Commons Machinery: you will never forget to credit collaborators again
Will content authoring software ever learn to automatically credit all collaborators? Artem Popov demonstrated a working prototype of a remix workflow for GIMP, Inkscape, Firefox, and more applications.
In June, we published an introduction to Commons Machinery, written by Konstantin Dmitriev (Synfig). This project aims to provide development tools to preserve authorship and license metadata when remixing 3rd party content such as images, music, and video. Konstantin's own use case for that is automatically building a list of contributors for credits in an animation movie.
Let's be 100% honest here: back then, did you believe it's doable? Especially after this year's study of what happens to images posted in social networks? Nevertheless...
"The future is already here..."
Half a year later the first results look promising: Commons Machinery's Artem Popov recently demonstrated a proof-of-concept workflow that involves GIMP, Inkscape, Firefox, Eye of GNOME, and more apps.
As you can see, metadata from multiple sources really gets preserved after tossing an image between apps, flattening layers, and suchlike. Please pay close attention to the end of the video: Aloha HTML editor generates a human-readable list of contributors to the image pasted from the clipboard.
The road behind
Actually, the work started even earlier than in June: first of all, the team did a study of typical issues with embedding metadata into digital works of art. The "Exploring Challenges in Embedding Metadata of Licence Information in Digital Work" paper is freely available for you to study.
During this summer the team created a patch for Inkscape, released an extension for Mozilla Firefox that copies an image along with its metadata to the clipboard, and an extension for LibreOffice that pastes such an image while preserving its metadata. You can find out more about these and other first deliverables on the Commons Machinery website.
They also released several versions of libcredit, a library that reads available metadata and builds a list of credits.
To complement libcredit, the team recently started working on another library called libremix. Its job, says Peter Liljenberg, senior software developer at Commons Machinery, is making sure that metadata is correctly handled in a remixed work. That is, if you flattened several layers that are all reused images from different artists, the new flattened layer should credit all the contributors in the metadata. And if you removed a reused image from the project, the final rendered image should not mention that contributor.
The friendly fork of GIMP you saw in the video is a proof of concept. The patch is application-specific and does not use any new libraries. So there's still work to do here. Artem has been active in the GIMP's IRC channel for developers for the past few months, and he seems committed to completing his work. Which means GIMP 2.10 could feature more than just a new dialog for viewing and editing Exif, XMP, and IPTC metadata.
The road ahead
At this point it would be premature to call Commons Machinery a successful project. However, as you can see, the idea seems to work rather well for cases where metadata is defined correctly. It wasn't all that unrealistic after all.
It's worth mentioning that the Commons Machinery team isn't going to relax after patching Inkscape and GIMP. According to Artem, libremix could be used for preserving authorship metadata in elements of any creative work of art, be it an object in an Inkscape illustration, a layer in GIMP, or a sound clip in Audacity. In fact, a prototype for Audacity is already planned.
The team also studied what's up with metadata in 3D workflows and discovered that "exchange" file formats typically lack it. However, they think it's an interesting topic to investigate further. Ton Roosendaal, who we contacted for a comment, thinks likewise.
As for other plans, Commons Machinery developers have some ideas regarding (further) collaboration with LibreOffice and WordPress, as well as plans to look into support for a remix workflow in Photoshop, Microsoft Office, and Google Docs.
Just gimme the software already!
All existing source code is publicly available. We assume that you are mostly interested in these projects:
- patched version of GIMP (based on an unstable branch);
- patched version of Inkscape (also based on an unstable branch);
- a ready to use Firefox extension (source code is on GitHub;
- patched version of the Eye of GNOME image viewer.
Merry testing, and happy new build! :)