Do you send press releases to news organizations? There’s a standard you should know about that you’ve probably never heard of. And do you license images—from others or to others? There’s a standard you probably use routinely, without knowing it, that should be on your radar now.

Both of those standards—Media Topics and Photo Metadata—are from the International Press Telecommunications Council, the global standards body of news media. Its members range from giants like the Associated Press, BBC News, and the New York Times to a host of smaller news and photo agencies, publishers, and technology companies.

I recently attended the IPTC Autumn Meeting, and at virtually every session, I thought, “People in other sectors of publishing ought to know about what the IPTC has to offer them.”

The IPTC is over half a century old. It was founded in 1965 by the leading global news agencies at a watershed moment in technology: when satellites and fax made paper unnecessary for transmitting news and made interoperability, in the global news business, imperative.

The IPTC website showcases a charming newspaper page from 1967 trumpeting an amazing achievement: the transmittal of one page of news 50,000 miles in only 15 minutes! This happens thousands of times a day now and takes mere milliseconds. My point isn’t how pathetic that 15 minutes benchmark seems to us today; it’s how the news industry has long been out in front in advancing publishing technology.

That’s still the case today. IPTC standards are at the heart of how the news industry works. Some examples: its “news architecture,” in a standard called NewsML-G2, is used worldwide for the development, management, and interchange of news. Its SportsML enables virtually instantaneous coverage of events like the Olympics—in its torrent of detail about teams, players, games, plays, results, and statistics—in real time. Its NewsCodes vocabularies provide a lingua franca for news globally. Its RightsML enables machine-processable rights expressions.

The two IPTC standards I particularly want to call attention to are Media Topics and Photo Metadata.

Media Topics is a continually updated subject vocabulary, available in six languages, of over 1,200 terms used to describe what a news item is about. Like all IPTC standards, it’s open and free. When you send out press releases, wouldn’t you like to be sure the terms you use are the ones the news industry itself uses? Just go to You’ll be glad you did.

The other standard is one you’ve probably used without realizing it: Photo Metadata, which is used in Adobe programs like Photoshop and Illustrator. I’ve often written that one of the great things about standards is that most of the time you don’t need to be aware of them; they just work behind the scenes. IPTC Photo Metadata—essential to the graphics and imaging industries—is an example of that.

But recently, two properties in IPTC Photo Metadata have become important for folks in publishing to know about. That’s because Google partnered with IPTC and to create “licensable badges” in Google Images.

When Google Images was new, you just got hundreds of images from a search with no indication of who owned them or how to get them—that is, how to get them legally. It was all too easy to just right-click an image and download it.

That may sound like a good thing, but if you’re a publisher or agency that licenses images, you would view that as facilitating theft—and if you’re a publisher who uses images, it could invite lawsuits. So Google added an “image may be subject to copyright” disclaimer to all images. But how were you supposed to find out if the image you wanted was copyrighted, and if so, how to license it?

On Aug. 31, 2020, Google launched a licensable-images feature based on two IPTC Photo Metadata properties. If those two properties are embedded in an image or a website (or both), Google presents a badge that provides two links—one to a description of the rights associated with the image and another to where the license can be obtained. Google worked with major photo agencies to make sure not only that this works properly but that they would use it.

They sure do. For example, Getty Images has added these properties to all 400 million images it manages. You can use it, too: go to to see how it works.

Media Topics and Photo Metadata are two standards you should know about. Now you do.

Bill Kasdorf is principal at Kasdorf & Associates, a consultancy focusing on accessibility, information architecture, and editorial and production workflows. He is a founding partner of Publishing Technology Partners.