IPTC study shows some social media networks remove rights information from photos

Media release of 12 March 2013

London (England) — Digital cameras capture a lot of information beside images, including picture dimensions, pixel count or date stamp. And even basic photo editing software allows photographers to embed copyright information and other data. But you wouldn’t know that from looking at pictures on many social media sites or after downloading them. According to a study by the International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC), major social networks like Facebook, Twitter or Flickr remove copyright information and other useful embedded data from pictures posted by their users.  

“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.

Every day, more and more photos are shared over social media. IPTC was approached by users who discovered that when they shared photos, their embedded metadata disappeared. Earlier this month, the IPTC Photo Metadata Working Group tested 15 social media sites to understand how image sharing, through upload and download, affects the integrity of embedded metadata as defined by IPTC standards and the Exif standard. The results are available at www.embeddedmetadata.org/testresults.

While Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr remove embedded information like copyright notes, the name of the creator, the description and more, the results show that other social networks like Google+ or Tumblr protect photographers’ data better.

“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.”

“Our metadata format has been used for almost 20 years, therefore we think it is no problem to process it properly”, said Steidl. “Required software is available.”

IPTC metadata values were defined in the early 1990s and can be freely used by anyone. Virtually all photo management software supports them. They are embedded into image files to tie key information about the image, such as the photographer’s name, and the photo’s date and location, to the photo itself. They let users of the image know where it came from and who owns the copyright.

About IPTC:

The IPTC, based in London, is a consortium of the world’s major news agencies, news publishers and news industry vendors. It develops and maintains technical standards for improved news exchange that are used by virtually every major news organisation in the world. Its standards include the Photo Metadata standards IPTC Core and Extension, the rights expression language RightsML, the news exchange formats NewsML-G2, SportsML-G2, NITF, rNews, and the IPTC NewsCodes. Visit the web site www.iptc.org or follow @IPTC on Twitter.