When the Richter Scales posted their “Here Comes Another Bubble” video, they didn’t expect the attention that they would get.
The video and song, a parody of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” lampooning the current wave of Web companies, almost instantly went viral, generating over 600,000 views on YouTube and becoming an instant Internet sensation.
However, the video also found itself at the center of a copyright controversy when photographer Lane Hartwell objected to the use of one of her photographs in the video montage.
Making sure that there was proper attribution, or acknowledgement of your sources, could have prevented a lot of controversy.
Here’s how you can do it right.
Now, with specific respect to this recent story, Lane Hartwell objected to the unattributed use of the photo in the movie and contacted the Richter Scales regarding it. At first they said that providing attribution was impractical. However, they reversed that position the next day after receiving some hostile feedback.
But by then it was too late. Hartwell had filed a DMCA notice with YouTube and gotten the video pulled. Though it was put up on other sites, including other places on YouTube, the viral video had been “popped”.
What followed was a sharp debate about what had happened. Owen Thomas, the subject of the photo in question, said that the members of the Richter Scales “were simply lazy” in their obtaining photographs. Meanwhile, Michael Arrington at TechCrunch said that a “perversion of copyright is being used to destroy art” when describing Hartwell’s takedown.
The controversy has brought the issue of attribution to the forefront and made it worthwhile to take a look at when and how to best provide attribution when using someone else’s work on your site. Though it is impossible to set solid guidelines for the entire Web, we can take a look at the current common practices and what common licenses require.
Though the Internet has no set guidelines for how to provide attribution, one rule is clear: Links are the currency of the Web.
If you use someone else’s content, whether licensed directly or through fair use, it is important to be sure to provide a clickable link to the original site if at all possible. This not only helps visitors to your site find the original work, but also provide SEO benefits for the creator of the content and guards against your site from being mistaken by the search engines as the original work.
With that in mind, let us take a look at several common situations many bloggers find themselves in and the way most feel is appropriate to attribute them.
- Quoting: If the original work is part of a larger work, for example block quoting part of another article, an inline link is usually all that is required. Typically, when inline linking, you mention the person’s name and/or the site they write for and link to the original article. This can be done very easily in any blogging application and takes only seconds to do.
- Images: If you are using a image in your blog, it is usually best to get permission before copying and pasting. Once you have permission, either through a license or direct contact, the best way to provide attribution is usually a standard photo credit, something to the effect of “Photo/Image By: John Doe” with the name linked to the photographer or artist’s site. Ideally, this should be done under the photo but is often done at the end of the work itself just to save time. If multiple photos are used, either locate the attribution next to the photo or briefly describe the photo you are crediting.
- Full Work: If you are using a full work, it is also best to get permission. However, doing so requires more attribution than just an inline link. Most times, a full byline is strongly recommended “Article By: John Doe” with the person’s name. Many other times, a brief profile of the author and/or their site is added to the footer of such articles. This is typically worked out on a case-by-case basis with the author or the license they provide the work under.
- Embedded Media: Video clips and other embedded media such as YouTube clips, typically don’t require any formal attribution since the media itself usually links back to the original source. That being said, some inline links pointing to the creator’s site or profile is usually considered polite and is well-advised. There are very few norms here as much of this is still fairly new, but it is almost always better to give more attribution than less.
- Content Inside Video and Audio: If you, like the Richter Scales, are embedding content into an audio or video work, the best approach is typically to follow established guidelines for that industry, crediting the works you use in the credits at the end of the work in the format the medium requires. Also, generally speaking, most artists appreciate a link if possible on your site itself or in the notes that come with the file, such as with YouTube.
The bottom line in most cases though is not to follow any set of guidelines, but to operate in good faith and, when practical, offer a clickable link. Whether or not it affects a fair use argument or makes your copying any more or less legal is largely irrelevant.
Good attribution is simply good manners.
Creative Commons licenses are both very popular, now covering millions of works on the Web, but also designed to eliminate the need to get permission for uses of content beyond what fair use would usually allow.
However, all Creative Commons Licenses require attribution and have special requirements for how that attribution should be presented. Specifically, you have to provide the author’s name and/or the name of an agent they designate, the title of the work, the URL to the original work if applicable and a link or URL to the license.
The simplest way to do this is a simple sentence such as “Original work “My Poem” by John Doe. Used under a Creative Commons License” In this case, you would link the author’s name to the original work and the “Creative Commons License” portion to the actual license page itself.
However, that is just one of the most common ways to do it and the actual method depends heavily upon the medium the content is being used in. The requirements, for example, will be different for a blog post than a podcast. However, in all cases, the same basic elements are required.
Failure to include some of all of that information, even if the reuse is within the spirit of the license, could be seen as infringement.
Though it is frustrating, it is a fairly simple set of guidelines to follow and it is also what prevents spam bloggers from abusing CC licenses to scrape massive amounts of content.
Beyond CC licenses, other sites that permit or even encourage reuse of content have other requirements for attribution. In those cases, it is best to read the license carefully and follow it to the letter.
For example, free article sites, such Articlesbase, require that you keep intact not just a link back to the article site but a “resource box” with information about the author of the article and their background.
On the other hand, the popular stock photography site stock.xchng offers no specific guidelines for attribution and many photographers don’t require it as part of their artist terms. On the other hand, others do and also require notification that their work is being used.
Whenever you use content from sites such as these, it is important to read the terms carefully and be sure to follow them closely. Doing so not only avoids potentially legal issues, but also unwanted personal drama and distractions.
Besides, it’s just the polite thing to do when using someone else’s hard work.
When it comes to attribution, it is always better to give too much than too little.
Though your attributions should never get in the way of your art it is important to say thank you to the people who’s hard work you’re building off of. To that end, you need to make sure that your attribution is clear, concise and visible to anyone who views your site or creation.
Even if you don’t follow a specific set of guidelines to the letter, acting in good faith and making a sincere attempt to ensure people get the credit they deserve usually matters more than technicalities.
THe bottom line, more than anything, is to be one of the good guys on the net. Take a few moments to thank the people who helped make your work possible and ensure that they get their share of the spotlight.
It’s only fair and it’s exactly the type of sharing that the new Web is going to be built upon.