Google+ Deletes Copyright Metadata

Tuesday, 15 November 2011 14:32

Since the launch of Google+ there has been much chatter in blogs and forums about how friendly Google+ is to photographers. In our view one of the friendliest acts that Google+ could do would be to ensure that images uploaded and displayed on that service would retain their image metadata. We had a look at the Controlled Vocabulary survey to see if anyone had investigated what Google+ did with metadata. No one had, so we decided to look into this and create an entry in the survey for Google+.

NB! Since writing this story Google+ have changed how they handle metadata and now preserve copyright metadata in all images displayed on Google+ pages. Read our Google+ now preserves copyright metadata story for the latest news.


The first thing we did was to create a Google+ campaign page for ArtistsRights so that the results of our work would be open to the public. Next we obtained from the Controlled Vocabulary website their test image and downloaded it to our computer. We checked that all the required metadata fields were present, they were. This test image (size 800 x 1200 pixels) has both the legacy IPTC and XMP fields filled out using the name of the field as it appears in the IPTC Core tab of Photoshop CS4, as the fields in the Description and Origin tabs.

Next we created a photo folder on our Google+ campaign page (a folder called Metadata Test) and uploaded to it the test image from our computer.

Finally we used Jeffrey Friedl's Online Metadata Viewer to check the uploaded image and find out if the metadata was still present. This is the best tool to use to check if embedded metadata is present in online images. Jeffrey has published a 'How to use it' guide on his blog post, or if you prefer visual help have a look at the video on the Controlled Vocabulary website.

The Results

Having repeatedly read that Google+ was photographer friendly we were actually expecting that metadata would be retained on any images displayed on Google+, or at the very least the copyright metadata would still be present.

We were shocked to find that ALL metadata is removed from the images displayed on Google+.

Google+ created three versions of the test image;

  1. As a thumbnail to represent our folder Metadata Test (resized at 171 x 171)

  2. As an image within the folder Metadata Test (resized at 469 x 703)

  3. Displayed as an image on its own website page (resized at 608 x 912)

In every case all the metadata is deleted from these displayed images. Anyone seeking to license an image displayed on Google+ no longer has access to the copyright metadata or the copyright status from the displayed image.

Further investigation revealed that Google+ had also created other versions of the image, one of them sized at 683 x 1024 and another at 533 x 800, and as in the other renderings of the test image the metadata is deleted. We wonder how many other versions their might be and why all these versions are created by Google+.

Other Findings

If you view the largest rendering of the test image on Google+ you will see it offers the following facilities under 'Options' at the bottom right of the image.

PHOTO DETAILS; click this and a window opens up that states this image was taken by ArtistsRights. This is wrong, it was created by Controlled Vocabulary but because Google+ has deleted the copyright metadata it is unable to display who actually created this image. Google+ is now just assuming that it was taken by the person uploading. So not only has Google+ deleted the metadata, Google+ has now falsely represented who created of the image. This acts as a copyright infringers charter, allowing people to upload via Google+ others images and have them represented as their own.

The image size is shown as 800 x 1200 (which is the original size of the image uploaded) but the size as displayed is actually 608 x 912.

Note the camera settings fields. There are no recorded settings because this image was created off camera in PhotoShop CS4. We assume therefore that had the test image contained camera settings they at least would have been displayed here. This tells us something else - that the people who developed Google+ are aware of metadata. Being aware of metadata they have made a conscious decision only to make the camera settings metadata available on Google+. This means they took a deliberate decision not to make copyright metadata available on images displayed on Google+.

It was not an unintentional accident, the result of some sloppy coding, it was purposeful. Why would Google do that you might ask?

DOWNLOAD PHOTO; click this option and you will be offered the option of downloading the image to your computer. We did so and what was downloaded was the original image (800 x 1200) including all of the metadata fields! This is quite remarkable, it shows that somewhere on its servers Google+ stores the original image, including all of its metadata, but when it comes to the versions of the image Google+ actually displays, all the metadata is deleted.

REPORT ABUSE; This is the final option, click this and it presumably sends a message to Google. It does not offer you the opportunity to say what you are complaining about. We actually clicked the Report Abuse option because we felt that the image we uploaded had been abused. If Google contact us to ask us what the problem was we'll update this story with the outcome.


We find that Google+ is photographer unfriendly. It strips all metadata from the images displayed through its service, and as a result it can also falsely represent through the Photo Details window who actually created the image. This facilitates copyright infringement and is completely unacceptable.

This is the equivalent of someone removing a signature from a painting or removing the name of an author from a book and replacing it with another; no one would think that such acts were honourable and would rightly condemn such a person. We will attempt to route these findings to Google. If anyone out there has access to senior levels of Google management perhaps you could help bring this to their attention.

Stop Press

Google have launched a worldwide competition for students to enter, and students have to upload their photos to Google+. We now know that their copyright metadata will be deleted on the images displayed on Google+, but they also have to grant Google the right to use their photos in perpetuity, in adverts for Google+, for free. Full details of this latest abuse of intellectual property rights by Google are published in our report on the Google Photography Prize.

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