New Campaign Seeks to Make Metadata Permanent

EXIF data embedded in an image file can shed quite a bit of information about a photo, including how it was created and the owner of the copyright. It’s useful, but can be easily stripped away. A new consortium led by three organizations (IPTC, 4A’s, and ANA) is pushing to make metadata permanent. It recently published an Embedded Metadata Manifesto, which states,

Ownership metadata is the only way to save digital content from being considered orphaned work. Removal of such metadata impacts on the ability to assert ownership rights and is therefore forbidden by law in many countries.

[…] Properly selected and applied metadata fields add value to media assets. For most collections of digital media content descriptive metadata is essential for retrieval and for understanding. Removing this valuable information devalues the asset.

Do you want to live in a world where it’s illegal to remove or tamper with a photograph’s EXIF data?

(via NPPA via PopPhoto)

  • Don Giannatti

    Yep. there is no reason to remove it. this keeps everything fair and we can stop worrying about it at a certain point down the road. I wonder why anyone would feel it their right to remove my metadata? What is up with that?

  • Through Painted Eyes

    I don’t think it would make much of a difference. People will strip the data without thinking too much about it, just like they download music and movies without much thought about it.

  • Paris Paul

    I want to live in a world where it’s not necessary to make it illegal to tamper with a photographer’s EXIF date.

  • Through Painted Eyes

    So are you talking a perfectly moral/ethical world? Who would want to photograph such a boring world to begin with?

  • Jesse Activist

    What about websites that compress your image/data and automatically strip it away? When I upload a photo to facebook, the EXIF data is completely gone. Would websites have to change their methods of hosting photographs?

  • Chris Blizzard

    Do I want to live in a world where I can’t tamper with the metadata? Depends, can you think of a single legitimate reason I would want to do so?

    I imagine when youre publishing an edit, you would need permission from the photographer to alter their work, which would surely mean you could update the meta to reflect your changes, but I figure by having permission to edit the file, permission to edit the metadata is implied anyway…

  • Melo

    What to do about screengrabs?  More complex an issue.  And, what if your exif data changes.  Can you update your URL, address, etc.?

  • Daf Owen

    For those that really want to – there will always be ways around this. Will just be a nuisance for most.

  • Graysmith

    I’d be all for it as long as I could decide which parts to include in my own images. Copyright notice, creator info and links, absolutely, but I personally never include specific camera data like shutter speed/aperture/etc. Most of all, if I had such a capable device, I wouldn’t want to include location/GPS data.

    A first step though should be to go after the likes of Flickr who strip downsized versions of photos of their EXIF. Pretty ridiculous for the biggest photo sharing site to do that, and they’ve never done anything about it even though it’s perfectly possible to downsize images while retaining EXIF (Tumblr does that).

  • Through Painted Eyes

    Wow, that is surprising. I didn’t know flickr did that…

  • lord xeon

    horrible idea.
    First it will be unenforceable, and unimplementable.

    Open a photo in Paint from a camera.  Save it as a BMP or PNG.  EXIF data is gone.  Open that new PNG or BMP back in Paint, save it back as a JPEG, EXIF data is gone.
    Basically you would need an EXIF flag that says you can’t save this file as anything.  And then you’d have to get every single image manipulation software to honor that flag.
    Oh, but if you had a version that’s out of date, or hasn’t been updated the flag isn’t honored, or understood, so it won’t work.

    Also, as mentioned above, print screen.  Or, print it out at super high resolution, then scan it back in.

    Basically, this is a complete waste of time, effort, and (probably) money.

    Also, don’t tell me what I can and cannot do with MY stuff.

  • Mark 2000

    Eh. Good luck with that. SOPA is even having a hard time passing and that’s got billions behind it. Like all DRM, it will be a slight annoyance to the nefarious among us and a major pain to those with legit needs.

