Will Allen

Last week, I gave a first hand look at Adobe’s recent white paper on its Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI). It covered topics like privacy, workflows, user experience, security and more, hoping to better give an understanding over what is necessary for full transparency online, while also protecting digital media artists and creators.

So what does this all mean for photographers? I had the chance to sit down with Adobe’s Vice President of Community Products, Will Allen, about how the CAI will impact a photographer’s workflow, and what we can expect moving forward.

For Allen, the CAI is all about crediting creators for their work, but also knowing what to trust online today.

“From my perspective, knowing that creatives need credit for their work, and then with a growing challenge of misinformation, disinformation, knowing what to trust in media. So we’ve been thinking about this problem for a couple of years, and it’s what led us to form the Content Authenticity Initiative.”

You retain control

One of the things that wasn’t clear to me in the white paper is how much control photographers and other creatives would have. Long story short, creators retain pretty much all control, and actually have to opt-in to the CAI for each image.

“The idea with all of this is that it has to be opt-in with privacy-conscious privacy first,” said Allen. “Creatives and photographers often want to get credit for their work, but sometimes they want to remain anonymous. You have granular privacy controls that opt-in, but not opt-out. So it’s really important to think that the user has to say, ‘I would like to attach this information to my photo.'”

Once you do opt-in, you have control over what types of data is included.

“The way it’s going to work [in Photoshop] is that you basically ask the user, would you like to include attribution data? What types of attribution data — would you like to attach your name to it? Would you like to attach your edit history or just your name, really giving the photographer full control over what he or she would like to expose as metadata.”

That means you decide to opt-in to the CAI, and can exclude certain fields of data or even complete works if you’d like. One day you might be photographing a community event, while the other you might be putting together a composite. Obviously both types of works have different needs, so having flexibility within the CAI is important.

The workflow is simple

Once you opt-in, the CAI works seamlessly with Adobe’s creative apps like Lightroom or Photoshop. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the experience will be the same across every application out there — quite the contrary.

“How it works in Photoshop might be slightly distinct and how it works in Lightroom, which might be slightly distinct in terms of how it works in another editing tool, like a native application on your phone or somewhere else.

“Our goal is to make it really simple, and that’s why we’re working so closely with all of our partners,” said Allen.

But what if you don’t utilize Adobe tools, instead opting for something like Capture One or Luminar?

“One of our closest collaborators is a small startup called TruePic. They’re very focused on capturing stuff on your phone. So how do you verify that your phone was where you say it was and that you captured those [images] from there?

“The idea is that it should not be limited to Adobe and it shouldn’t even be limited to tech companies. We’re really looking for pretty broad adoption.”

The CAI might replace your watermark

I’ve written about my thoughts on watermarks before. In terms of protection, they simply don’t work.

That’s why the CAI is so intriguing. Imagine a digital footprint on your files that can’t be removed. That means that, even if someone downloads one of your photographs, that footprint stays with it.

“One of the key things I’ve heard from the community over the years has been that people need credit for their work. Too often in this day and age when people share their art online, their name gets stripped from it,” said Allen.

With all that said, will the CAI replace watermarks?

“[The CAI] is similar in some ways but it’s pretty different. The idea is that you have metadata attached to the image, and that metadata is tamper evident. It’s cryptographically signed so that it can be verified,” said Allen. “It says, OK, this user was using Photoshop to edit this photo and here’s what Photoshop says happened during that editing process, or what Lightroom says happens.”

When will CAI implementation be ready?

Despite only being announced last fall, Allen says the CAI team is on track to be delivered to a small subset of Photoshop users by the end of 2020, with attribution data being able to be read on the Behance website.

While talking about things like content attribution might not be the most exciting thing in the world, it certainly is a topic that’s regularly on the mind of photographers. Allen says it best, knowing that the possibilities are well beyond just giving credit where credit is due.

“What’s the way that you can attach your name to an asset in the metadata so it’s secure as it travels throughout the internet, and it gives you credit for your work? Ultimately, more credit [means] when people see your work, you’re going to get more opportunities — whether it’s jobs, collaboration or just more exposure — hopefully that turns into a real opportunity.”

Once the CAI is implemented, it will certainly be a game changer. Not only for those of us who publish images online, but for our followers, too.

What would you like to see the CAI tackle? What are your primary concerns with content attribution and trust in the media? Let me know in the comments below.