Everlasting Metadata?

January 4, 2012

Professional photographers are working to protect their rights in the digital world, as CNET reveals in “Should Metadata Be Permanent?” The groups supporting an initiative to require that metadata be permanently adhered to image, text, audio, and video files are understandably focused on protecting copyrights. However, there could be other repercussions to the move. Writer Alexandra Savvides points out:

Imagine a whistle-blowing case involving photographic evidence, where the metadata clearly reveals who took the photo. The manifesto also doesn’t seem to address issues of data tampering or manipulation. We’ve seen numerous cases where photo-encryption systems have been cracked, showing that an obviously manipulated image is an original file created by a camera in question. There is nothing to stop similar methodologies being developed that could change the metadata to imply that another person created an image.

It’s a thorny question. I sympathize with artists who must protect their work. On the other hand, there’s the law of unintended consequences. There is also the question of “language drift.” If metadata are not up to date, the searcher of the future might not be able to locate the information object because the search term does not match the metadata’s lingo.

Our question, though, is a little more pragmatic: what if the meta data needs to be changed? Hmm. Inconvenient, that.

Cynthia Murrell, January 4, 2012

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