In ramping up for next week’s Mural UDG project on open education at the University of Guadalajara, I go back to something that, after so many years should be more enabled by technology, but is as messy as always.

Giving attribution for reused photos is an old horse ridden around this blog, and this very simple, human form of appreciation still seems much more exception than anything else.

I was reminded of this when my former Maricopa colleague Jim (and also neighbor) sent an email with a subject line of “Look what I found. It does show your copyright in the link” and a URL.

It’s an MSN story on The Best Brewery in Every State and sure enough I recognize the photo:

And they do give credit with a © Alan Levine so they do give credit. What they do not provide are (a) a link/url to the original; (b) the fact that the photo is actually licensed under Creative Commons BY license; (c) The caption is wrong; the photo is at THAT Brewery in Pine; they were from a series of photos I took when brewers from Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company (in Gilbert) visited the brewery near me in Pine.

For an attribution grade, I give MSN a D- according to the rubric. But no one enforces attribution nor do they enforce licenses.

But let’s rely on Google’s AI to find the image

That is quite useful if you are looking for Russian reviews of American movies (and the image does not even appear).

Google yields 11 more web sites that have used this photo:

Guess how many provided attribution for the image?

I’m waiting.


Zero. Nada.

Why? Because 99.2% of the world’s web sites (arm chair estimate, sue me) never model giving credit for photos.

I know it’s my photo and vagule recall the day I took it, but I am fuzzy on exactly where/when. But I can search my flickr stream on beer pour and find it in 5 seconds (that’s the benefit of writing titles and captions pn photos, if I just mass uploaded photos named IMG8265642.jpg I’d never find them).

I am so insane about attribution I attribute my own photos (I am not legally required to do so); if you see me not attributing photos because it’s not required, then you might generalize that behavior to all photos found on Russian Film review web sites.

I learned of this photo re-use not because of Google, AI, blockchain, but because of a human connection, a friend who took 30 seconds to send me an email.

That is how a human network works; also like this:

I’m with John Henry, I will keep hammering by hand.

Since technology does not really help me find re-use of my own photos, I do it manually. For the last few years, when I come across a reuse, or when people comment/thank me in a comment (which does happen on a regular basis), I’ve been adding to my own album of reused photos:

I have little expectation the practice of simply saying thanks via attribution will happen on the web at any measurable level; but I will aim to do it every time (I am nto 100%, but maybe 99.2%?).

How about you? Is your practice like everyone else to just grab images from Google and reuse w/ saying thanks? Mom would not be happy with you. Try some thanktribution. It means a lot.

Featured Image: Hot Scotchy Pour flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Excellent timing on the post Alan and I hope to catch up with you *soon* in person.

    Today I will be talking about #AllThingsOpen and will be sure to use this post as part of my presentation. I also am using an edited version of your keynote you created from the collected stories at

    In particular the story from Amy and myself to point some of the many benefits to sharing in the open.

  2. Alan,

    Thanks for your staunch defense of the Commons! The Flickr Attribution tool has done more for the mission than anything in a long time.

    Yet it still isn’t easy for users. In WordPress for example people need to download a featured image and upload it. Do you then put the attribution in the description or the caption field? At the bottom of the page? What if you don’t display feature images on a post?

    I have experimented with a bunch of different options. On my blog I made a image credits page: I favorite any image on Flickr I use and I embed the slideshow. Sometimes I forget to sign-in, or I am in my fantasy football account and forget.

    When I remix images the attribution gets really long. Sometimes I am layering five or six photos on top of each other. This makes attribution look messy.

    People will pick pretty over proper.

    I am thinking of a word press plug that either takes an existing field in the image description and automatically publishes to a page using the image credit template. You copy and paste in the text or html attribution and bam its on the image credit page. Maybe it adds a new field to the image upload called “attribution”

    We need to start designing for attribution. If we are not intentional in generating explicit responses from users we may always end up with a bit of brown flu after a long night of discussing why nobody provides image attributions.

    If we want more people providing attribution maybe it is just a matter of asking.

    1. I’ve given up in there being a single “way” to go about attribution. The first step is making it important enough to make into a practice. Then it’s being deliberate about seeking open sources (I have a post in the head about not all open image sites being the same; I don’t use ones that do not credit the original photographer nor ones that do not make the license explicit). Then it’s figuring out a work flow (which you are talking about) for doing it.

      I do have in mind a kind of WP plugin with a form interface for entering info that would go into an attribution (not plucking it directly though) or a full cut and paste attribution from flickr cc helper (which I also have some future plans to extend to more sites to work from), mainly because I still end up doing a lot of manually cut and paste editing and am not always consistent.

      Thanks for spurring some ideas.

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