them.
When not being worked on assets can be held in a DAM in a variety of formats including blob (binary large object in a database) or as a file in a normal file system, that are "cheaper" to store than the form needed during operations on them. This makes it possible to implement a large scale DAM as an assembly of high performance processing systems in a network with a high density storage solution at its centre.
An asset can exist in several formats and in a sequence of versions. The digital version of the original asset is generally captured in as high a resolution, colour depth, and (if applicable) frame rate as will be need to ensure that results are of acceptable quality for the end-use. There can also be thumbnail copies of lower quality for use in visual indexing.
Metadata for an asset can include its packaging, encoding, provenance, ownership and access rights, and location of original creation. It is used to provide hints to the tools and systems used to work on, or with, the asset about how it should be handled and displayed.
All of these types will include features for work-flow management, collaboration, project-management, and revision control.
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