Rules, Attribution, and Doing The Right Thing

No metal cleats
cc licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by


In my hobbled opinion the problem about reuse of media is copyright. Duh. No not what you think; our framing of what one should use openly licensed content is nearly always framed in something akin to DON’T BREAK THE RULES (or you will get in trouble), e.g.:

If you reuse someone else’s media without permission then you are breaking the law, swarms of eagles bearing hungry lawyers will swarm down on you and your paltry web site and rip your soul to shreds. COPYRIGHT IS THE LAW! DON’T BREAK THE LAW!

Okay, I paraphrase a bit. But that is the attitude of what is a nicely produced Creative Commons video

It’s not much different from the MPAA piracy scare show; this is nearly always how advocating the use of open content is framed.

You wouldn’t steal a car,
you wouldn’t steal a handbag,
you wouldn’t steal a television,
you wouldn’t steal a movie.

Downloading copyrighted images is stealing,
stealing is against the law,

Why is there never a message of– attributing the reuse of shared work of others is a positive act of acknowledgement? A nice thing to do? Something that feeds an ecosystem of “pay it forward”? Something that feels good when it happens to us?

No, we look for rules. We do not want to break rules. Keep that chewing gum in your mouth kid. Stand behind the yellow line.

Here’s a tiny example. A group I am working with here at TRU is building an educational resource in WordPress. They are doing the right thing, using public domain images from pixabay (one of my favorite go to sites these days).

One person on the time appropriately emailed the group and cited the lack of an attribution on an image that came from pixabay.

The person working on the site responded that it came from pixabay, was licensed public domain, and that means that attribution is not required.


Just because it’s not required does not mean there’s not a reason to provide attribution. Was that too many double negatives?

My response:

The thing about attribution and licenses is that no entity patrols and enforces rules, so what we do is “the best we can”.

While technically correct, no attribution is required for public domain images, it is not a bad thing to do; it demonstrates to others the act of giving credit.

I generally attribute these kinds of images by making the image itself linked to the source page on pixabay where it is found and add in the caption something like “Pixabay Public Domain image by Xxxxx” where Xxxxx is the user name; or even “public domain image from pixabay” is good. No one is patrolling your attribution, it should be something we do like giving the person who created a tip (a really really really small one, but hey, it counts).

If you do not provide attribution, a visitor who knows something of open licenses may wonder if the legwork has been done. No attribution means no information, and it could look just like what 95% of the rest of the web where stuff is grabbed willy nilly and inserted into other places.

Adding an attribution takes like an extra 90 seconds, the person may never know it, but its a human statement of “I like your work, and I want to say thanks.” Didn’t our parents teach us to thank others?

By linking to the image you can also help someone else who might wish to use the same image.

Attribution not just about following rules and avoiding getting in trouble for copyright, it’s about paying forward the act of sharing content freely.

Who is against giving out acknowledgement? Of saying “thanks”?

It’s not about rules.

And keep those metal cleats off my web site.

About cogdog

I bark about and play with technology and web stuff. Harmless. I have my shots.

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