16 Sep 2011 The Case for Metadata Retention in Microstock

Robert Davies from picWorkflow recently published a very interesting blog post exploring metadata stripping by microstock agencies. It’s long and thorough and well worth reading.

The issue is quite complicated, but given the high impact on microstock photographers of having our photos distributed with our copyright information stripped out, it’s worthwhile understanding.

How Microstock Agencies Strip Metadata

Most microstock photographers embed metadata in the JPG files they submit to microstock agencies. In addition to embedding the title, description and keywords, most also embed their own copyright information in the appropriate fields.

Microstock agencies strip this data out when they create the different sized versions for download, the watermarked previews and the thumbnails. The fields that are stripped, and from which sizes/version metadata is stripped, varies from agency to agency, but all current top microstock agencies strip metadata.

Note that nobody is overly concerned about the stripped title, description and keywords. It’s the stripping of the copyright metadata that disconnects the photos out in the world from the photographer who owns them.

Why Microstock Agencies Strip Metadata

Thumbnail photos and previews are served a lot, so smaller files sizes (files without metadata) make websites load faster as well as saving storage and bandwidth costs.

Robert also says in his post that in the past the only software that could automatically resize photos had no option to retain metadata.

Is it Illegal?

After reading through Bob’x post and the responses he’s included, it seems to me that what microstock agencies are doing is not against the DMCA, simply because they are not intending to create or conceal an infringement.

And according to Robert’s research, the European equivalent is still hobbled as member states haven’t yet implemented the appropriate laws.

The response from Dreamstime on Robert’s post also states that their contributor agreement specifies that metadata is stripped as part of the resizing service they provide for contributors. Ouch!

But while it may not be illegal, it’s certainly against all industry groups’ best practice specifications, is harmful to contributors’ copyrighted assets, and simply just not a cool thing for agencies to do to their contributors.

What can Agencies Do?

Software is now available to automatically process images on ingestion and retain the metadata. With a not-too-difficult upgrade, microstock agencies could update their systems to retain metadata in submitted photos.

It’s easily understandable that thumbnails need to have a small file size given how often they’re served. They’re also barely usable given their size. It’s a similar situation with previews given how regularly they’re served and the protection provided by the watermark.

What can We Do?

While we microstock contributors tend to request or demand a lot from the microstock agencies that license our content, we need to do our part too. Here’s some things you can do to help the situation:

  • Make sure you embed your copyright information in the metadata of all the files you submit to microstock agencies
  • Demand that new agencies who solicit your portfolio have a written policy of metadata retention
  • Ask the agencies you already use to start retaining your metadata and consider re-generating old images where they have stripped it

What’s Your Stance?

Let’s take a quick poll to see what everyone else thinks:

What’s your stance on metadata retention in microstock?

View Results

  • Brad
    Posted at 10:27h, 13 October Reply

    If nothing else, it would make sense to insert the Agency/contributor information and license limits, etc. so the buyer has a chance of coming back to the site and buying an extended license…

  • Chris
    Posted at 13:24h, 11 November Reply

    Like a lot of others, I agonize over what to include in my metadata, and it infuriates me to think that the agencies strip it out. OTOH, they need to make the browsing experience as smooth as possible for the user, so I can see the pressures they feel in optimizing the experience however possible.

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