Attribution is vitally important. When you share a picture or a quote (or other content items) and you don’t attribute it to its creator, your carelessness or callousness causes people harm. Just so we’re on the same page here, when I say to “attribute the creator” it means that when you post something or share something on social media (or elsewhere), you also let people know who the creator was. Tell them who the artist was, who the speaker was, who the thinker was, who the author was, who prayed the prayer, who said the thing, who painted the thing, who danced the dance, who wrote the music, who sang the song, who took the photo. Tell people where you got the thing you’re sharing. Tell them who made it.
Most of us have at some time or another gotten a little lazy or nonchalant on this issue, and it's time for a reminder that this is an important thing which is easy to heal
I make this post here not just because of things I've experienced, but because I know I'm not alone in this experience. Indeed it is such a common experience to many of us that there's a creeping nonchalance about such callous behavior, and it is a matter that needs attention from time to time.
In my blog, if I do not have an attribution right there at the bottom of a post I’ve made here at my blog, assume that the writing is mine. If I do not have an attribution at the bottom of a post for a picture (usually I do), assume that the picture is mine, a photo I took, a piece of art I made. If you are in any doubt at all, have the good grace to ask. That means if you take a picture from this site which I created, and you forget to mention I created it, you are stealing. Do not share my posts or my photos without attributing me. If you cut and paste text from my work and forget to mention I wrote it, you’re stealing. (Obviously, if you haven’t done this, then this post does not apply to you. You’re one of the folks in that “choir” I mentioned earlier. Thanks for being considerate!)
Usually, I give the benefit of the doubt. I often assume ignorance, or sometimes laziness, before active maliciousness. I realize if you take things from my pages without attributing me, you’re probably a nice person who pays your taxes on time, who doesn’t shoplift, who will help little old ladies across the street, and who will be kind to puppies. I realize that maybe you don’t mean to steal, and maybe you don’t mean to steal from me, a priest. But you are. If you don’t know that this is what you’re doing, you have the opportunity to repair the damage and credit things appropriately. If, instead, you are too busy getting defensive while reading this, and you’re about ready to tell me that “No, really, I’m a nice person!” then you’ve just allowed your defense of a broken self-image get in the way of actually being a nice person.
Don’t steal. This goes whether it’s my work, or anyone else’s. Nice people don’t steal.
Let me break this down very carefully. I do not get paid very much for my work at all. Priests have to eat. We have to keep roofs over our heads, and roofs over the heads of the deities whose shrines and temples we keep. We have to feed and clothe ourselves. We make offerings to our deities at our own expense, and often we do this on behalf of our communities…again, at our own expense. In the old days, entire communities would support this work that we do, but things are not that ideal today. We, often single-handedly, are left shouldering the lion's share of that burden. Often we keep rigorous daily practices in order to assure that the deities and their rites are taken care of. We do what we do in honor of the deities often at our own expense and often at great and painful personal sacrifice, personal sacrifices which you may never know or understand the depth and pain of. We learn, we study, we pray, we work, we attend the gods, we attend our communities…this eats up our time and our resources and it is a 40-hour-a-week job (often much more than 40-hours-a-week) with no hourly wage, no salary, no insurance, no paid time off. You often get to reap the benefits of our knowledge, our experiences, and of the good relations we strive to keep with the powers-that-be. Even if you think you do not benefit from all of our hard work, the very least you can do is credit us for our work so that those humans who do benefit from our work and who would like to support our work have the opportunity of doing so.
I am a priest. When you don’t attribute my work, you’re stealing from me and the work I do for the gods. Stealing from priests is bad. You’re not the nice person you think you are if you steal from priests. Seriously, I shouldn’t be the one to have to tell you that.
I have had this up on my blog for a long time at the bottom of this page:
“© Tess Dawson, 2007-2011 Do not copy or repost without permission.” I had similar notices on my website when my website was up. So, just in case you were in any doubt, all you had to do was scroll to the bottom of the page and say “Oh, copyright. This means I should attribute the author of this text, and the maker of this picture.” If you didn’t know that before, you know it now. To the person who posted my art without permission yesterday, thank you for reminding me, inadvertently, to update my copyright notice: “© Tess Dawson, 2007-2016 unless otherwise attributed. Don't repost text or pics without attribution.”
