Image Provenance

A couple of weeks ago, in discussions surrounding "Issue 54,"  I 
suggested that perhaps user agents could assist with a part of the 
problem by providing access to metadata contained in certain file 
formats (like SVG and PNG) that allow authors of images to embed 
provenance data.

A colleague who is interested in GIS data (and particularly in 
relationships between images, data, and the origins of images) 
--  approached me with the following suggestion (without any 
prompting from me I will have you know ). It seemed within the 
purview of the broader discussion of how browsers respond to images 
and what those images represent.

Rather than having browsers merely copy images to the clipboard 
("Save picture as..." and "copy" in IE, "save image ..." and "copy 
image to clipboard" in Opera, etc.) , hence streamlining copyright 
infringements and making the job of plagiarizing that much easier for 
our students, how about the browsers would, instead, copy the entire 
<img> tag, including src and alt (if it exists), as well as the URL 
in which the image were found, as well as (possibly) some of the 
textual context, to the clipboard?

  For those working with images that are in the public domain (like 
geographers working with US govt data, or art historians), the 
suggestion is no less relevant: images are inextricably bound  to 
their provenance for most academic purposes. In the case of 
copyrighted images, the browser makers would seem to be on far more 
solid footing in the eyes of the putative courtroom should they make 
innocent infringement a bit less likely.

Now, how applications such as web authoring packages, word 
processors, presentation software, etc. would deal with the richer 
clipboard data, would be up to the application developers, but 
presumably, the already rich data structure of the clipboard in both 
Windows and Mac environments can already deal with a properly 
structured bundle of imagery-with-data.

In cases of images being rebroadcast from site to site, the ruling in 
the US case Kelly v Arriba would seem to support the notion that the 
copying of provenance along with images strengthens what in the US is 
known as "fair use" and in other jurisdictions is sometimes called 
"fair dealing." If such metadata were incorporated with the copying 
act enabled by browsers, then it is possible that the number of 
alt-less images floating around on the web would, over time, 
decrease, since access to reliable origination data would be enhanced 
for both client and server.

Just a thought,
David Dailey (who will blame his colleague if folks don't like this idea)

Received on Tuesday, 13 May 2008 19:35:12 UTC