Embedded Metadata Manifesto

How metadata should be embedded and preserved in digital media files

Photographers, film makers, videographers, illustrators, publishers, advertisers, designers, art directors, picture editors, librarians and curators all share the same problem: struggling to track rapidly expanding collections of digital media assets such as photos and video/film clips.

With that in mind we propose five guiding principles as our "Embedded Metadata Manifesto":
  1. 1) Metadata is essential to describe, identify and track digital media and should be applied to all media items which are exchanged as files or by other means such as data streams.
  2. 2) Media file formats should provide the means to embed metadata in ways that can be read and handled by different software systems.
  3. 3) Metadata fields, their semantics (including labels on the user interface) and values, should not be changed across metadata formats.
  4. 4) Copyright management information metadata must never be removed from the files.
  5. 5) Other metadata should only be removed from files by agreement with their copyright holders.

More details about these principles:

1: All people handling digital media need to recognise the crucial role of metadata for business. This involves more than just sticking labels on a media item. The knowledge which is required to describe the content comprehensively and concisely and the clear assertion of the intellectual ownership increase the value of the asset. Adding metadata to media items is an imperative for each and every professional workflow.

2: Exchanging media items is still done to a large extent by transmitting files containing the media content and in many cases this is the only (technical) way of communicating between the supplier and the consumer. To support the exchange of metadata with content it is a business requirement that file formats embed metadata within the digital file. Other methods like sidecar files are potentially exposed to metadata loss.

3: The type of content information carried in a metadata field, and the values assigned, should not depend on the technology used to embed metadata into a file. If multiple technologies are available for embedding the same field the software vendors must guarantee that the values are synchronized across the technologies without causing a loss of data or ambiguity.

4: Ownership metadata is the only way to save digital content from being considered orphaned work. Removal of such metadata impacts on the ability to assert ownership rights and is therefore forbidden by law in many countries.

5: Properly selected and applied metadata fields add value to media assets. For most collections of digital media content descriptive metadata is essential for retrieval and for understanding. Removing this valuable information devalues the asset.