Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Copyright, Metadata & What Are You Going To Do About It?

It occurs to me that in an era where digital publishing is now the norm (more so since Apple introduced the iPad), many photographers are somewhat in the dark as to how they can protect their work as their images are splayed across an increasingly large array of electronic media. The answer is metadata.

The addition of metadata to a digital file is sometimes automatic, sometimes manual, and it's typically a combination of the two, but that all depends on how you structure your workflow. A great guide to get you started can be found at the dpBestflow.org web site. dpBestflow.org (digital photography best practices and workflow) is an ASMP initiative funded by the Library of Congress.

What is metadata? According to the dpBestflow.org glossary..... Commonly defined as “data about data,” metadata is embedded or associated information describing a file’s contents, both technically and conceptually. There are several metadata container formats such as EXIF, IIM, IPTC Core, Dublin Core, DICOM, and XMP. The way metadata is structured is referred to as a schema, an example being IPTC Core which is an standardized structure to hold information about a digital image file, such as authorship details, description, keywords, copyright status, usage, etc. Parametric image editing (PIE) instructions saved in the XMP format are another type of metadata, which is comprised of the image processing parameters from a PIEware application.

How do you use it? In my workflow, images are imported from my cameras' flash memory via Aperture, and it's there that my basic metadata is added (some photographers use a competing software, Lightroom). The most basic data is embedded by my camera and contains information such as the exposure, ISO value, lens used, date and time, etc; then I add copyright, credit, caption, basic keywording and source information to the files as they're imported onto my hard drive. Later on, I add finishing touches to the metadata via various stored templates in Photoshop's File Info (see illustration, above).

Okay, so you already know this? Now, what are you going to do about it? Well, the first thing you ought to do is register your images with the copyright office, but that's not the end of it. Somewhere in the terms & conditions of your delivery or invoice should be a notice that you require the integrity of your metadata to be maintained.

"I often advise my photographer clients to put a notice provision right in their contracts and license agreements," says John Grant, a Seattle attorney. "Something to the effect of: it is both a breach of contract and a violation of 17 USC 1202 to remove metadata without my prior written consent. That way," Grant continues, "if they do remove your data, you potentially have a couple of ways to try to remedy it."

Realizing the implications of a possible Orphan Works amendment to the Copyright Act, I've been doing something similar on my licenses for a couple of years now, hopefully lessening the prospects of my own images becoming orphaned in the vastness of the Internet (see above). You should be doing it, too.

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