OK. So what, exactly, is it that I want you to do about this metadata thing?
- If you give birth to photographs – label them properly with a caption, copyright notice, and some contact information before you send them out into the world.
- If you operate the means of publishing or distributing pictures, or if you’re just a cog in a great machine that does that, read the label to be sure you know what’s what and that you have rights to publish whatever it is before you publish.
- If you run a website, make sure your server doesn’t strip the metadata labels, also known as Copyright Management Information, off of works that are published or distributed on your site.
What do I (you) get out of it?
If you’re a photographer, you get the warm and fuzzy of knowing that your work has a fighting chance of surviving. Maybe, years from now, somebody will look at that picture, understand what it is about, and who you are. Maybe that somebody calls you up to buy a license instead of stealing your work. (Or to ask your permission to use it, even.) Heavens to legacy.
In your own life, it means that when you have 50,000, or 500,000, or a million photos in your collection, you’ll be able to find the one you’re thinking of without spending hours or days looking for it.
If you’re licensing your work to the future through Creative Commons or some similar means, it means that, well, that will actually work. Your work won’t just go in the dustbin after one use. Your name, the license information, and supporting data will be right there in the metadata and your work can be used again and again.
If you’re a publisher, metadata on a photo gives you the opportunity to be an honest person. (Without having to break your back about it.) That doesn’t suck. You know that you really do have rights to use that photo. You know for sure who’s in the photo.
You’re preserving culture
By not removing that copyright information, you’ll be following the law. The new, disruptive, novel, one-weird-trick way to not get sued in the intellectual property biz is to follow the copyright law. (A bold strategy if there ever was one. We should make up an acronym for it.) It’s an easy warm and fuzzy. Taking one more threat that might destroy your business, even if it isn’t a statistically huge threat, off the table is a good thing in my book any day. See this post.
And, if you have zillions of assets, you’ll be able to find the one you want, too.
How do you accomplish all this goodness?
Labeling your work with metadata is usually a two-step process.
Your copyright and contact information goes on your pictures automatically (All, or just the ones you might publish, or some that will serve as “signposts” when you are searching through your collection. It depends.) Depending on what software you use, templated information like that goes on your picture when you download them from your camera cards all by itself, or it might take a couple clicks and a few seconds for each batch of photos. (Look around this site for software recommendations and instructions, metadata explainers, and even downloadable starter templates. )
Then, it will take (a little) effort to caption and keyword your final selections. Maybe a minute for each published photo.
(Read what the copyright office has to say about registering copyrights. It’s not really a metadata thing, but since we’re here…)
Website operators, or agencies, or publications:
When a photo comes to you, look at it. Are the rights OK? Does the caption seem to be accurate? It only takes a second (literally) to look.
Insist/encourage photographers, clients and whoever might supply pictures to you to label them properly in the metadata. If – excuse me, when – they don’t, (and some always won’t) mark up the picture yourself. Trust me, you’ll save more time, money and lawsuits than you invest.
Software to do this? Pretty much every creative on the planet has the Adobe suite. Adobe Bridge will get the job done. Not pretty, but done. XnView works great and it’s so cheap it’s ridiculous. One way or the other, you’ve got to look at the picture. It doesn’t really take any extra work to see what the metadata says. See my software articles for specifics.
If you run the backend of a website, make sure your server doesn’t strip away IPTC metadata where all that culturally and legally important information lives. (See this post and this one for more information on how metadata is structured within an image file.)
In the interest of full disclosure: You will pay a small – insignificant, really – price in page load time for the 8 KB or so of metadata that you’re preserving. We’re talking about a millisecond and a half per picture for fixed broadband in the US (2017), and about four milliseconds for mobile devices. By way of comparison, it takes 300 to 400 milliseconds to blink your eye. So – not too bad a bargain.
If your website runs on WordPress, all you need to do is make sure your server is using ImageMagick (instead of GD) as its imaging library and important metadata will be preserved by default. Most hosting providers support ImageMagick, and many enable it by default. In the latter case, you don’t have to do a darn thing – except choose one of those providers. (In an upcoming post, I’ll publish the first edition of a chart listing providers who support or enable ImageMagick.)
If the provider supports ImageMagick but doesn’t enable it by default, it’s usually just a matter of contacting customer support (it’s chat, usually) and the deed is done in a couple minutes.
And tell your friends to do the same
If your site is on a different CMS, it’s more or less the same idea. You might have to specify a different imaging library or change the configuration of the one you have. Most big-time industrial CMSes already use ImageMagick as their imaging library. In those cases, we’re probably talking about updating a config file.
Hold the phone
I hear someone in the shadows calling out “What about social media? What about phones? Aren’t those things dominating the media landscape now?”
Sort of. We’re not really talking about throw-away content here. That’s the whole point.
But throw away or not, professional content has to be, well, professional. It’s critically important for facts to be right. We can’t afford to accidentally use the wrong photo, or the photo the social media user didn’t authorize. And the quantities of content in the omnichannel world are staggering. Great metadata, great digital asset management and care and attention to rights and attribution help make the difference between living and dying for people working in a social media world.
Social media tends to strip away metadata. But you still need to keep track your assets. You should make sure every picture you put out there has metadata, regardless. If nothing else, you’ll be better able to keep track of the asset later. That stripped-off-by-the media-company metadata may or may not carry the day in some future legal hassle, but it sure isn’t going to hurt. See this post for more on what metadata needs to be on a photo you release and what metadata shouldn’t be.
By the way, your copyright and byline will survive a round trip through Facebook. Everything else ends up on the cutting room floor.
Social media companies may seem like such behemoths that we can never change their behavior. A little pressure won’t hurt, though.
Make metadata on mobile
As for phones – tons of photos are made with phones today. More and more each day. While most pictures that find their way to publication pass through a computer-based workflow on their way there, some don’t.
Not to worry! There are good metadata authoring apps available for both Android and iPhone. I’ll be writing about the best for each platform soon.
Will doing this really help? Will it make a dent?
Yes. It will help you. It will make the environment around you better. Your life will be better and easier.
I just suggested that publishers and agency people insist that photos they pay for be properly marked up. Poof! In one stroke, most of the pictures on your plate will be find-able and easier to use. You’ll save time and money. Life will be good. (Or better, at least. Your health, your family life – those things metadata probably won’t help.)
Photographers will save back the time and effort of marking up their stuff and then some. And just how many calls offering reuse fees does it take to make your day brighter?
If push one day comes to shove and one day you need to sue a copyright infringer, and that CMI in the metadata makes the difference between a lawyer taking the case and getting a judgment or not, that investment in metadata will make for a happy day.
Good works can go viral
There are trillions of photos floating around out there. In terms of that giant pile, good efforts by you and your friends might not make a statistical dent. But the balance of karma around you will improve. Your life will be a little better. The business environment in your segment will be a little better. That’s better than a dent.
And communities are interconnected. Trends take hold. The content creation and publishing communities are big, no mistake. But if the players in your niche start doing a good thing, it will spread to ever wider and wider circles of influence. Good ideas can spread through whole industries in no time at all.
Have you done something with metadata that we all should feel good about? Dive into the comments. Brighten our day!