  • Jon Baker

    Not sure how they could do this technically. The only was I can think of is through digital signing which would require co-operation from all organisations and software that handles these image files to keep the certificate in tact and enforce not openings / uploading files that had been tampered with.

    There would then be the hassle of having to generate a certificate for every file. It would be years before it was a seamless process.

    Even using approaches like Steganography to hide the ownership info could be easily reverse engineered and so there will always be tools to update the meta data. Encryption and signing is the only way to prevent this.

    Good luck to them but as someone has said above this will be one of those badly thought out ideas that doesn’t stop the determined from changing meta data and that becomes an inconvenience for everyone else.

  • Alan Dove

    Exactly. Just look at how DRM has worked out for music and video files. Now we’re going to implement the same crap for photos? No, thanks.

  • Marius M

    I’m using 35mm film camera, don’t care about that…
    every time I scan same negative, i get new EXIF.

  • Sfaulk

    I think this would be great!!
    Why not include contractual agreements like usage rights, purchase date and time allotted to purchaser. It would also be easier for stock shooters to audit their image uploads with agencies, simply search the creator name and bam there they are. I know this is already an option with simple IPTC data but to have it forever imbedded would give piece of mind to the creators.

  • Seven Bates

    1) Making it illegal to do something doesn’t stop criminals. If this became law in the U.S., a crack to get around it, for every major photo editing app, would be available for downloading – within a week. 

    2) Cybercrimes divisions of law enforcement have much higher priorities and limited resources. This will be a civil matter, as it is now. Why create a giant bureaucratic  expense when it will end up in the same court anyway?

    – The solution is creating a tag that isn’t erasable. It would require a data standard that nobody is willing to accept. 

  • David Riecks

    Having been one of the co-authors of the original “Metadata Manifesto” (back in 2006) and having been involved in the most recent initiative (see for the actual site), it’s hard for me to understand how Michael Zhang (the author of this post) came to these conclusions if he had actually read the original press release, or visited the site above.

    His post seems to be a distillation of the CNET Australia piece that ran a few days ago ( — which has a number of misconceptions of it’s own. 

    First off, the “Embedded Metadata Manifesto” defines five guiding principles for creating and storing metadata, so
    important data is carried with the file wherever possible. Exif is only one type of metadata that is discussed. The Embedded Metadata Manifesto “…is addressed to the parties adding and managing metadata and to the
    vendors of hardware and software whose systems enable media and
    metadata workflows.”  (note this initiative not only concerns digital still images, but audio, video and other media files).

    When a file travels through various workflows there are many places where the file can be changed, and not always for the better. Would you be pleased to find that all of the embedded information in the MP3 music files you were uploading to a cloud service was automatically removed from the files on upload? Would that prove to be a major annoyance if your hard drive crashed, and you didn’t discover this until you downloaded all of your files and discovered that all you had were filenames — meaning you would have to play and then identify every single album, artist, track name, etc and write that information back into the files?

    That is where were are currently with many photo sharing and social media systems when it comes to digital still images. Take a look at the preliminary results of the “Preservation of Photo Metadata by Social Media Websites” survey ( for an idea of what I’m talking about.

    After reading a few of these pages, do you still feel the same way about this initiative?


    PS, There are only two mentions of Exif on the entire site, and these deal with how the tool “exposes” various metadata schemas for images that are uploaded.

  • ohno studio

    While it seems like a noble undertaking the toothpaste is already out of the tube on this and has been for a long time. There are several microstock photo sites that strip data too, and personally I don’t think they will have any interest in compliance. On Getty, don’t know. Haven’t dealt with them in a long time.

  • Warrior Cats RPG

    It’s not about the fact that stripping the metadata would still be easy even if it were made illegal. It’s about the fact that this nigh-on-unenforceable law would nudge the USA even further into police state territory, by potentially making anyone who did a screencap, changed a photo’s file type, or uploaded it to certain websites into a lawbreaker. Copyright law has become insanely intrusive and out of control already. It just has to stop.