Promoting and building tools for attribution of media may be one of the longest hobby horses running around this blog.

I never got linktribution nor thanktribution to catch on.

To me much of the problem with the way media reuse, copyright is taught is based on fear-if you use a copyrighted image, you will get in TROUBLE. It’s AGAINST THE LAW. Like the video I spotted on the Creative Commons site

That may get people to pay attention, but it seems like not the greatest motivation for behavior modification– to make choices that avoid getting into hot water. It is called negative reinforcement, and it may work, but seems to me less appealing as a form of motivation.

What if giving credit to reuse of other people’s media is just a human act of appreciation, like what most mothers teach us to when we take or use something that belongs to some one else.

Moms usually teach us to say “Thank you” when we get something from another.

Remember that?

And it feels good to be thanked, yes? Like a bit of positive appreciation?

How many gazillion times per day do people use someone else’s images, videos, sound tracks, gifs and do not say thanks?

So a few weeks ago I went a tad far in my zeal; and I am not going to put on the Attribution Cop hat again.

It got ramped up by a thing I found published on by a employee. The article (or whatever the heck you call something on ) opened with a rather stunning photo. I was quite entranced by it. But the author gave no indication of the source of the image, nary a link, not a caption, not an attribution.

They just nicked the image and slapped it in their own work.

Yep, they will just snatch candy out of your hand and not say thanks.

And it took very little effort for me (Google reverse image search) to not only find the same image, mostly not attributed, on other sites, plus the original as a Getty stock image. The kind someone had to pay for to use.

Individual bloggers are one thing, but as a very popular (now) publishing platform, is in position where their authoring platform could really affect people’s behaviors. They have a platform of influence. What if inserting an image required a caption? And a prompt to give credit?

Yes, that would be draconian. And it will never happen.

But has leverage, yet they do not even engage in any kind of media attribution in their own publications. Why should Jane Schmoe care? And although added the ability to add a creative contributions license to the publishing, it is so buried that I am sure 98.3% of authors miss it (not to mention the messy entanglement of granting a license to something that may contain media of mixed original licenses).

I actually did start to author a rant in, but I ran out of steam that night, and it shall languish as a unfinished draft. Because of what else happened.

But at that time I came across a blog post by a colleague whose work I respect. I was struck on their blog how it had a luscious, beautiful image but there was no mention at all as to where it came from.

Nary an attribution. It seemed odd for this person. Maybe I did not know them that well after all.

And I decided to put on the Attribution Cop hat and drop a snarky comment in the post.

The author was taken aback, as if I had insinuated every thing they had done was done as an act of shameful ignorance and theft. That their philosophy, spelled out in an earlier post I never read, was they were using public domain images, stuff licensed CC0. And public domain means you do not really have to give attribution.

Letter of the law.

But I see things differently.

There were fiery twitter DMs and then overly zealous apologies. All of our mutually ruffled feathers soothed over.

Just because the regulations of public domain say you do not have to give attribution, that does not mean it’s not worth giving attribution. As other people visit your site, like impressionable students or people new to the internet, when they see an image w/o any credit (because the license says you do not have to) it tells them, that in general one does not have to cite your media sources. They “do what everyone else does.”

That is how I see lack of attribution as a problem.

It’s not my role to lecture people on how they approach attribution. I should and will only police myself. It’s not my thing to tell others what to do. They need to get to their own set of rules.

I am not 100% perfect, but any media I use on this site, others I write for, and work I put out in public will give some kind of credit to the source media.

Not because I am following the law or rules or licenses, but because it is the right thing to do, to show appreciation by giving credit, whether I have to or not.

To say “thank you.”

So I hung up my copyright cop hat.

Actually, I donated it to a thrift store.

And I will just go on saying thank you by way of an attribution. That’s what my Mom taught me.

Your Mom may have taught you differently.

Hey! Look here! It’s a thank you!

