Is metadata still relevant to inform images of their source, context, and rights?
At a time plagued by fake news and rampant infringement, metadata remains the most accurate and reliable method to inform images of their origin, rights, and authority. IMATAG’s tracked images from their creation by photographers to their publications on news websites to report on the compliance of metadata in 2018.


Image Metadata is all the non-pixel data associated to an image providing information on the content ( location, date, subject..), its rights ( credit, licensing terms, etc..) and technical details on of the shoot ( Camera make, GPS coordinates, Aperture, ISO, Editing software,…).

It is stored in the same file as the image itself (JPG, TIFF, PNG..). Three formats coexist to store information: EXIF, automatically captured, contains the technical information, IPTC, manually edited, incorporates the content description, attribution and rights and XMP is a newer extension of IPTC that permits the creation of custom metadata fields.

The IMATAG Study shows that none of these format are prevalent.. When an image is found online with metadata, it has 60% chance of using IPTC, 65% chance of using EXIF and 50% chance of using XMP. The IPTC format is most often used to credit photos: 75% of images we found used it to store the credit information, compared to 51% for EXIF and 33% for XMP.

The result of this study doesn’t take in consideration the location of the credit, whether found in XMP, EXIF or IPTC.

Here are the principal discoveries of this unprecedented study on the “ID Card” for images: the metadata.


All image  published on a web page are downloadable.

If a downloaded photo is reused on a page that doesn’t display its credits, only the integrated metadata can provide information. Thus, it is critical for pro photographers, photojournalists, photo agencies and visual artists that it is preserved.

In practice, on a sample of over 40 million images published online (not including social media or image databases), IMATAG found only 15% who still contained metadata.

Worst: Among those that still had some metadata ( IPTC, EXIF or XMP format), only one in five contained information about its author, its rights, its source, and description.

Worse yet: This is without considering images posted on social media, not included here, which, as we can see below, greatly reduces these numbers.


Why do 40% of the editorial sites in IMATAG’s study systematically remove metadata from images before putting them online?

To be SEO performant, the majority of online publishers automatically resize images so they can load faster.

Unfortunately, metadata is stripped when uploaded. Often because of pure ignorance or negligence, according to webmasters we surveyed. Often, as well, because of a persistent myth on the size of metadata. In reality, its 2 to 4kb is tiny, considering that most images found online are from 20kb to 100kb.

We also know, as previously mentioned, that images are processed by various departments before being published, contributing to the eventual loss of metadata.

Hint : The more you limit your metadata to the essentials, the lower your image size. Edit your metadata with the online tool proposed by IMATAG to keep only the essential fields, without having to worry about the standard used.


Photographers consider social media as a valuable marketing tool to find an audience and get their work known. IMATAG thus also put each one to the test, uploading the same sample image with all its metadata fields duly filled.

Result: Metadata is erased by the majority of social media sites. Only Facebook preserves the “creator” and “copyright” IPTC fields while erasing all others. Using the file name to put the photographer’s name or its subject is a lost battle: Each and everyone social media platform automatically renames the file.

Be aware that on social media :

Your pictures can be downloaded by anyone without any of its metadata.
Beware of snatchers: Some social media sites reward those with a large audience. This is motivation enough for fake photographers to use your images while adding their name. One of the most famous cases is that of Eduardo Martin. It is close to impossible to measure the size of this issue. As well, freebooting, encouraged by Instagram, is a disconcerting practice for copyright holders.
There is no reverse search: To this day, nothing allows you to do a reverse image search on any of the social media sites to find your images. They not only do not offer it but do not allow third parties to do so. The only way to know if your images were snatched is either via your network of friends or by accident.
When posting your photos on these “marketing channels,” keep in mind what you might lose in the process.

Hint: By tagging each of your images with an invisible watermark, you can track from where they were taken.


When your images are indexed by search engines, those create a preview thumbnail stripped of any original metadata and bearing a different filename.

Furthermore, when indexing, information initially in the metadata is ignored. Keywords, credit, and usage rights are purposely snubbed. Instead, they sometimes use automated image recognition to identify some objects in the images to classify them.

How does one find an image by its source, its author or its photo agency ?

Hint: IMATAG recently made public a search engine which indexed all images found on the web where the credit can clearly be identified from its metadata. By entering your name in the query bar here, you can find out which website is using your pictures with the proper credit.

Christine – imatag website

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