Protect your images using meta-data

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There is no way to guarantee your images will not be stolen once you have put them in the Internet. There are, however, several ways to help people realise the image belongs to you. One of these methods uses meta-data to embed your details into the file and in this tutorial I will show you how using Adobe Photshop.

This tutorial shows you how to add meta data in Photoshop CS2, however it should still be applicable for newer versions of Photoshop.

Photoshop’s file info tool

Step 1 – Open your image in Photoshop then from the File menu select “File Info”. Alternatively you can use the keyboard shortcut: Alt+Shift+Ctrl+I

A screenshot of Photoshop showing the file menu open with File Info selected

Step 2 – When the file info dialog appears you should be in the “Description” section already, but if not, select it.

A screenshot of Photoshop showing part of the File Info dialog. There is a list of File Info sections with Description being the top one.

Step 3 – Fill out all the sections that you feel are applicable to you. The image below shows the fields I fill in, but I have highlighted the most important field, which you should always fill in (I’ll explain why in a minute). You should also select “Copyrighted” in the copyright status field to remove any doubt.

A screenshot of Photoshop showing the Description section of the File Info dialog. The Copyright Notice section is highlighted as important.

To the right of each field is a drop down menu containing text you recently entered into it. This is a great time save for fields that will always have the same text, for example Author Name.

Step 4 – Click the ok button on the dialog and there should now be a © symbol next to the file name on the title bar of the open image. This will only be the case if you selected copyrighted in the copyright status field (which you should have done :P).

A screenshot of Photoshop showing the title bar of an open file. The title bar has the copyright symbol to the left of the title text.

The copyright symbol will appear like that for anyone who opens the image in Photoshop once you’re done saving the file.

Step 5 – Save the file. The file info will attach to a PSD file, so I recommend if you are working with a PSD you save it after adding the file info. Any JPG files you save from it will contain the meta-data.

Warning! The met-data will not save with the JPG if you chose the “Save for Web” option. You must save through either “Save” or “Save As”.

Anyone can view the meta-data in Photoshop by going to the File Info dialog as you did to save the data.

Viewing meta-data outside Photoshop

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a copy of Photoshop. Those who don’t can still view some image meta-data through Windows (and probably other OSs too, but I’ll only cover Windows XP today).

Right click your saved JPG and chose “Properties”. In the properties dialog, go to the “Summary” tab and then go to the advanced view using the button at the bottom (it says “Simple” if you are already in advanced view.

A screenshot of a Windows XP properties dialog box for an image file. The Summary tab is selected and is on Advanced view. The Copyright section's text is the same as entered in the Copyright Notice section in Photoshop.

As you can see, the only copyright information that shows is what you wrote in the copyright notice field. That is why it is so important to fill out that section.

Windows doesn’t make it easy to read the full text, but you can adjust the column width to read it all.

It has its flaws

As I said, there is no guaranteed way to protect your images. Meta-data can be stripped from a file or it can simply be missed. I would love to see web browsers display file meta-data when viewing image properties.

However, meta-data is better than no meta-data. If someone doesn’t realise the data is there and uploads the image to their site, you can prove it is yours by extracting the data from the file.

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