Top / featured image modified from Public Domain Wikimedia Commons image of Al Molinara aka Murray the Cop

If this kind of stuff has value, please support me by tossing a one time PayPal kibble or monthly on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!
Profile Picture for CogDog The Blog
An early 90s builder of web stuff 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. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. Love this post. After teaching copyright/plagiarism for a few years my students (who were teachers) taught me to think about it more positively as you suggest and now I cannot stand seeing it from the negative side any more.
    Did i tell you about the time in my ed tech ethics class when I asked a student why she didn’t attribute an image on her blog? She said, “but I took that photo from my phone – it’s the flower you gave us in class last week” (oops).

    When I first started using Flickr images I actually liked to tell the creator thank you literally, as in, leave a comment. I did it for a while then couldn’t any more. I do use “fave” to help me find em again and I guess it helps a bit.

    I would not want u to stop working on things like ur attribution helper. It saves me time and am sure others too. I don’t always remember to use it but i feel good when i do.

    It’s also why i use HaikuDeck coz it automatically puts in the attribution. Otherwise it’s a really restrictive software to use! I use it to help myself use more images and less text.

    P.S. think you may be using the term “negative reinforcement” differently from how I understand it. But am too lazy to switch windows now lest i lose all this text

        1. You can bring anything you like bud. Enjoy some time in Strawberry, I am looking forward to hanging out together soon.

  2. I think it is interesting that you switch from law as reinforcement to culture as reinforcement as I think that’s one problem with copyright law as it doesn’t match modern life anymore. I remember as a kid having pirated stuff and being afraid of being caught, but with the napster kids the EFF would rock up and fight for you. Back then you’d have been on your own.

    I’ve seen a keynote speaker, wearing a Creative Commons badge, fail to attribute pics properly. I’ve seen people present at Open Conferences and not attribute properly, but academic use of material has never gotten close to understanding copyright, and the persuasiveness of an alternative when everyone is doing the opposite has to be amazing to work.

    So am I an attribution cop? No, I am an attribution judge. If you can’t be arsed to attribute, or to recognise the time and effort that may have gone into making something beautiful, then it is open season on your character. I once walked half an hour through a rain storm to get a good picture of a court house, and if writing in some text is too much for you, then, well, may you live in interesting times.

    1. Speak the truth, judge! It’s bigger fubar in that my picture of the universe, any digital content used in the open space, eg a commons, ought to be available for remix, reuse for creative use that’s is not reselling the original

  3. I think you’ll live a more peaceful interior life if you do, indeed, hang up that particular hat. It’s in the same category in my thinking as what shall be known as My Previous Obsession with other people’s web use or non-use of a glamor control ethic (you know, spell checking and proof reading before hitting the publish button).

    Your mom taught you to say thank you; my mom taught me to wear clean underwear because you never know when you might be in an accident. What mine, at least, neglected to tell me is that other people’s underwear is not really my business.

    Sigh. It’s a difficult lesson, this unlearning of the role of paternal Teacher to the World Wide Web. The world might need you to be The Voice of Attribution, but you will never be thanked for it, as in a thankless job, and nobody really needs to do. The world is going to hell in a handbasket anyway–just ask my mother.

  4. I know you collect stories of random internet magic, and I have one on this topic. I checked a comment on a Flickr photo last week, and an editor of a literary journal had left a note saying she had taken the Creative Commons licensed image to go with a certain poem and I would find it x place…and oh, by the way, she loved my work and would I like to be a Contributing Photographer for her journal? Do polar bears like to play in the snow?

    Randomly! It turns out she lives ten blocks from me in Eugene and is also of retirement age. The journal is her labor of love, and as I am both a poet (“I have a Master’s Degree–in Poetry!” she cried with the utmost irony) and a photographer, I now consider Flickr to be a successful dating service. ????????

  5. Thanks for the post Alan, I agree that not giving attribution leaves the reader to assume whether that was on purpose or through neglect. I admit that some of my images need fixing and partly because the change of WordPress theme removed the title/caption from my featured images. The good news is I have no where near the number of posts to fix as others…

    I am linking this post and a post from today by Martin Weller in the pre-work material for a workshop I am leading with faculty in Querétaro next week. Feel free to recommend any other resources to throw at them.

    And yes, I give credit on that feature image thanks to

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *