Facebook, Metadata, and Hope

One of the biggest challenges to professional photographers is the delicate balance between promoting work to the public while also maintaining control over those works.  And one of the most frustrating issues has been the automatic removal of metadata by Facebook whenever photographs are uploaded to their site.

As of 2013, it was reported that more than 250 billion photographs had been uploaded to Facebook's servers, and that number has certainly grown since.  The point is, Facebook is undoubtedly a central hub for the display and sharing of photographs in our modern world and should be a powerful tool for professional photographers to market their work or gain public exposure.  Yet for the cautious photographer, it's not.  Instead, posting any photographs to Facebook leads to the removal of any metadata included with those photographs and a limitation on the photographer's ability to provide notice to downstream users that the work is protected and not to be used. 

But as PetaPixel reported this weekend, a German photographer successfully challenged this practice:

Berlin photographer Rainer Steußloff, filed a lawsuit against Facebook for automatically stripping EXIF data (specifically the IPTC standard) from images when they’re uploaded to the social network.
Steußloff argued that this practice violates German Copyright Law, and therefore Facebook is bound to stop doing it. In a ruling on February 9th, the court agreed; and since it’s been six months and Facebook has not challenged the ruling, the judgement is considered final.

The obvious asterisk here is that this holding comes from a German court and based on German copyright law, and so does not provide any direct precedent for U.S. Copyright law.  But it does provide a certain amount of hope that Facebook will reconsider its practices regarding maintaining metadata.   As Rainer Steußloff explained, it seems unlikely that Facebook would institute a separate metadata mechanism only for German users, especially when this issue could easily arise in other countries. 

I can see benefits to removing metadata such as limiting unintentional exposure of location or other information that can automatically populate from the camera -- especially when the user is not aware that they are providing the data.  That said, these concerns would be mitigated if Facebook at least gave its users the choice to include metadata, even if the default setting removed it.  Even keeping only the copyright ownership fields of the photographs and giving professional photographers a choice to include their copyright notices on their work would go a long way in making the Facebook platform a more valuable -- and secure -- tool for professional photographers.