At Adobe MAX 2019, Chief Product Officer Scott Belsky announced the Content Authenticity Initiative – a nascent and ambiguously defined way for attribution to travel with an image and allow consumers to know, in the words of Adobe VP Dana Rao, that “the content they’re seeing is authentic.”
In announcing the initiative alongside partners The New York Times and Twitter, Belsky said, “Together, we’re developing an industry-wide standard to allow creators to put their mark on their work and have that attribution accompany that piece of content across different platforms, posts and stories.”
What exactly is it?
Details are murky. But the initiative sounds like an idea composed of two main parts:
- A metadata standard that captures creator information (akin to IPTC) and tracks changes to the original file. This could be some sort of distillation of the History panel in Photoshop.
- An image registry, which acts as a centralized (or perhaps a decentralized mechanism using blockchain technology) repository of metadata.
Don’t get too excited
On its face, the announcement and alliance seems like a positive development for photographers to address issues of “orphaned” works. But there are a few reasons to be skeptical:
- Metadata standards for attribution already exist. The problem is that many social media platforms strip the metadata. Sites that don’t strip the data, rarely display it. Google Images took a step in Oct 2018 to display copyright and creator info.
- Image registries have never succeeded. In the past, the lack of support and adoption by major players (e.g. Google Images) has spelled doom for image registries. Adobe’s support is a huge boost in the right direction.
- Adobe hasn’t clearly defined their goal. Is attribution the most important (great for creators)? Is authenticity most important (great for news sources, good for creators)?
- A much broader coalition is needed. Top-tier news organizations already vet their photo sources and provide attribution, so the NYT’s involvement doesn’t do much for photographers or consumers. Twitter’s support is non-trivial but without similar support from Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms that have been plagued by misattribution, theft, manipulation, etc, the initiative is likely to fail.
- Amplification of “fake” news/content is unaddressed. Belsky states, “…over time consumers will expect content to come with attribution.” I think this is fallacious thinking. Misinformation will spread even if you label it as such. We’ve all seen friends post satirical pieces only to have their friends and followers take it seriously. Attribution is an important foundational step, but until media platforms disallow amplification of “inauthentic” content (e.g. removing “Share” links or making content less visible in news feeds), misuse and theft will remain rampant.
It’s early days, so let’s hope
Adobe’s motivation for addressing this problem seems sincere, and they undoubtedly have many smart people thinking about the issue. Hopefully they will be able to persuade a critical mass of companies to join the initiative and develop and deploy the technologies needed to make it a success.