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Application Metadata vs. System Metadata: Federal Court Examines the Sedona Principles

Posted on November 13th, 2013

In our last blog, we discussed the case Teledyne Instruments, Inc. v. Cairns, et al., Case No. 6:12-cv-854-Orl-28TBS (M.D.Fl. October 25, 2013), where a District Court agreed that defendants’ alleged “inconsistencies” in metadata for two productions was normal and expected. Why did the court come to this conclusion? The court noted the differences between “system metadata” and “application metadata” as discussed and fleshed out at the Sedona Conference Working Group on Electronic Discovery Production.

“Application metadata is metadata created as a function of the application software used to create the document or file.” Sedona Principles, p.60. This includes information about the document itself, the author, comments and prior edits. Some application metadata includes when the document was created, viewed, modified, saved or printed. The application metadata is part of the software file itself, and does not change but “moves with the file.” Id.

In contrast, “System metadata is information created by a computer’s operating system or by the user and which is maintained by the operating system.” Id. This information indicates a file’s location, or “path” in storage and the time and date stamps indicating when the file was created, opened or changed. System metadata is not part of the data file itself, and will be on a different part of a hard drive than application metadata. System metadata might be changed by a mere hovering of a mouse over a file name, and different software installed on a computer may alter the system metadata. Id.

Due to these and other distinctions, the court wrote insightful dicta that “comparing dates in application metadata with dates in system metadata is not an apples to apples comparison.” Id. This was the crux of the reason that the court believed that discrepancies between the two were not evidence of “unreliable” or “erroneous” information, and such are to be expected. “Since application metadata and system metadata dates may diverge in the course of ordinary computer use, the discrepancies do not undermine the authenticity of information…” Id.

Due to the following principles expounded by the Sedona Conference, the court declined to broaden discovery past the initial ESI Protocol Order; “good cause” was not shown.

ILS – Plaintiff Electronic Discovery Experts

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