A motherboard (via fdecomite/Flickr)

While the conversation around responsible technology continues to swirl within the political landscape, a newly announced venture between Twitter, Adobe, and the New York Times Company brings a more user-minded project to the fore. Called the Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI), these three collaborators are looking to create a much-needed reliable system of attribution for digital creators and publishers. “With the proliferation of digital content, people want to know the content they’re seeing is authentic,” said Dana Rao, executive vice president and general counsel for Adobe, in the venture’s press release this Monday. While a concept like authorship has always played an essential role in the physical creative market, it has taken the digital world too long to catch up.

According to Adobe, CAI’s opt-in system will allow creators and publishers to attach attribution information, most likely a piece of metadata, to any given file that will tie back to its original creator or publisher. In theory, the image/artwork/text could be infinitely shared and reposted while still maintaining its source, in the same way that watermarks work for profit-minded entities like Getty or Shutterstock. In many ways, stock photography archives were pioneers when it came to policing creative digital property. One early caveat of the system is that it will be dependent on as many people as possible choosing to participate, and Rao goes on to say “It is critical for technology and media companies to come together now in order to empower consumers to better evaluate and understand content online.”

While there is no release date set for CAI’s launch, some of the technical details remain murky — for example, how it will keep the tag secure or prevent users from copying the content in a way that strips it out. Adobe’s CFO Scott Belsky told Verge that while the technical details will be worked out at an upcoming summit for the project, ideally the platform will create a record of who created a given piece of content and if it has been modified by someone else. “We believe that a lot of creators will be happy to provide this information. And over time, consumers will come to expect content to come with attribution,” said Belsky.

This could clearly benefit digital artists, ensuring their work is credited rather than being circulated anonymously on social media platforms, while tags could help trace the works back to their creators. Projects like Monegraph, co-founded by artist Kevin McCoy, use blockchain to create a platform for digital artists to establish authentication on par with traditional galleries.

In the era of fake news, we know authenticity can be hard to trace, and the benefits of a successful Content Authenticity Initiative would go beyond the idea of a creator or publisher getting credit to have more lasting effects on the truthfulness of digital content itself. “Discerning trusted news on the internet is one of the biggest challenges news consumers face today,” says Marc Lavallee, the New York Times Company’s head of research and development in Adobe’s press release. “Combating misinformation will require the entire ecosystem — creators, publishers, and platforms — to work together. This initiative lays the groundwork for doing that through open standards and protocols.”

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