Credit Where Credit Is Due

  • On May 3, 2012 ·
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As an artist I like to see others credited when I find their work online. Both because they deserve it as the creator and so I can track down more of their stuff later. So why do people on tumblr and other places strip the artist info from images and comics before reblogging them? Why take that extra step and deny somebody credit for what they made?

The concept behind it is one of ownership. Probably not in the way most people think of it. I’m not saying people who do this are trying to pretend like they made the images. Hell, half the time they’re sharing tons of images totally unrelated to each other so the average person wouldn’t assume they came from the same artist. (Then again people can be led to believe almost anything so I wouldn’t totally rule it out, either.) The issue of ownership comes from the notion that this person’s tumblr, their facebook, wherever they’re collecting these images for people to find, is their site. They want folks to discover this content on their blog and they want to receive the credit for discovering this comic or image. Think of it more like a mixtape. You may know all the artists on it but the reason people put them together is to express themselves through a collection of somebody else’s stuff. The problem here is, when they strip away the source info, the creator of that material gets no real benefit for it being shared. Oh, sure, people are seeing their work and being aware of it. But does your doctor pay his bills by having you tell others how awesome he is when he finishes surgery on you? Of course not. He might get future referrals from clients if he does an excellent job but that itself isn’t compensating him for his time, his training, and every other expense involved in using his skills. And at least in that example you’re crediting him for his work. Little good it would do that doctor for you to walk around showing off your new nose job and never mentioning his name.

Personally I think of tumblr as a catchall. If somebody blogs something I want other people to see I reblog it. I tend to keep comments alive because sometimes I know I find new tumblrs via comments and reblogs of things I like. However I can see the problem with keeping them. Youtube comments, for example, are some of the most useless text ever committed to the internet. And the iphone client I use for tumblr hides (important difference: not strips) comments until I decide I want to read them so it doesn’t distract from the original post. If you’re interested in seeing the chain of an image being shared online it should be there to follow. Then again there are some sites that try to rebrand all material hosted so it points back to their site. Look up the original issues dealing with ebaum’s world if you’re so inclined. I know I get tired of seeing a watermark clearly slapped over another watermark.

This comes back to the concept of etiquette vs entitlement. Is a creator entitled to have their identity passed down with their content? I say yes, totally, reverse the situation and you’d want the same sort of treatment. Now is the creator entitled to decide what the audience does with that material? That’s a grey area. EULA don’t really hold up in courts and personally I don’t subscribe to the notion that I’m merely licensing my content, not owning. This is a line the digital age is crossing where middlemen and gatekeepers are finding themselves at an unenforceable impasse. You used to have to buy an album if you liked a song. Now you don’t even have to download it but can usually find it streaming from various sources. I’m sure plenty of people would like to put the genie back in the bottle if they could but keeping content officially offline just means it will be more easily available unofficially. Call that whatever you want, you’re leaving money on the table when it’s easier to steal your product than it is to legitimately purchase it. I like spending money on things I like because that’s how the system is supposed to work. I like supporting good content. The problem comes when gatekeepers try to make an audience jump through hoops by limiting how they can enjoy said content with crap like DRM or expecting people to buy the same material again in a different format.

Back to etiquette for a minute. If you’re running a site that reposts stuff from other people and you intentionally strip their credit info from the files, stop doing that. That’s a real dick move. Also, if you’re a content creator and you’re branding your images with a huge watermark that ruins having an online gallery, stop doing that. It’s really annoying to people who don’t steal and it makes you look hyper paranoid that everybody’s going to rip you off. I wish I had better answers on how to encourage better sharing online and better ways for creators to get paid for their stuff. All I can say is make it easier for people to pass your stuff around legitimately. Get on tumblr yourself and share it. Find the folks who do credit creators for their work and follow them back. There’s always going to be the percentage of people that will never pay for anything and I suppose there will always be people trying to take credit for somebody else’s stuff. It’s a better use of time and energy to find and establish communities of people that will support artists and that will dress down others for lacking proper attribution.