One of the most anticipated releases I was looking forward to this year with Adobe MAX was the Content Authenticity Initiative tool that’s now available in Photoshop. I’ve long been a proponent of protecting photographers and their works, but also making sure that the images we see are in fact, true.

Will Allen

The new Content Credentials tool helps to do just that, allowing photographers to write their edit history to a secure metadata file that will follow the photo wherever it may go. This helps photographers get the much-needed recognition for their work, and also helps consumers in determining whether a photo is realistic, or if it’s something out of a sci-fi movie.

I had the chance to sit down with Will Allen, Vice President, Community Products at Adobe, to get his take on the CAI and what it hopes to solve.

What does the CAI solve with this release?

“It’s not uncommon for somebody to take an amazing photograph — one they’re incredibly proud of — they share it to maybe a couple of people, or maybe they put it on their favorite social platform. It goes viral, everyone in the world sees it, and no one knows who created it. Their attribution is stripped away. I think it’s a tragedy, right? Like, I want something to go viral. And for everybody to know, ‘Wow, this person made this mazing piece of art, this amazing photograph.’

“Too often today, it’s easy for that context to get stripped away, and it’s easy for that person’s name to get stripped away. My vision for this is that it makes it another path to ensure creators and photographers in particular get credit for their work.”

With the CAI, anyone on the web can use the Verify website to look at the secure metadata that users attach via the Content Credentials tool in Photoshop.

“You can imagine the workflow of somebody taking a camera out into the world, taking photographs of whatever the thing is that they want to do — whether it’s landscape photography, shooting Major League Baseball or whatever that their hobby is — having that photograph put out to the world with these content credentials attached to it.

“Then anyone who sees it is able to sort of read and have that information be displayed across multiple platforms and multiple surfaces. So [the photographer’s] name is much more readily available, and sort of tamper evident when it inevitably does go viral. That’s the best way — when people see it out there.

“For me, it really centers around helping creatives and photographers get credit for their work

How can users attribute their edits to their photos?

The Content Credentials tool is completely opt-in, meaning you don’t have to use it. But if you’re sharing an image on the web, it might be something you consider doing.

“Any user can come in and say, ‘Hey, I would like to turn on these Content Credentials.’ And then when they go to export an image, they have the option to turn it on to attach secure metadata to it.”

Users can also selectively turn on or off what gets written to the secure metadata.

“It’s really important for us to be privacy conscious, and make it fully opt-in. So if a user says, ‘I want to show my edits and activity, I want to sort of show what I did, I want to show my name or I want to show neither of those things, just sort of what happened here,’ they have full granola control over what information they attach to their asset.”

What problems and limitations is the CAI still working on?

While the Content Credentials tool is an exciting part of the Content Authenticity Initiative, there are some limitations surrounding it. Mainly that it doesn’t yet work fully with plugins.

“We don’t fully work with plugins. It’ll lead through the gap in the trail right now, but it’s on our roadmap to fix. We know that [plugins are] a huge part of the ecosystem. It’s a known area that we need to work on. So … coming soon.”

Outside of plugin support, Allen is focusing a lot on the experience — from the photographer to the end user.

“A lot of our focus is on the user experience, to really make sure as somebody coming into any one of these tools, how do you make it really simple? How do people, when they see this for the first time … what is this thing? What do you mean, attribution? How secure is that? It’s a lot of information to cognitively take in at first glance. And so how do we bring folks in for the journey, and understand what this is and what it isn’t at the same time.”

When will it come to other apps like Lightroom?

While the Content Credentials tool is currently in beta form within Photoshop, there are definitely plans in place to bring it to other Creative Cloud apps, like Lightroom. But also within third-party apps, as well as websites.

“That’s why I think this next phase is so exciting, because it goes from being in Photoshop to displayed on sites like Behance. But we’re [also] working on building these SDKs, so anyone can grab this information and easily display it on their website.”

“When we sort of built these technical standards, we did it under the umbrella of the Linux Foundation to really make sure people know this is open. Photoshop was obviously our flagship implementation, same with Behance. But we’re seeing really amazing collaborations and integrations already with different companies like TruePic. They’ve worked with Qualcomm to bake in these technical standards into their smartphone app, and the work that they’re doing together at the chip level. So when you take a picture with TruePic, that metadata, those technical standards get attached, and with the same sort of format, the same sort of way. You can imagine somebody going from TruePic out to The New York Times, USA Today, the BBC or somewhere like that.

“So it is really critical for us. It’s important that we make this accessible for anyone to be able to implement both in the writing of metadata, but also to read the data.”

In terms of it coming to Lightroom, while there’s no exact ETA, Allen is excited to bring the Content Credentials too to that app as well.

“Lightroom is a great example of you know, how this works with the non-destructive workflow, and the ability to sort of, you know, showcase that. We’ve really been on these listening tours, to listen to photographers and all the different workflows they have, and to make sure that we really monitor those workflows.”

The future of the Content Authenticity Initiative

With the chance to build it from the ground up, Allen has big ideas about where the CAI will be in a few years.

“We really want this to be ubiquitous. I want to be ubiquitous out f sort of being the standard, and have it be a new way that we sort of look in and trust what we see online. How can we make sure that in five years that it’s no longer the case that photographers’ work had millions of people see it and not know who created it? How can we make sure they get credit for their work?

“And how can we reestablish a bit of trust and what we see out there, that at least when you see, you know whether it’s a photograph, a clip, video, audio file or document, that we can sort of help to reestablish, like actually believing what we see, because we give people more information and more context about what actually happened.”

All in all though, the Content Authenticity Initiative is moving full speed ahead in their goal to bring attribution and truth to photos and digital art everywhere.

“We’re two years into this journey. And I still feel like we’re just getting started. You know, we have a long road ahead of us. We’ve gotten an incredible group of collaborators and partners (including Nikon, who just recently joined).

“I’m really confident in what we have in Photoshop. But I would also say, it’s going to evolve. I’m excited to continue to hear the feedback from people when they see this. I couldn’t be more pumped to keep going.”