Controlled Vocabulary

How Important is the Copyright Status Feature?

Why is my Adobe Copyright Status pull down set to "Unknown"?

I've seen the following question pop up a number of time in the past couple of years...

I don't want stock image buyers opening up my image on their machine in Photoshop and not have the "Copyright Status" show on the status bar. I don't want to be required to open up each image in Photoshop and change the "Copyright Status" inside the "File Info" just to get that to show correctly. How can I do this in [name another program].

For those of you that are not familiar with this feature having the Copyright Status pull down set to "Copyrighted" will trigger a small c in circle "" to appear on the status bar of an image when it is open in Photoshop. In this instance the setting value is "True." There are two other states for this pull-down menu "Public Domain" (setting = false), or "Unknown" (no setting).


I saw a different version of this question resurface after the new version of Apple Aperture was released.

Does anyone know of a way of applying metadata in Aperture 3 so that it will show up as "Copyrighted" when opened in Photoshop instead of File Info displaying copyright status as "Unknown"?

The simple answer is, no, there is no way (at least not an easy one) in which this can be done from most other programs. However, my question to those that are asking is, "Why is this important to you?"

Why is This Important?

I ask, because there is no reasonable expectation that an image user will open your image in Photoshop -- if they even use an image editor at all. More than likely they are simply going to place the image into their page layout, desktop publishing program, content management, word processing application. If they store the copy of the image they have licensed from you, it's more likely they will be using a program like Extensis Portfolio, Canto Cumulus, or larger, more expensive "enterprise" software solution.

Most of the better programs will support earlier or later versions of something referred to as IPTC photo metadata. In applications that support either of these schemas the user should be able to see the entry in the "Copyright Notice" field; and that should be all they need to know to determine the copyright holder of the image.

The Copyright Status setting is something unique to Adobe applications and isn't seen in most of those other programs. Even if it was supported or seen in other programs, no reasonable client is going to go ahead and use an image that doesn't have that mark on the status bar in Photoshop, without first checking the Copyright Notice field before using the image.

The reason why you can't choose this option in those other programs is a little more difficult to explain, but by the time you finish reading this article, you should have a better understanding.

There are numerous photo metadata standards. For a thorough explanation of the current "schemas" see the Photo Metadata website.  Most descriptive and rights based information is stored in one or both of the metadata storage methods made popular by the International Press Telecommunication Council. The older binary method uses part of the Information Interchange model, or IPTC-IIM. The newer method stores the values of the IPTC Core using Adobe's XMP or Extensible Metadata Platform.

Copyright Status is not part of the IPTC Standards

While the Copyright Status value is a type of photo metadata that is stored within the image itself; it is not part of the IPTC-IIM or IPTC Core. Rather this is an Adobe only feature, and controlled by the Copyright Status Pull down menu within the File Info Feature of Photoshop.

The Copyright Status field is not the most Authoritative field when it comes to determining whether or not an image is under copyright, as so few applications outside of the Photoshop family have this field available for setting. What is more valuable is for the name of the copyright holder to be seen within the Copyright Notice field.

Since this Copyright Status is stored within the Photoshop Namespace (within the XAP rights) applications that only write metadata using the IPTC-IIM, or IPTC Core will not preserve this value when they write or update metadata in a file. As such, it's possible that even if this value was set to "Copyrighted" in Photoshop, adding metadata in another application such as Expression Media, Extensis Portfolio, or even the latest version of Aperture will show as "Unknown!" after you open the image in Photoshop afterwards.

Is the Copyright Status Feature Still Needed?

In early 2008, one senior adobe product manager asked, "Would we be better off if it were removed?" on the Controlled Vocabulary discussion forum. The discourse focused on the issues that arise when these values are not held in sync. What should a user do that see's a value in the Copyright Notice field expressing that there is a copyright holder, but the Copyright Status appears as "Unknown?"

In addition to the Copyright Status, there is another metadata value that is stored within the Adobe namespace called Copyright URL (stored as xmpRights:WebStatement). With increasing frequency, I am seeing photographers using this field to point to a specific URL or URI (Uniform Resource Identifier) for the license description. If this was also used, would it help clarify in situations where, for example, the Copyright Status says unknown but the Copyright URL points to a Creative Commons share alike license?

One of the questions that came up, was whether or not it would be valuable to have these three fields linked in some way? For example, would it be useful if an entry in the Copyright Notice field stating Copyright [year, name], or [year name], caused the Copyright Status field to be automatically be switched to the true setting - Copyrighted.

This might be useful, but before that can happen, the Copyright Status and Copyright URL fields need to be available widely in other applications. Since they are not part of the the IPTC photo metadata standards, perhaps the first step would be seeing if there is interest in having these values from the Photoshop namespace adopted as part of the IPTC Core? At present they are not, and in many applications there is no support, requiring photographers to re-enter this information if they create or update metadata in another application.


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