The IPTC released their findings last week for a study on how some of the biggest social media sites deal with the copyright information and EXIF data stored within people’s photos. So if you want to see how any of the sites that you choose to share images with fared in the tests, read on.
“A social networking site is only as good as the information its members choose to share. If users provide rights data and descriptions within their images, these data shouldn’t be removed without their knowledge”, said Michael Steidl, Managing Director of the IPTC, a consortium of the world’s major news agencies, news publishers and news industry vendors.
For the vast majority of people who share their images online, the term EXIF (Exchangeable image file format) data probably wouldn’t mean a thing, nor would having some form of copyright notice stored within the image be an issue. However, if people choose to add/include metadata to their images then surely that data should be retained by the hosting site. Unfortunately in the majority of the sites tested, the retention of this data is usually stripped out. I just tested this for myself using Flickr as an example. When I added some metadata (Contact email/websites/commercial or non-commercial use etc) and then uploaded it to my account, (Pro) it did retain all of the information that I added as well as the usual EXIF data that contain information pertaining to the camera, the settings, lens and so on. Now when I downloaded the original size of the image and threw it in Photoshop to test, the information was there (that’s good) however, if I downloaded any other size version of the image, that important information is stripped out. I was actually pretty surprised by this, especially considering that Flickr are one of the better known photo sharing sites that people use, although I now use SmugMug primarily. If you want to test this out for yourself, then here is the EXIF information for the image I uploaded to Flickr, and here are all the available sizes for the image. I have added a side-by-side shot of the data I inputed into the image below.
David Riecks of ControlledVocabulary.com, a member of the IPTC test team involved in the study stated,
“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”, said David Riecks of ControlledVocabulary.com, a member of the IPTC test team. He also noted that, “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.”
Bringing up Orphan Works (It should be noted that this law is still being discussed) is quite an important point, especially with regards the results of this tests carried out by the IPTC as this could potentially mean that images belonging to people, be them professional or not, could come under the protection of the Orphan Works, due to the original metadata being stripped out via the hosting site. Now personally speaking, I am more than happy for people to use my images in any way they wish, as I am just happy that people either like them, or find them useful. However, if a commercial entity wanted to use the image, them I would hope that they would check the metadata/EXIF data to see if commercial use of the image is OK, or if they need to contact me first. If I was a professional photog (I’m not) and I found out that my images were being used for free under the Orphan Works law due to the fact that not contact information had been retained in the image as a social media site had stripped it out, I’d be a bit peeved. The trouble is though, who is at fault? The hosting site for removing the copyright/contact information stored within the image, or the user who saw that there was no way to identify the original person who took the image and therefore assumed that they could use the image freely.
Here are the results of the survey which show 15 of the big photo sharing sites out there. You can see that Google+ easily came out on top for a site that retains metadata relating to the owner of the image, with tumblr and Pinterest coming in second. Twitter, Facebook and Flickr (free) were the worst offenders in the study.
The second image belongs to the IPTC that carried out the study. I just joined the results image and index image (showing what the various colours mean) together for easy viewing purposes. Click to enlarge.
Now as I have said, for me personally, I have no issue whatsoever with people using any of my images for free and can do with them as they wish with the exception of commercial use, unless they ask first. That said if I were a professional photographer that relied on selling my works, then this could be quite worrying. What are your thoughts on the study results, and would this effect which sites you choose to host or share your images with?