When I mention metadata to my clients, I can often see their eyes glaze over.  I can understand why; it’s a bit geeky and not an exceptionally creative or exciting topic. Even the definition from the Merriam Webster Dictionary scream boring: meta·da·ta noun plural but singular or plural in construction -ˈdā-tə, -ˈda- also -ˈdä- – data that provides information about other data

That is not helpful.  Let’s try a more useful definition. Metadata is a secondary, hidden, layer of descriptive information embedded into a digital file. Metadata can be attached to any file, and have extra information that is specific to that type of file.  So a Word document may have a company or organization name, the network server name or document versions and revisions, while an mp3 music file may have the band information, song name, and even the CD cover image.  Photographers may be aware of metadata under the name EXIF, which is embedded into most digital photos. EXIF data provide extensive information on camera hardware and camera settings such as lens aperture and shutter speed.

I doubt there are many artists or musicians today that don’t have digital versions of their work, whether on their own website, Flickr, or Facebook. Even sculptors and architects will photograph their work and place those digital photos on the web. Unfortunately, once the digital version of any work makes it to the Internet, it is available for the public to use.

Metadata is a secondary, hidden, layer of descriptive information embedded into a digital file.

Metadata can help protect creative work by putting potential infringers on notice providing all the necessary information about the author and copyright. It is important that the author adds as much information as possible into the metadata file, but at a minimum, it should include the author’s name, copyright notice, copyright registration number (if the work has been registered), contacts information including telephone and email.  Now, it is true that most people don’t know what metadata is and even how to look at it. But I would guess that this is less true for many businesses that have more technical people, such as graphic and web designers working on their products.  Regardless, it still is available for those that want to know the information.

Metadata also has advantages from a legal perspective.   While copyright infringers can’t get out of an infringement suit by saying they didn’t know it was copyrighted, the metadata does provide notice to the infringer and ignoring the notice can affect the damage awards in some cases.  Also, metadata functions much the same as a © line watermark on an image in that removal invokes the same statutory penalties (up to $25,000 per offense) under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, (DMCA).  (for more on the DMCA and circumventing copyright management information, see this article).  So it does make sense to have informative metadata.

So how can metadata be read, changed or added to a file?  I am not aware of any universal metadata tool that can handle every type of file, but for every file type, there is an abundance of software packages available that makes the process easy.  Just Google “metadata software” or something similar and you will find more than enough tools for your needs.  I use Photoshop for adding metadata to my photos; other people I know use Lightroom or Aperture, which both work very well.  For music, metadata can be added through GarageBand, Logic, or even iTunes.

For photos, try Exif Pilot Editor which supports a host of file formats.

Also, since most of your metadata will be the same for every file, such as name, address, and copyright information, most software will allow you to create a template that you can apply to batches of files.

If you have any suggestions on software or methods you use to add metadata to your creative works, let us know in the comments section.  And please share this article with your social media. 

Steve Schlackman
Steve Schlackman

As a photographer and Patent Attorney with a background in marketing, Steve has a unique perspective on art, law, and business. He is currently serving as the Chief Product Officer at Artrepreneur. You can find his photography at artrepreneur.com or through Fremin Gallery in NYC.

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