Attribution Is Lovely

give and take road sign by geralt on CC0 Public Domain
give and take road sign by geralt on CC0 Public Domain

I don’t know if you have ever encountered CogDog but he’s pretty awesome. He was a guest speaker in EC&I 831 which I took a couple years ago and he also does some wonderful things on the net. One of them is his attribution tool for Flickr. He recently wrote a post about attribution (especially about images) that resonated with me: In Which I Resign from a Brief Stint as an Attribution Cop.

Working as an Instructional Designer for online courses, I spend a fair bit of time hunting images and putting them in courses. I also am one of the more zealous in terms of adding attribution. I have encouraged my colleagues to add visible notes to courses which include purchased images to note that the images are purchased from a specific site unless otherwise identified. Creative Commons images always get as much attribution as I can offer, either through CogDog’s tool or through things like the attribution helper on Wikimedia Commons which creates the whole code or text for you based on original copyright/attribution information.

I’m sure you’re thinking that this is all fine and dandy for me. I get paid to do this. While not a requirement, it’s encouraged at my job and I have the technical expertise to make sure all the code is pretty when I do it. True. But none of that is why I do it.

Like CogDog, I am very interested in attribution because someone else made that work and they deserve the credit for it. When I go to an art gallery, I expect to be told the name of the work and the name of the artist. When I look at art sites online, same thing. When I reference academic work, I’m expected to give proper credit rather than plagiarizing. So why wouldn’t I apply the same principles to photos and images found online?

This comes partially from my connections to art. I started out in visual arts and I have since married an artist. I know that stuff is hard work. I know it involves blood, sweat, tears, and probably a lot of anxiety and caffeine.

I’ve given the speech to students about why not to plagiarize and it usually focuses on the fact that if they put in all the hard work to make something, they would like that to be recognized, correct? This isn’t just about ideas. Artists, photographers, creative types, they all should be treated to that same respect. There have been enough ways artists have been treated disrespectfully (see all offers of exposure instead of payment, free internships, low value on handcrafted items, and the “do what you love” slogan which is often used to tell artists why they should slog on for practically nothing solely because they are able to do what they love). So whether that artist is me, a random stranger around the world, a conference attendee, or a photographer who really does see their work as art, they deserve to be named when I use they work they have so kindly provided, free of charge, to anyone in the world to use.

So when you’re adding images to whatever you are doing, try to remember that someone made that and give them credit.

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