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DoD Memorandum on Digital Manipulation

Or, the US Army to the rescue!

The following is extracted from the article The Ethics of Photo Digital Manipulation, a MR INSIGHTS column by Patrick A. Swan in the US Army's Military Review.

We have written to ask permission to reproduce it, though in general, US government publications are considered public domain.

This text has so far been shown to about a dozen working news photographers and photojournalists. All have said that it gives a reasonable definition of the practices which they do and do not regard as photomanipulation of the kind which would require marking.

This is a great relief, because some were suspecting that we'd have to hire philosophers to work out what did and did not constitute manipulation.

The US Department of Defense believes it needs to take a position on digital manipulation of photographs because:

Computer digital technology makes removing or adding elements to photographs or video images fairly simple-and usually undetectable. To guard against the potentially dangerous effects such manipulation can have on military leaders who use digital images to make decisions and to ensure the credibility of Department of Defense (DOD)-produced images, former Deputy Secretary of Defense John Deutch issued a memorandum, dated 9 December 1994, to establish DOD guidelines regarding digital manipulation of official DOD photographic and video images. These include any images recorded or produced by persons acting on behalf of DOD activities, functions or missions.

The memorandum states that alteration of official DOD imagery is generally prohibited. The following photographic techniques are allowed:

  • Dodging, burning, color balancing, spotting and contrast adjustment to achieve accurate recording of an event or object.
  • Photographic and video image enhancement, exploitation and simulation to support unique cartography, geodesy, intelligence, medical, research and development, scientific and training requirements, provided these techniques do not misrepresent the original image's subject.
  • Obvious masking of parts of a photograph for specific security or criminal investigation requirements.
  • Cropping, editing or enlarging to isolate, link or display part of a photograph or video image as long as the event or object's facts or circumstances are not misrepresented.
  • Digitally converting and/or compressing photographic and video imagery without altering content.
  • Post-production enhancement, including animation, digital simulation, graphics and special effects for education, recruiting, safety and training illustrations, publications or productions as long as the original image is not misrepresented. It must be clearly and readily apparent from the image's content or accompanying text that the enhanced image is not intended to be an accurate representation of any actual event.
Unacceptable photographic or video imagery manipulation techniques include repositioning an element in an image; changing the size, shape or physical appearance of an element; merging two or more visual elements into one; adding an element to an image; changing spatial relationships or colors in an image; or removing a visual element from the image.

The only major change which I would propose is in the final bullet point, which I propose rewriting for the purposes of news photography to read:

  • Post-production enhancement, including animation, digital simulation, graphics and special effects for illustrating non-news features and to serve where a hand-drawn cartoon might illustrate a news story. Such photo-illustrations must be clearly marked with the "manipulated photo" symbol within the area of the image and there must be no suggestion in the accompanying text or voice-over that the enhanced image is intended to be an accurate representation of any actual event.

Why must the mark be within the image area?

Because whatever guidelines we finally come up with must work not only for newspapers, magazines and television, but also for new electronic media -- for example the Web. Before long, automatic rights-clearance schemes will make it possible to link a copyright graphic without the accompanying text, caption or credit. The "I am manipulated" mark must therefore be part of the image, not of the text -- even if this does break designers' hearts.

Mike Holderness

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Last modified: 09 Nov 1997
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