A Case Study on Attribution

March 18, 2010by

In one of his first videos published on YouTube, cultural anthropologist and founder of Digital Ethnography Mike Wesch hinted that in light of the revolutions in information and media technologies, several things were going to need to be rethought. One of them was copyright.

Rethinking copyright has, of course, been going on for some time now. From protective legislation to new forms of licensing (e.g. GNU, the MIT License, the Apache License,  Creative Commons, etc.), efforts aimed at striking some balance between ownership and release of ideas, material, and creative concepts continues to evolve.

Open Culture just published (03/17/2010) a brief reflection asking whether attribution might be at an end. The following three videos, none of which were connected through attribution, are cited as a case in point.

Noting that this style of video has been around since 2006, the question is asked,

Does this make this style of video a meme of sorts? A style that’s so out there that attribution is not worth a bother? Perhaps I’m holding Penguin’s feet too close to the fire on this one. Perhaps (as, Maria, a blogger colleague mentions via email) this highlights a bigger problem. Too much derivation. Not enough original thinking all around.

These observations bring up a Ship of Theseus kind of question: How does one determine when a style becomes a meme? Moreover, even if it is determined some meme criteria have been met, why should it be assumed that a meme is exempt from the expectations of attribution? Memes of this kind identifiably start with someone who can easily be given credit for their work.

Whatever definitions and distinctions are stipulated with respect to copyright and attribution, I think doing just what Open Culture has done is at least one way anyone can take a step in the right direction. When you discover someone presenting work as though it derives from their own creative capacity, take note. And then publish that note wherever you can. Then, go do something original.