Study Looks Into Whether Photo Websites Play Nicely with Copyright Metadata


How well does your favorite photo hosting and/or sharing service handle the copyright information and EXIF data of your photographs? How do the popular services stack up against one another in this regard?

Metadata handling isn’t often discussed when photo sites are compared, but that’s what the International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC) has been devoting an entire study to. The organization has published its findings regarding which companies play nicely with your metadata, and which pretend it’s not there.

The study found that many major photo sharing services, including Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr, strip helpful copyright information from photos when they’re stored on company servers and displayed through the popular websites.

IPTC managing director says that if a photographer chooses to include copyright metadata within an image, “these data shouldn’t be removed without their knowledge.”

However, that’s exactly what many sites do. Earlier this month, the organization tested 15 different social sites to see how they handle metadata. Here’s a condensed chart that shows the results for some of the more popular services:


You can read about the study’s methodology here, Basically, green is good and red is bad. Google+ and Dropbox appear to have good metadata policies compared to their peers, while Facebook and Flickr are lagging behind.

One of the testers in the study, David Riecks, states,

Professional photographers work hard to get specific information — like captions, copyright and contact information — embedded into their image files, therefore it’s often a shock when they learn that the social media system they chose has removed the information without any warning to them”. Since some countries are in the midst of passing ‘Orphan Works’ laws, any files that are ‘stripped’ may be considered potential ‘orphans’ without having any copyright protection.

IPTC defined a set of metadata values (including copyright and source info) in the early 1990s, and most photo editing programs support these values.

You can find the full test results and the complete chart here.

Social Media sites: Photo Metadata Test Results [Embedded Metadata Initiative via SLRLounge]

  • Olafs Osh

    Yeah, Flickr! I don’t want people know what shutter speed I’ve used. But I do want them to know, that I did it. Darn.

  • lidocaineus

    Except for maybe GPS coords, I’ve never understood why people want to hide EXIF data, especially the stuff like focal length, shutter speed, ISO… unless you really don’t want someone to know some basic tech specs of your shot, which strikes me as a bit ridiculous. For people new to photography who like shots, EXIF data is extremely helpful.

  • Scott Verge

    You seriously care about people knowing your settings or are you being sarcastic here?

  • Jonathan Maniago

    I’m guessing that competition may also be a factor for some professionals. Demand might not be as high if anybody with equipment could replicate your shots.

  • Mick Orlosky

    The stripping of embedded data seems far more important to me than just displaying it correctly. While display is important, not many people are worried about the problem of someone linking to a Flickr page — but of the download of images for use elsewhere.

    Yes, I know that screen captures capture zero metadata as well, and malicious users can strip anything out of files. But a good chunk of of the “clueless infringement” that happens could be curtailed by retaining embedded metadata – which could possibly be searched for alongside the reviser image search tools that exists. Put simply, if big photo sharing sites left in embedded metadata, search engines could possibly crawl for it and find where your copyright is used.

  • lidocaineus

    I’ve heard this before and it sounds like something people who don’t actually shoot say. You think with the same equipment as someone else you’re going to magically come up with the same quality photos? Do you actually think people who work day-in and day-out in the photo industry can’t look at a shot and come up with the some ball park figures of the things you can see in EXIF data?

    Replicating a shot is way beyond just focal length, shutter speed, and exposure compensation.

  • Jonathan Maniago

    Aye. If anything, I think lighting’s a bigger factor, and that information isn’t recorded in EXIF data either.

    That said, my previous statement merely was a guess. For what other reasons would a photographer NOT want to share EXIF data? I’m just as puzzled and curious.

  • Rob S

    Hmmm…the filckr data doesnt seem right. You have the option of not displaying EXIF data but you have the option to do so too. Is the stripping unique to the free accounts?

  • Joakim Bidebo

    Guess Flickr read the EXIF from an uploaded image then remove all info from the image and then show or not showing it on the site depending on your settings.

    So when you download an image from flickr all EXIF info ain’t inside it anymore. (I’m not pro on flickr anymore so have just tested this with a free account.)

  • Mick Orlosky

    Joakim’s right. Flickr displays the data just fine next to the image, but they strip it out of the actual jpg image file.

  • Gregor_Albrecht

    I don’t know where my comment went, hope it doesn’t show up twice in the end.

    However, 500px does NOT completely disable the Save As option. Keep trying for 5 seconds and you’re done. Well, at least they tried.

  • Todd Gardiner

    These were their results for a Free account.

  • Olafs Osh

    Well, considering the shots I make, I don’t give a toss, if people know my settings or not :]

  • Scott Verge

    LOL, yeah I’m certainly not doing anything very mysterious either.

  • Jonathan Yao

    I ran into this problem awhile ago. When Filckr resizes your image, it doesn’t copy the EXIF or IPTC data. However if you download the original size image, it will have all the data persevered, but you can only see the original size image if the person has a pro account and doesn’t restrict you seeing it.