On the Scientific American blog last month, Alex Wild posted a brief, useful review of "How to credit images found in the Wikimedia Commons". At one point he notes, plainly:
I can find Shakespeare’s works in the library, of course, just like I can find photographs hosted at Wikimedia Commons. But I wouldn’t think to attribute Shakespeare to a building – so why attribute an artist’s efforts to a storage space?
Wild was motivated to write because plenty of online content makes easy and sometimes uncredited use of images that can be accessed on the web. Moreover, it happens on blogs that you'd think might know better.
One example is Scholarly Kitchen, whose contributors use images to introduce most posts (I imagine there are readers who wish I'd do the same). Consultant Joe Esposito recently included a scan of a photo of 1960s actress Agnes Moorehead that Wikimedia Commons claims is a public-domain work whose author is ABC Television. Esposito's post, which addressed the impact of open-access publishing on scholarly societies, credited the photo simply to "Wikipedia".
Similarly, a recent post by publisher Kent Anderson considered "the social perils of free information". It credited Wikipedia for use of a copyrighted image of an album's cover art. Licensing notes for the image in question (available on the image's Wikipedia page) state:
It is believed that the use of low-resolution images of such covers solely to illustrate the audio recording in question, on the English-language Wikipedia, hosted on servers in the United States by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law. Any other uses of this image, on Wikipedia or elsewhere, may be copyright infringement.
Often enough, people who take content without permission or credit are called pirates. I find the term difficult to apply, because (as I wrote two days ago) the language blocks learning.
No money was made by the use of these images, but in one instance credit was not given, and in the other, permission was not solicited (or, if it had been, the copyright holder was not credited). When we engage in debates about publishing business models, including who owns published works, we should rigorously adhere to the spirit of the copyright laws many people hold so dear.
Returning to Alex Wild's post:
For a culture of freely shared art to succeed, the people who create images need an incentive to make their work available. Crediting a manufacturer of storage containers for the work of artists undermines the model, starves artists of a reason to participate, and the result is fewer works being released into the system.
That seems like a pretty good bundle of reasons to give credit where credit is due.
A bit of disclosure: The images that I occasionally (and only occasionally) add to my posts are pictures taken by me. I have been surprised in the past by sites that repost something I've written on this blog in its entirety without asking permission.