© Thierry Secretan



In the media world, it has become a cliché to say that revolutions are first announced by a small note at the bottom of a page.


On September 27, in a short article published without much noise on its blog, Google announces that it will start displaying photographs’ copyright (the name of their authors) on Google Images search results.


For us photographers, it’s a revolution; for the internet too.


In the same article, the Californian giant declares that in the coming months, it will display more metadata information related to the source of images visible on Google Images.


From now on, Internet users sharing pictures circulating on the web (mostly found using Google Images) will have the possibility to know whom they are taking these photographs from and if they are subject to copyright. Authors and rights-holders (photo agencies, heirs) will be able to identify their contents and their reuse better.


Si votre image contient une métadonnée de crédit, Google Image l'affichera au clic de l'internaute
If your photo contains credit metadata, Google Image will display it (upon a click).


It is a revolution. In its September 27 press release, Google acknowledges that until now it was “traditionally difficult” to find out who was the author of a photograph on Google Images and who owned the rights of exploitation of said photo. Quite a euphemism.


In fact, it was virtually impossible because of the systematic deletion of metadata by platforms and websites: it is the “debate that annoys”, igniting strategists and thinkers of the internet since its creation.


This strategic shift of Google – it is possible to think that other platforms will follow – finally makes the remuneration of content a possibility, a seamless monetization of images on the web. This new situation is described in Google’s blog as a result of a “collaboration” with IPTC and CEPIC.


The recommendations established by IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) have become the standard regarding photographic files metadata and CEPIC (Coordination of European Picture Agencies Stock, Press, and Heritage) brings together European photo agencies and photographers along with some press editors. These two organizations consult with other metadata specialists, including IMATAG, trying to convince press sites and platforms alike to display metadata on the web. Google responded for the first time in May 2017.


A year later and Google offers to finance part of the annual congress of CEPIC and held a press conference there on June 31, 2018. My presence at this congress allowed me to live this day of collaboration.


When, on the morning of June 31, Mathieu Desoubeaux, CEO of Imatag, shows the first slide of his presentation, the assembly — people of Google included — buzzes with comments.


It reads: “Only 3% of images on the web still have copyright metadata!”


  Mathieu Desoubeaux, CEO d'IMATAG, présente les chiffres alarmants sur l'absence de crédits photos sur le web     85% des images sur le web n'ont pas ou plus de métadonnées

Mathieu Desoubeaux, CEO of IMATAG, presents an alarming study on the lack of photo credits on the web. Photo ©Thierry Secretan.


Mathieu explained why he thinks that the preservation and display of metadata represents a simpler, more fluid and less energy goulish solution for identifying, monitoring, and monetization of content than blockchain.


He explains Imatag’s image search engine, how and why Imatag records the 3% of photos published on the web with metadata.

We are reaching a tipping point, where the web will simply allow source attribution and content verification through metadata. 3% of the web images (initially published with metadata) now represents billions of images that will no longer be orphaned by the platforms thanks to IMATAG. Almost 100% of photographers, news agencies, content producers, provide metadata information. This should be enough to make the referencing of metadata an issue for rights holders.


The following slide reveals the results of the exclusive study conducted by Imatag on 120 international press sites. It makes the room rustle again: The majority of these sites suppress the metadata of their images when compressing them. STERN, The Washington Post or the Guardian show 0% metadata … How to persuade platforms to display them if even publishers delete them?


It is then the turn of IPTC to present its proposals for standardization of metadata that have not been taken into account in the whole by Google. The subject of the EXIF and XMP data also deserved to be addressed, a subject that IMATAG will treat in another article for the most technophiles.


When it’s time for Google to take the stage, they set up colored letters on a table spelling the company name and offer Google t-shirts and balloons as gifts to reward the best questions. The show starts with a presentation by a young American photographer explaining why the world of Google is the best. When Lucas Forlin Director of Partnerships takes over, the room awakens.


 Presentation Google. Luca Forlin  Lucas Forlin, de Google, sur la notion de "copyright awareness"

Luca Forlin, Head of Strategic Partnership at Google, speaks to the public at CEPIC in Berlin ©Thierry Secretan.


Copyright awareness! The conscience of the copyright! Pinch me! Google discovers the copyright … it’s even written on the screen behind Luca Forlin « increased prominence of copyright notice”: this is the theme of his presentation. So I take the picture. Someone on his team even quotes statistics from Imatag’s study of metadata revealed that morning.


On June 31, Luca promised us that, very quickly, Google Images will display more metadata. Since September 27, more copyright notifications are visible on Google Images.


What’s interesting is that between the 31st of June and the 12th of September, Google continued to spend millions of dollars to do exactly the opposite: to influence the rejection by the EU of a Directive on the “ancillary” right (the right to ‘author). It proposes to force Google and all platforms to share with publishers a portion of the indirect advertising revenue generated by the sharing of press content on the web. However, the display of copyright and source metadata is essential for the implementation of this directive.


It was first rejected by the European Parliament a first time on July 5 to 40 votes difference. MPs have testified that they have endured a frightening lobbying campaign only comparable to what only the arms industry knows how to orchestrate. Trucks were lined up to roam Brussels and run around the Parliament, covered with slogans about the “death of freedom on the internet.” It is said that Google has spent about $ 30 million in 2017/2018 to block the “link tax.»


However, the substantive work carried out by professional organizations like CEPIC and IPTC and by companies like Imatag with press editors and MPs – united as rarely in a counter-campaign for the Directive – has borne fruit. On September 12, after several amendments and re-readings, the Neighboring Right Directive was finally adopted by 212 majority votes.


However, Google’s plan B was ready, and fifteen days later, on September 27, the Californian giant announced the revolution on its blog.


Copyright awareness is here to stay!

Thierry Secretan.