attribution and reuse

Play the Web is a blog with the premise of exploring technical hurdles for making chains of derivative works:

On this blog we want to talk about media reuse on the Internet and enabling reuse in a responsible way. Media companies’ reactionary response of restricting all use is throwing the baby out with the bathwater but conversely doing away with copyright on the Internet altogether is no better. There’s a middle way and we need to build tools to facilitate that path. Tools to recognise media and enable reuse.

They’re assuming that the end result of their work will be part of The Initiative:

Our immediate challenge is discovering what licensing and ownership attributes are associated with a given piece of media. There are millions of discrete pieces of media on the Internet, how can software tell which are reusable, which are licensed, which are public domain, etc.? A simple solution to this problem is offered by microformats. By embedding meta-data with media in a standardised, machine-readable way we open the door to all kinds of applications that rely on this knowledge.

And they already have an excellent post on how to do attribution for a reused photograph:

I’m now kind of concerned with what to call “Attribution”. In the Creative Commons attribution is a legal term, but what I really want to relate is:

  1. From where did I find the content: Miss 604’s blog. (The Copied Source)
  2. From where did the original content come from: Squeaky Marmot (The Original Source or at least the source Miss 604 found)

Do you reuse content? Do others reuse your content? If so, what do you think? How would you like to see the “attribution”?

I have a couple data points to offer.

One, non-commercial users don’t care about copyright. They know zero about it, they don’t know of any reason to care, and they aren’t going to change. (Software developers, who deal with free and open source software, are an exception to this rule). Commercial users may care, but can’t use content under a non-commercial license. So in practice the issue of attribution only has a real-world impact for derived works created by commercial entities. Source works which are licensed to allow both derivative works and commercial use are the ones we’re talking about.

Two, in XSPF there is an element for giving attribution to the sources of derived works. The idea is that one person would incorporate another person’s playlist into their own, and would use this element to give credit. It is defined as a chronologically-ordered stack:

An ordered list of URIs. The purpose is to satisfy licenses allowing modification but requiring attribution. If you modify such a playlist, move its //playlist/location or //playlist/identifier element to the top of the items in the //playlist/attribution element. xspf:playlist elements MAY contain exactly one xspf:attribution element.

Such a list can grow without limit, so as a practical matter we suggest deleting ancestors more than ten generations back.


The stack framework is a pretty elegant tool for handling this requirement, and I’m happy about how we did it. However this element is rarely if ever used because no current playlist sharing sites that I know of both expect playlists to cross site boundaries and expect users to make new playlists out of old ones.

2 thoughts on “attribution and reuse

  1. “conversely doing away with copyright on the Internet altogether is no better.”

    Au contraire, it is far better.

    Only Creative Commons introduces the notion that copyright is a means of empowering the author to require attribution, govern commercial use, and dictate whether derivatives are permissible. All that is an illusion. Copyright licenses grant the author no greater power than copyright, and that is no power at all. Copyright is only a grant of power to wealthy publishing corporations, and licenses are at best, a restoration of the liberties to the public that copyright has suspended.

    The simplest way of promoting the distribution and use of ones work is to culturally liberate the public to do so, to liberate them completely, i.e. via a copyleft license that ensures that one’s work and its derivatives are free of all constraint.

    The GPL is a copyleft license. CC-SA is the closest CC has come up with, but it still falls short in terms of requiring attribution. It is also a tad lax when it comes to combined works.

    Attribution should never be a legal obligation, only that any attribution is truthful (including attribution implicit from context, if no explicit attribution is given). One should never be tempted to wield the unethical power provided by copyright to compel respect. The power should be neutralised and any respect earned.

    In other words, you should not expect attribution or your work used if you threaten to prosecute your audience and potential users with copyright infringement if they fail to give you credit.

    Naturally, those who fail to give credit where credit is due will lose respect from their own audiences. Moreover, those who go so far as to commit misattribution, aka plagiarism, will suffer considerable opprobrium, which should suffice as a disincentive until such time as any legislation may be required to deal with the most nefarious cases.

  2. Hey Lucas,

    Thanks for the post and insights. I should point out that we are not assuming that the format will be adopted by That will be Tantek’s and the rest of the community’s call. Not being within physical proximity of the people working on microformats in the Valley is challenging. So , we thought we would narrowly focus our collaboration and exploration on content reuse on a site a bit less intimidating to the average content creator. Hence, However, we are hopeful that the results will be useful to and possibly integrated into the microformats initiative.

    Rob Linton is proposing adopting your stacking solution, but always maintaining the original node (source?) attribution.


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