When you post pictures, art, quotes, music, and photos, please remember to credit the person who created them, or at least have the decency to link back to where you got them. Although I can appreciate peoples' zeal in wanting to share wonderful things, please remember to implement good sharing practices, otherwise you cheapen someone else's good hard work. Maybe you just want to make yourself look good and have something really cool to share on social networking so others will think you’re cool—hey, I get it. I do. Maybe you’re trying to impress people—some cute girl whose sighs give you bashful butterfly flutters. Maybe you’re having a rough time and your self-esteem goes up a little bit when you see those “thumbs-up” likes. Maybe you’ve been lonely all week, and this is a way to start conversations. That’s great—but it’s not ok when your coolness-factor and your self-esteem came at the expense of someone else’s hard work and you didn’t even have the respect to credit them. No matter how much you may tell yourself that you respect their work, stealing that work from them and treating them as not even worthy of being mentioned is neither respectful of the creator nor of the work. Also, many of these things are copyrighted and it is not only disrespectful to share them without crediting them; it is sometimes illegal to do so.
When I’ve brought up this issue from time to time, I hear the tired response of “Well, you put it out there in public, you put it on the internet. What did you expect?” This right here is victim-blaming; it’s not ok. It shuts down the exploration of a necessary issue; instead of an opportunity, the moment gets turned into a support for a status quo which is less troublesome, and less frightening, but more comfortable and more predictable than healing change. It’s a pathologically bad attitude which has permeated our culture often to the destruction of the very things we should be cherishing and protecting.We can do better.
For example, an artist may well consent to have the content of his artwork seen, but this does not imply or suggest that the artist was giving it to you to do as you please and it doesn’t suggest that the artist didn’t want the recognition for his blood, sweat, and tears. Just because you didn’t see the work that went into creating it, doesn’t mean that it was easy. When you share something but didn't make it, sometimes you don’t realize the sheer amount of labor, skill, knowledge, practice, time, and resources that went into it. When you steal, when you share without attributing the artist, you diminish and cheapen the person who created it. You tell him his time, his efforts, his work, his sacrifices are worthless and that he isn’t even worth mentioning by name. And you do it all to make yourself look good, at his great expense. You take his support away and you end up making the situation that much more difficult for him to continue to bring you the very things you’ve come to benefit from. Your treatment of him is mean, and it is more harmful than if you had just cursed him to his face or stole money out of his wallet. At least if you cursed him to his face or stole money out of his wallet, the meanness you'd committed is easy to see--that kind of meanness has an honesty in its openness and in the fact that you would be more likely to realize and acknowledge the harm you were committing. But, but sharing work he created without attributing him, you’re causing him harm even if you don’t realize it or acknowledge it. Look, you're better than that; take the opportunity and make things right. You can be the good person you think you are in this situation: it requires conscious acknowledgement of the harm you do and a conscious effort, actions, towards changing that behavior. I believe in you: I know you can do it!
It should also be noted that there are differences, nuances to navigate, between “public” and “public domain.” Just because a person may have a photo or writings in public, this does not make the items public domain. When something is in public, people can see it, but that thing is still that person’s property, that person’s creation: it belongs to that person and you must attribute it as belonging to that person, and even better yet, ask that person before you “borrow” it. If you do not attribute the artist, writer, or creator, or link back to where you got the content, you cause harm to the person you’re taking it from whether you realize or understand that harm, or if you are completely oblivious to that harm you’ve caused (being oblivious to the harm you caused does not mean that the harm didn’t happen). In contrast, when something is in public domain, this means you can do with it what you please—in this case the harm is minimized because either the person consents to release that item into the public domain, or the creation has been existence for so long that the harm is minimal from using the item as you please.
However, even if an artist has been deceased for a century, it is still common courtesy to attribute her work to her.If you respect the work, attribute the creator. How many times have we seen memes where something is misquoted, or attributed to the wrong person? Let's cut down on those bad practices, and take responsibility for the attributions of what we're sharing even if the quote or art is in public domain. Our heroic dead artists, poets, thinkers, priests, and creators-of-great-works: they deserve to be treated better too.
Let's also remember that not all things which are in public are also in public domain. Consent, people. It’s important. This faux-defense right here “Well, you put it out there in public, you put it on the internet. What did you expect?”ranks up there with “Well, if a person didn’t carry a purse in public, it wouldn’t get stolen.” Hey, I have a fresh idea about that: how about we teach people what stealing is and remind them why it’s not good?
Ignorance can be remedied, and if you’ve erred in ignorance, it’s can be attended to. Just take the time to make it right where you can—go back to old posts and add those attributions—and go forward from this moment on remembering to credit people for their work. So, in closing: if you quote someone or post a pic, attribute the original creator of the work. If you don’t pay the creator of the work, if you don’t even thank the creator of the work, at the very least you can have the human decency to attribute the creator of the work.
Image Credits: Madonna del Magnificat. Sandro Botticelli. Circa 1483-1485. Image is in the public domain.