Adding Metadata to Your Images Is a Waste of Time

Adding Metadata to Your Images Is a Waste of Time

A survey has shown that 85 percent of photographs published on the Internet (not including social media and image libraries) have had their metadata removed. Of those that retained the information, fewer than one in five contained copyright details.

The research suggests that while the vast majority of photographers add their details in the metadata as part of their workflow, many platforms — including major news outlets — strip that information out, in part a hangover from a time when shedding a couple of kilobytes was crucial to keeping file sizes as small as possible.

According to the research, 82 percent of photographers add their copyright information to a file's IPTC data as a means of protecting the image from being stolen. Most photographers are aware of how easy it is to remove that information, but few of us realize to what extent this process is automated not only by reputable news publishers but also by content management systems and social media platforms.

Perhaps one of the most alarming findings in the survey is that the overwhelming majority of well-established news websites are happily removing metadata from images: 50 percent partially delete the information while another 40 percent erase it completely. Social media platforms also didn't fare well, with only Facebook retaining any worthwhile IPTC information. Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn strip every single field. 

Personally, I already placed very little value in metadata but I assumed that my regular platforms for publishing my work would keep the information. Slightly disconcerted, I checked my own portfolio website, hosted by Squarespace. Naively, I assumed that the metadata would be preserved, but it turns out that while Squarespace is able to keep that information in every version of an image file that it creates, this option is switched off by default. This is not unusual; according to the research, most commercial content management systems do the same.

In retrospect, I don't know why I'm surprised given that metadata seems to be completely worthless. We can continue automatically adding the information to our own image libraries each time we import a fresh batch of images, but we shouldn't expect it to be of any use when it comes to maintaining provenance.

The complete findings can be found on the Imatag website.

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17 Comments

Michael DeStefano's picture

There are a lot more reasons for having metadata on your images at least for your own website. Proper utilization of this data in SEO will make a huge difference. As far as protecting your copyright that's the least useful thing metadata does as you clearly point out.

Andy Day's picture

Thanks Michael. Given the importance of SEO, I was a bit shocked at how consistently the metadata is stripped out by CMS's. Why would Squarespace switch it OFF by default? Wordpress does the same, from what I've gathered. I'd be interested to see which platforms are also removing the metadata, and to what extent. Probably worth a follow-up article at some point.

Michael DeStefano's picture

I'm not sure, I use Squarespace and WP and both have always imported and used the metadata of all my images. Ive never had to turn it on in settings.

I always include metafile for use in our company's DAM system. It never occurred to me, anyone would be deterred from copying them by its inclusion or even by adding a watermark.

Jon Kellett's picture

Hi Andy - I love that image, running along the wall! Now I want to replicate it ;-)

Andy Day's picture

Thanks Jon! Get a crash mat. Oh, and hire this guy - https://www.instagram.com/bluefreerun/ 😊

Jon Kellett's picture

Just checked out his instagram - This guy is amazing!

Now I just need to find somebody in my own region who can do that... In all seriousness, there used to be some freerunners that practiced in the CBD of my city. Perhaps I should try and find them, they always liked being photographed.

Andy Day's picture

Yeah, parkour folk are rarely shy. 😂 Give them a shout. They often get a ton of enquiries but you'll almost certainly find someone who's interested in giving their time in exchange for some solid additions to their portfolio.

Andy Day's picture

Oh, and hat tip to Brian Franker of http://whereeaglesdare.co/ for making that shot happen.

I partially agree with the article. Metadata is indeed mostly useless in practice for copyright purposes. Nevertheless, having your keywords embedded is still damn useful is for SEO.

On that note, I also have manage several squarespace websites and I didn't know about the metadata switch you mention in your article. Mainly because I tested by re-downloading images from the websites and check the metadata. All my keywords and custom IPTC info is in there and were not stripped out despite the fact that I haven't checked this "enable image metadata importing" since I didn't know about it. So I'm not sure what it does (or doesn't do) exactly.
Do you have more insights about this ?

Also, on Facebook, the caption metadata field is displayed automatically under each uploaded photo. That makes it a very useful location to place a little description of the picture and your website's address.

That percentage is crazy. However just because it happens doesn’t mean photographers shouldn’t make an effort. No meta would make it even more difficult to prove ownership. And as per DeStefano, it also helps with SEO etc

Daniel Medley's picture

Flickr retains metadata, I believe.

As far as Wordpress stripping it, are you talking wordpress.com? As I understand it, using a Wordpress CMS install on a hosting provider does not strip it unless you utilize a plugin to do so.

user-186898's picture

If you're a news photographer then IPTC information is non-negotiable. Whether you're submitting to a wire service or a media outlet, that information is vital to photo editors. Headline, description, caption, keywords, location, names of people. The photo editor wasn't there when you shot the photo so they are relying on the photographer to supply that.

News outlets may strip that data when they publish it, but it has to be there when the work is submitted.

Matthew Saville's picture

As a Nikon shooter, every single image I've ever uploaded to the internet has contained my copyright info for ~15 years. Just sayin'...

Removing metadata is in violation of the DMCA of 1998. See article 12 and 19, https://www.copyright.gov/legislation/dmca.pdf. Please keep adding your metadata to your images.

Daniel Medley's picture

This appears to be the case. Which makes one wonder why they remove it.

dhani borges's picture

Lightroom search using keywords help me find those images that clients lose, drop HD´s on the floor etc.