Aaron R. Davis
We need to talk about what monstrous credit-hogs people are becoming on the Internet.
If you spend enough time — in my case, far too much time — on social networks, eventually you’re going to run into these people who are very meticulous and demanding about receiving credit for work they think they’ve done. Thanks to the relative ease of programs like Photoshop, every kid with a pirated copy who can click a mouse now seems to think of themselves as a collage artist or a master editor, taking preexisting work and manipulating it in interesting or hilarious ways and, to hear some of them tell it, becoming creators of works of art.
These people are wrong.
Oh, sure, what they do can be funny or neat or even worth sticking on a t-shirt, but artists? I don’t know where we draw the line on that word, and I don’t even want to try. Creators? Well, that word will only get you so far.
It seems to me like we’ve really got three species of people on the Internet as far as credit goes. The first is the person who, when they post a photo of Kristen Bell from someone’s scan from Lucky magazine, expects it to be obvious that they don’t own the picture, don’t claim ownership of the picture and don’t even know Kristen Bell (more’s the pity). The second is the person who is credit-conscious and adds the caption “Kristen Bell photographed by Stewart Shining for Lucky magazine, October 2009.” The third is the person who wants credit for scanning the magazine, putting it through Photoshop to make it look perfect and throwing it out onto the Internet.
So to simplify: the first person is posting something they found on the Internet, the second person is doing the same but being polite about where it came from and the third person demands to be known as the thief who stole an image from a magazine for general use.
Maybe not in those words but, yeah, that’s what they want.
In fact, that’s what they demand.
But it goes even further than that.
It seems like nearly all image content on the Internet is constituted and reconstituted from material that exists elsewhere. And a lot of people — particularly young people — tend to think of the Internet as nothing more than a pool to fish that content out of to use as they please, and then get righteously angry when someone steals … well, what they’ve already stolen.
If you’ve ever watched two teenagers squabble over the ownership of their precious edits, you’ve come away wondering how the legal system is ever going to survive when so many young people have such a piss-poor understanding of it. At its most basic level, we’re talking about someone who STOLE a picture of Taylor Swift from a photographer and then used it as their own, cropping it, adding effects, doing what too many of them claim is meticulous, time-consuming artistry, then putting it online and — horrors! — seeing that someone else STOLE it from them and posted it without “credit”!
Do they hear themselves? Credit? Ownership? Wha?
Where’s the credit for the original photographer who, unbeknownst to him or her and certainly without permission, had their picture taken and used and turned into a desktop by some kid? Or, if it’s a movie still, how about credit for the cinematographer or cameraman or studio that actually owns the damn movie?
It’s like watching someone steal a book, tear several pages out, change the colors on the cover, and write a new epilogue … and then demand to be credited as the book’s actual author.
Now, I’m not accusing these kids of being thieves. But can we have a little perspective on this?
And yes — because this is usually the point when some kid butts in on me on Tumblr to angrily remind me that people do a lot of work on their edits, manips and wallpapers and that it really sucks to have something you’ve worked on stolen and re-posted by someone else — I acknowledge that it sucks to put any amount of time into anything and then see people run off with it. But I always ask those kids: how do you think it feels for the photographer?
(The dumbest answer I ever got to that question: “If they didn’t want someone stealing it, they should’ve put their watermark on it.” I’ll let the courts handle that one, if it ever comes to that.)
Frankly, I don’t know what art is in a world that can’t stop praising a guy who defaces public property as an important hero. Andy Warhol once said that art is whatever you can get away with, and boy did he never stop proving it. You almost have to admire a guy who could get away with anything just because he claimed it was art. But kids, you are not Andy Warhol. You just have Photoshop and a Miley Cyrus fansite and too much time on your hands and seriously think adding streaks of light to a cropped picture is original art that you own.
And I don’t even want to get into the times I’ve been accosted for posting or re-blogging someone’s t-shirt design and then being told that simply linking to the site I got the picture from isn’t enough, because someone designed it and it’s original art and “you should give credit where credit is due.” And then I’m left scratching my head and wondering why linking to the site I got the picture from isn’t enough, and if I should also be crediting Namco for creating and owning Pac-Man, the character you’re trying to make a profit from with your unlicensed merchandise.
Kids, you need to learn this: “credit where credit is due” is not a phrase that implies any legality. Think about what you’re asking for credit for. Don’t be that jerk who thinks that they deserve credit from all Chloe Moretz fansites just because they saw information about her upcoming projects online in an article that thousands of other people saw. Get some perspective on this.
Think about words that imply legality that you should be glad you aren’t hearing, like “trademark” and “copyright” and “cease and desist.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.