What is the attribution revolution?

Elog.io suggested tweet:

I believe in giving and receiving credit for photographs online. Do you? Join the #attributionrevolution – http://elog.io/40m/

Down with the romance of authorship and the ideas that credit is due (as suggested at the link) and that information propertization and the legal system are appropriate mechanisms for encouraging credit (as suggested by licenses mentioned in the campaign which condition free speech on providing attribution).

But I support elog.io despite a bit of ugly rhetoric in its messaging because the technology is fundamentally about making provenance available on demand — undermining the rationale for consciously giving credit or making lack of explicit credit a cause for legal action.

The real attribution revolution has nothing to do with believing that credit is due anyone, and everything to do with attribution (in multiple senses, but including work-creator relationship identification) becoming inescapable, at least not without great and very careful effort. Elog.io is the tip of the top of the iceberg of image and other huge databases (in a sense literally: elog.io apparently is an open database, while others millions of times larger are opaque, submerged beneath corporate and government seawater) and techniques like deep learning and stylometry make universal attribution not only feasible but seemingly inevitable. I don’t know whether this is on net a good or bad thing — but it is the real attribution revolution.

14 months ago I railed against the attribution condition of some open and semi-open licenses (emphasis added):

Do not take part in the debasement of attribution, and more broadly, provenance, already useful to readers, communities of practice, and publishers, by making them seem mere objects of copyright license compliance. If attribution is useful, it will be provided. If not, robots will find out. Rarely does anyone comply with the exact legal requirements of the attribution term anyway, and as a licensor, you probably won’t provide the information needed by licensees to easily comply. Plus, the corresponding icon looks like a men’s bathroom sign.

The elog.io campaign page for example: it does not “include a copy of, or the Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) for, this License with every copy of the Work You Distribute or Publicly Perform” nor does it provide “the URI, if any, that Licensor specifies to be associated with the Work, unless such URI does not refer to the copyright notice or licensing information for the Work” — in other words, it names the works it uses and the licenses it uses them under, but does not link to those works and licenses (quotes from CC-BY-3.0).

The other reason I support elog.io (yes visit that campaign page, give, and ignore the utter triviality of attribution license non-compliance) is that it is focused on provenance for open works (freely licensed or in the public domain — with caveat that I haven’t checked whether it includes semi-open works) and is itself an open source/open data project — provenance for the commons, and commons for the provenance.

Much more work in this area is needed, especially with a focus on high value open works (e.g. premium video) and creating high value open works — I mean by creating network effects around open works, not creating the works themselves. But even a still image focused project could help a bit — every frame of every open premium video could be included in the database, and any use metrics that can be extracted can be used to document and thus abet popularity.

Libre Graphics World has a long interview with elog.io founder Jonas Öberg that is well worth reading. Separately, there is big news not about but very pertinent to elog.io (which also perhaps explains why the elog.io campaign is only attempting to raise $6,000): Öberg is returning to work at the Free Software Foundation Europe (of which he is a co-founder and will be executive director; I had the pleasure of working with him a bit in between at Creative Commons, where he was European coordinator).

I don’t know the FSFE that well, but my impression is very positive, in particular its engagement in politics as public policy, not only the petite politics of individual developers choosing particular licenses and individual users rejecting proprietary software. Congratulations to Jonas on both the elog.io campaign and the FSFE position, and hoping for great success in both. Especially the latter could have an important role in making the real attribution revolution relatively beneficent.

4 Responses

  1. Alexandre Prokoudine says:

    But it misses the big news (which also perhaps explains why the elog.io campaign is only attempting to raise $6,000) that Öberg is returning to work at the Free Software Foundation Europe

    I had no idea he is. I don’t follow much what’s going on with either FSF or FSFE (usually, nothing interesting).

  2. Alexandre, “[the interview] misses the big news” was bad word choice on my part. There’s no reason you would have known and Jonas did not mention it in the interview. I will edit my post so that cannot be read as indicating that your interview is missing something. The interview is excellent, you asked good questions. Thanks for this and for Libre Graphics World generally!

    Though I personally find what the FSFs interesting, I can totally appreciate that most people, even who care about software freedom, do not. One small FSF thing that you may not have seen is an update of the FSF’s high priority project list (my take). If you have time and interest :-) it/we could surely benefit from your input from the perspective of the libre graphics community.

  3. Alexandre Prokoudine says:

    Mike, I had no problem with your choice of words :)

    Yes, I do know about the ongoing update of high priority projects, but I have my reservations about this based on observations I’ve been making for the past several years.

    The participating projects that I’ve been following don’t seem to be getting any publicity from FSF other than being listed on that page, and as for e.g. LibreDWG, FSF’s management didn’t even know it was on the verge of being abandoned (in fact, it was abandoned until the CAD community tried to do something about it), because FSF wasn’t responsive for a too long time. So I don’t see how this is helpful.

    Perhaps, if FSF somehow find people willing to wear silly costumes and hand out badly designed leaflets about GNU in front of Apple and Microsoft stores, could it be possible that they might find some time in their busy schedules to organize hackfests etc.? Do we not expect our thought leaders to actually deliver rather than spend their time criticizing this and that?

  4. Alexandre, your analysis is sound and it seems many share it. I’m hopeful that the high priority projects list can be made more impactful, but anyone watching ought remain skeptical giving the long history and low impact so far of the list.

    I think there’s a role for campaigns, but I like the FSFE’s much better — directed at policymakers rather than shoppers, and promoting free software rather than condemning proprietary software and related phenomena.

    I believe the FSF has held hackfest-like events in conjunction with its LibrePlanet conference and GNU hacker meetings. Using such events to focus work on high priority projects is an interesting idea. I guess they would love to given resources.

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