Positive Cynicism – Giving credit where credit isn’t due

Aaron Davis

Aaron R. Davis

Because being on Blogger, Blip, a virtual football club and Twitter apparently doesn’t give me enough on the Internet to be ambivalent about, I’m also on Tumblr.

For those who don’t know, Tumblr is another blogging platform, one that’s generally devoted to pictures and short little personal posts, and tends to be all about immediacy. People are posting images left and right, all day and all night long, just sharing things they find interesting and then, really, abandoning them forever. It’s not a place designed for a lot of commenting and conversation over an issue; things go by too quickly for that. Either people like something, or they just ignore it, and Tumblr moves on to something else. It’s weirdly gratifying.

I’d say the appeal of Tumblr is that immediate response. It’s not like a blog, where the paucity of comments makes you wonder if anyone read or cared about what you had to say. And it’s not like Twitter, which seems more and more pointless the longer you’re on it. Often the only response I get on Twitter these days is from my account picking up activity from my other online accounts, and getting me snarky comments looking down on me about how all I do is link pictures or play online games and have nothing to say. Do I need Twitter reporting on my every online time-waster? Other than stalking celebrities (and you will be my wife one day, Kristen Bell), what is Twitter really good for other than engaging yourself in your own narcissism?

(And yes, I know I once wrote a Positive Cynicism column defending Twitter, but that was then and this is now, and now I’m aware of just how incredibly lonely an experience it really is.)

But the one thing that keeps Tumblr from being as fun as it could be is the whining.

The near-constant whining over who deserves credit for the images, songs and videos posted.

This is the most irritating aspect of the Internet in its entirety. Everyone wants credit.

I’ll give you the most hilarious example.

My youngest sister frequents a number of websites devoted to Disney fandom. For them, fandom means ripping every new Jonas Brothers CD and Hannah Montana: The Movie and posting it online for download. And they all want credit for it. Like, if one of them posts it, and then another one puts the same download link to Rapidshare or whatever on their own website, the original poster wants the credit for putting it online. Really? Would you like the Walt Disney Company to give you credit for that one, because their crediting of your criminal action might not be so appreciative. Why would you want to credit for doing that? You’d think someone wouldn’t want the attention for stealing something and making it accessible for others to steal. But no, these kids on the Internet are crazy.

Another example: I have a blog on Blogger that I’ve been running since 2005. It’s mostly me ranting about stuff or making lists of things or posting movie trailers from YouTube or pictures of pretty girls — the things everyone does on their blogs. Several months ago, I found a picture I had to post on my blog, because it was a picture of Pac-Man and I love Pac-Man like he’s my own uncle. That picture was posted on a friend’s blog, and he had a link back to The Daily What, which finds interesting things all over the Internet and showcases them for people. (It’s like BoingBoing, only not maddeningly irritating.) I put up a link to the friend’s blog, and anyone going through the linkbacks would’ve found where the Pac-Man image was originally located.

And then I get a very angry comment, telling me the name of the artist, and that it’s a Threadless t-shirt design, and that I should link to the original image, and “you should give credit where credit is due.” And it just rubbed me the wrong way like you wouldn’t believe. I had given credit: I’d credited the blog I got the image from. He credited The Daily What, where he found it. And The Daily What had a link to the Threadless store. So what did I do wrong?

I challenged the person by asking if Threadless and the artist had credited Namco, the publisher of Pac-Man, when they had created a commercial tee shirt based on someone else’s copyrighted characters, but the answer never came.

That, in a nutshell, is how I feel about giving credit on the Internet.

It’s like those sites that are nothing but scans of magazines. If you look at the scans, many of them have little logos on them, which are ways for scanners to “sign” their scans, so that if you copy them and put them up on a blog or something, everyone knows who did the “original” work. Sure, you’ll never see those scanners crediting the actual photographers and publishers of the work they post on the Internet, but heaven forefend a scanner doesn’t get the credit for taking the incredible amount of time to buy a magazine, scan an image into a computer and post it online.

So the real problem I have with Tumblr is not the platform itself — it’s pretty, efficient and simple to understand — it’s the people on it who whine about not being credited with posting something.

My wife (a closet Jonas Brothers fan) follows a number of Jonas-related Tumblr blogs that post the same pictures, because they’re all getting their pictures from the same sources, and every so often a fight seems to break out over who originally posted what.

I’ll actually stop following a Tumblr blog if someone whines too much about getting credit. I’m not the kind of guy who actually removes the link that automatically generates when you reblog someone’s post — though there are people who do that and are objects of scorn as a result — but I am the kind of guy who will say, “Actually, I think you’ll find that picture belonged to the late Russ Meyer, who published it in Playboy long before you were even born.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. If you do a webcomic or create an animated .gif or post something original on your DeviantArt page and people are passing it around without crediting you for it — that stinks. That ruins the sharing experience for someone. And the original creators of those works should say something if they don’t want their work being shared. But let’s get some perspective here: if I post a picture from Marvel Comics’ Wonderful Wizard of Oz adaptation that you have also posted, and you feel you deserve the credit, you really don’t. Not unless you’re the artist, Skottie Young, or Marvel Comics. Because otherwise, you’re doing the same thing I am: sharing someone else’s work that you and I have no personal stake in.

While we’re on the subject, I’d like the movie studios and music companies to get some perspective, too. If I post an MP3 on Tumblr, it’s not stealing. It’s sharing. And it’s not sharing in a way that someone can download it. It’s me saying, “Hey, listen to this, you should go buy it!”

When I want to post a David Bowie video on my blog and see that EMI has disabled the embedding on all of their David Bowie videos, it makes me feel like a thief. And why? How is posting something that no one makes any money on stealing? It’s me sharing my love of David Bowie with the people who follow my blog; it’s just another avenue of promotion. That’s all music videos are: a way to promote a single or an album. Why does it descend into thievery when I post the video somewhere other than YouTube? You’re just making it unnecessarily hard to sell David Bowie albums when you hoard the videos and disable the embedding. (Very tellingly, the Official David Bowie Channel on YouTube does not disable the embedding. Who is EMI really protecting?)

Unless you actually own something original, everyone online needs to stop being so precious about credit and sharing. If you’re ripping a CD and putting it online, you don’t get credit, except in the eyes of the law, where “credit” translates to “the defendant.” If you scan someone else’s picture in a magazine and put it online, you don’t get credit for the work you didn’t do. If you post a music video or a movie trailer because you want to share something you’re excited about, you’re not a thief, but you’re not the owner of it, either.

And if you want credit for posting an image you don’t own so badly that you put your web address on it … well, what’s the word they have for someone who takes someone else’s work and puts their own name on it? Right: plagiarist.

Get over yourselves, plagiarists.

Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at samuraifrog@yahoo.com.

  1. Darius Whiteplume September 22, 2009
  2. AL GORE44 September 22, 2009
  3. Joel Murphy September 24, 2009
  4. Darius Whiteplume September 24, 2009

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