You Can Lead a Horse to Water…

This is the Photoshop File Info dialog for an image purchased from Shutterstock.


This is the photo that no longer appears on the web site.

Recently the Republican National Committee was faulted for their Latino website when it featured a stock photo of Asian children. used a photo obtained from Shutterstock according to a story last week in US News & World Report. Once US News blogged about it, a number of other sites also picked up the story and piled on.  The RNCLatinos web site has since been updated to fix the faux pas.

It is interesting because the metadata displayed with the photo on the Shutterstock page for the item called “Seven children playing in the park” includes:

“activity, asia, asian, cheeks, children, cool, cute, enjoy, expression, friend, friendship, funny future, gang, grass, group, happy, humor, interracial, japanese, joy, jump, kid, link, love, park, people, person, play, poor, relax, sleep, small, smile, social, spring, student, study, summer, sweet, Thailand, together, trendy, union, united,  young and youth”

Nothing remotely associated with Hispanic culture. And that is what the website was being criticized for.

I don’t necessarily agree with all the searchable keywords associated with this particular photo, seems a bit too liberally applied (from a key-wording perspective, not a political one) but that is a topic for another day.

My point is that a stock photo site clearly identified the picture with both searchable and displayed metadata.  So maybe the RNC Or its web-site builder is not at fault at all; it’s a case of orphaned metadata.

This started as a blog about you can have all the metadata you want, but if you don’t look at it, then you won’t know anything about your photos. (The proverbial, “you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make them read metadata!” problem.)

So, I bought the photo. I paid my $19 for a “standard license” small version of the image. That is why you see it published here, I paid for it, I can publish it on my web site according the extensive 4,246 word term of service.  Lots of words there.

When I went to look more closely at the image (in a variety of image and metadata editing applications), and tried to add it to my Merlin Digital Asset Management tool I found NO words in the photo I downloaded. Not a one. No metadata. No licensing language, no keywords or caption, nothing. It seems that the metadata associated with the item only appears on the Shutterstock web page, and has not been embedded with the photo. Hmmm, a problem.  Once the photo is downloaded, there is not a single piece of metadata that stays with the item to help ensure that future users know the context of the item and any rights management information associated with it.

It is easy to understand how a photo becomes orphaned from its metadata when you see this happen.

One of my pet peeves in (my DAM) life is that social media sites (you know who they are) strip metadata from content  (absolving them of copyright issues it would seem). It is curious to me that a website that makes its money selling imagery would also strip metadata from its own content.  It is hard to keep the honest folks honest if you don’t include metadata with content.

MerlinOne customers rely on us to ensure that metadata that is included with their content is indexed and that metadata that is added or revised post-import is reflected in content when downloaded. You can too. Contact me at

Posted by David Breslauer

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Leave a Reply