More on FAQ #513

The statements on this page are valid when using any common definition of “undoctored” and “doctored”; TCQ’s definitions of those two terms are here.

513. Why not label photographs that are doctored instead of labeling photos that are not doctored?

Because such a label would be unrealistic and unworkable.

Every prominent attempt to address the “Holy Grail” challenge of alerting the public to undetectable manipulations has involved labeling photos that are doctored instead of photos that are undoctored (example).

But there would be at least five problems with a label that declared “This photograph is doctored”:

1. Millions of photographers would have no interest in using a “This photograph is doctored” label, because they would see no reason to voluntarily tell viewers when an undoctored-looking photo has been doctored.

2. The label would be pointless unless it was universally used — and there would be no organization or legal entity that could enforce the use of a “This photograph is doctored” label except within a very small subsection of the photography world (at most in one country). Photography has no borders.

3. If a “This photograph is doctored” label is not used by every photographer worldwide who doctors photographs, then any selective enforcement of such a label would benefit photographers who doctor photographs but who DON’T apply that label. The more people who used such a label, the more that non-users of the label would benefit.

4. Suppose there was a “This photograph is doctored” label. Viewers of a photograph without that label wouldn’t know whether the photo was unlabeled because it was “undoctored” or because the photographer didn’t know about (or didn’t believe in) applying the “This photograph is doctored” label.

5. The implication behind the suggestion in the question at the top of this page is no longer accurate. The public no longer assumes that remarkable photos — no matter how realistic-looking — are “Undoctored unless labeled otherwise.” See also #521 and 522.