Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

Command Line Processing of EXIF Image Metadata

8th July 2013

There is a bill making its way through the U.K. parliament at the moment that could reduce the power of copyright when it comes to images placed on the web. The current situation is that anyone who creates an image automatically holds the copyright for it. However, the new legislation will remove that if it becomes law as it stands. As it happens, the Royal Photographic Society is doing what it can to avoid any changes to what we have now. There may be the barrier of due diligence but how many of us take steps to mark our own intellectual property? For one, I have been less that attentive to this and now wonder if there is anything more that I should be doing. Others may copyleft their images but I don’t want to find myself unable to share my own photos because another party is claiming rights over them. There’s watermarking them but I also want to add something to the image metadata too.

That got me wondering about adding metadata to any images that I post online that assert my status as the copyright holder. It may not be perfect but any action is better than doing nothing at all. Given that I don’t post photos where EXIF metadata is stripped as part of the uploading process, it should be there to see for anyone who bothers to check and there may not be many who do.

Because I also wanted to batch process images, I looked for a command line tool to do the needful and found ExifTool. Being a Perl library, it is cross-platform so you can use it on Linux, Windows and even OS X. To install it on a Debian or Ubuntu based Linux distro, just use the following command:

sudo apt-get install libimage-exiftool-perl

The form of the command that I found useful for adding the actual copyright information is below:

exiftool -p “-copyright=(c) John …” -ext jpg -overwrite_original

The -p switch preserves the timestamp of the image file while the -overwrite_original one ensures that you don’t end up with unwanted backup files. The copyright message goes within the quotes along with the -copyright option. With a little shell scripting, you can traverse a directory structure and change the metadata for any image files contained in different sub-folders. If you wish to do more than this, there’s always the user documentation to be consulted.


  • Phil says:

    The use of “*.jpg” is discouraged when using ExifTool. If you use “-ext jpg .” instead, then processing sub-directories is as easy as adding the -r option.

    • John says:

      Thanks for that, Phil. The post has been amended to use the -ext option and I’ll look into the -r one too when I get a moment.

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