SAA MetaSurvey: Better-Than-Expected Adoption Rates

Posted on 7/16/2008 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (0)



The Stock Artists Alliance has nearly completed the first major phase of its metadata project, financed by an award from the U.S. Library of Congress. SAA project leader David Riecks told Selling Stock he was surprised by the high rate of metadata use among stock agencies.

Last August, the Library of Congress awarded SAA one of eight grants under the $2.15 million Preserving Creative America initiative. SAA is using the funds to promote the importance of using and preserving photo metadata.

Riecks said the organization has already examined current stock-industry practices by surveying a random selection of 700 display images. "While some large stock companies remain clueless, about 75% of agencies we surveyed embed at least basic identifying information into images. A smaller number of companies go beyond the basics," he said.

The U.K.-based International Press Telecommunications Council, a consortium that develops and maintains technical standards, was established in 1965. Adobe first employed IPTC metadata to describe photos in the early 1990s, adopting a subset of broader IPTC standards for Photoshop, JPEG and TIFF image files.

A 2006 survey revealed that over 80% of SAA members were using metadata to convey basic ownership information, and the MetaSurvey of agencies shows similarly high penetration rates. Riecks points out that these are much higher than the image industry's average as a whole.

Still, looking at current agency practices reveals a set of problems. Contributor metadata requirements and internal metadata workflows diverge greatly. While standards exist, unified adherence to them is lacking. Among a sample of agencies, which included Getty Images, Corbis, Jupiterimages, Alamy, Masterfile and Veer, only Getty and Corbis consistently embed metadata in display images. Even for the two leaders, the suvey showed embedding rates that fall short of perfection, with 75% of Getty and 70% of Corbis display photos containing identifying information.

The findings were the same with regard to thumbnails displayed with search results. While Corbis, Jupiterimages, Alamy and Masterfile offer comp images containing metadata, Veer does not. In the case of Getty, the study found that the company’s watermarked comps lacked metadata, apparently as an unintended consequence of the watermarking process. Riecks singled out Veer as the one large agency that failed to employ metadata in any of the categories examined by the SAA MetaSurvey.


The survey also highlighted substantial differences in metadata use between creative and editorial images. Even Getty Images shows a large disparity. According to Riecks, this is to be expected, given that breaking-news, sports and celebrity content is produced and marketed under deadline pressures.

Riecks stressed that this is a problem that will result in loss of income. "For stock agencies and photographers, the biggest takeaway from this process is that you should make sure that everything that's going out there for licensing has a trail of bread crumbs," he said. Using all three ways of tracing images (appropriate files name, visible watermark and metadata) offers three chances of future sales.

Though standards exist and are easily accessible, they are not equally easy to understand. According to Riecks, confusion over the purpose of various metadata fields persists. Equally challenging are technologies used for online publishing. For example, popular open-source content-management system Drupal allows a user to upload a high-resolution image and use a built-in downsampling process to create a thumbnail; however, it also strips metadata from the image, unless the user is sophisticated enough to know how to change the default settings.

Closer to home, Adobe Photoshop's "Save for Web" function will produce the perfect visual, but it will also remove the metadata embedded in the high-res original.

Similar issues are also evident among image buyers. Riecks said that he often hears photo editors say they cannot use an image because of not being able to ascertain ownership. Yet there are plenty of free online tools that will allow metadata extraction without an expensive software purchase.

As such, education of its members and the broader community is among SAA project goals. Riecks said the organization plans to produce a Web site to house metadata information, including how-to resources, tutorials, screencasts and other educational materials. SAA will also produce a series of traveling workshops, visiting 10 cities over the next year.

"If you want to protect your intellectual property, people have to know where it came from, and metadata is among the ways of doing that," said Riecks. A photographer would never send anyone a print without a copyright stamp. The move online changed only the tools, not the principle."



Copyright © 2008 Julia Dudnik Stern. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

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