Attributing Source; What, Once Public, is Owned?

And then on the other side of the coin of the thinking around centos: If my words are worth nothing, why are you stealing them? makes the plagiarism-is-bad-because-work-went-into-things argument.
Which asks for the respect of attribution. Part of that is courtesy of living in a system with others. But part of that is about ownership.
And simultaneously twitter was exploding about scraping content and popping it to another place on the internet. Gawker makes the statement that public is public but links to a bunch of places of what set this off, which is someone asked a question and a bunch of people replied. That was then put on a site. People offered it publicly. Seems a no brainer. If we have a private conversation in a private room, or email, the rules of engagement say this is between us. If you stand at a podium in a public event, or put it in a book, fair that that can come back from any direction.
Whose story is it to tell? Can you relate what you witnessed? You are literate. Your grandmother isn’t. Can you only do a transcription in her way of her words? Can you only tell your story of her? Can you tell the story of someone from history?
Journalism and creative writing and poetry are often about telling stories about others that make sense to you and should be known to others.
Do you need to ask permission to quote someone when they were making a public speech act? Even if it’s improv patter, I’d say no. If they put it on blog that isn’t password protected, it’s in the public sphere. Do you need to attribute? Sure, a quote from a panel without saying which person said it isn’t much use.
If they say it on the sidewalk on a cell phone to someone not you but where anyone can hear, it’s grey but it’s game. If you ask, can I quote you to the person on the phone you’d be looked at as invasive and insane.
So there’s ownership. There’s privacy. There’s community rules of fair play.
Deeper than those, there’s help, hinder or harm.
If I quote someone or use someone’s material with attribution I’m boosting their signal. I’m cross-promoting. It is cooperative unless the person sees it as invasive. A lot of underwhelming poems have great epigraphs. Do I worsen the reputation of the person by association with me?
Could the twitter story have been told using the data but wiping the names and the ways to contact the people, reformatted into paragraphs? The power of the aggregate story is the aggregating, not individuals. The story of sexual assault is not about what the “victim” was wearing to imply all the cause was the perpetrator. There’s a strength to all looks and ages of people now and at the time having no pattern. Did it overstep a bound in quoting? It is valuable to get real stories rather than massage the story and take away voices. Each didn’t agree and became data to crunch. How else to do it?
One could use source materials and

  • seek permission and not create or make public until permission is granted
  • assume one can’t share and don’t build on it
  • presume a fair use

You can’t go wrong by asking permission. You can get stymied.
In a cento if you take from others but make a new thing does it add up to more than the sum of its parts to be a wholly new thing? Doing it collaboratively might be ideal. Is there an implicit understanding that publishing a poem might mean it being incorporated into derivative works? Will people assume that 50 years from now?
We’re in a “remix culture” but every culture is share and extend, re-use components, techniques, ideas, stories, words, images. We’re in a legalistic culture and with limited social safety net. That drives more territoriality.
If we each were assigned an income, would we feel less attachment to what we make? I don’t think so. If we were assigned children from an orphanage it wouldn’t take away sex drive. Creativity is a force that makes. What is made represents time spent and time is self.
What is fair use? If I ask you permission and you know you are free to say yes or no. No tantrum will result if you refuse. People will respect that no and not go ahead against your wishes regardless.
Fair use is to use part to demonstrate your work as an example.
How would I in this context even convey the arguments without myself quoting people I don’t know who are protesting quotes can’t transfer? What can be copied without violating integrity, safety, of the original?
What is out there for the taking?
Once something becomes a joke, then authorship is lost.
Memes grab photos and videos and make animated gifs, take portraits and quotes by various people and don’t say where it is from. It would be like tracking snow back to a particular cloud. It pre-exists and is untrackable. Except it comes from somewhere.
If I make a photo of a statue, is the photo an art piece? All the bronze casting wasn’t my doing. The sun I wasn’t responsible for. I brought a camera. I did the framing. Does that make it ekphrastic? Do I have to say which art by name and artist? Most people don’t but it doesn’t make it right.
At the same time, to my mind, and I’m from a background of having my boundaries overstepped and under-enforced, once something slips out of your pen, computer, voice, facial expression, breathing, you lose control of that information. It is no longer yours. It is shared. You want something private? Be alone in a windowless room with no recording devices, but even then, there are records and patterns of buying seeds to grow your own food in the greenhouse you built. There’s still water use and electricity use and need for income to pay for those. There’s nothing private.
The original act was made, but copies are copies. Does the copying harm the original or is it flattery? The original is not destroyed but is there an opportunity cost incurred because someone buys a brandname knockoff instead of the original? It’s like not the same market. Someone who buys a knockoff would never have the money for an original. Someone who makes a knockoff poem probably doesn’t have the skill of the original. You look towards those who are better than you not behind you in craft.
You don’t own interpretation, use or misuse. Can you police what happens after you express something? Nom but that doesn’t mean you can’t cry foul. Some things are out of bounds. Or could be legally. If you misrepresent a work as your own. At what level is it your work? We went thru that before. When is it still recognizable?
If you smile, it was still your smile, if I smile back with my own smile. My smile does not damage your act. If I make a vase with thumbprint ridge and you see it and make your own vase with thumbprint ridge it’s yours, if you paint my name on it or your own. What about with words? If you have a great idea for a metaphor, or a wonderful phrasing, is it left for me to use it?
What if the quoted bit is the only worthwhile bit? Shouldn’t the author get to keep the only worthwhile bit so someone doesn’t go around collecting only the choice cuts? Is the bit more valuable or the maker or the collector or the source? It is like our food system. Without farmers, we starve. But most of the profit go to middlemen and marketers while farmers go bankrupt. Writers are poor while marketers have a regular salary. But if I take your words and don’t profit from them either, have either of us lost profit? Have either lost integrity? Under the plagiarism model, whoever gets seen first is “real”. That was looked after in copyright to establish prior claim. But maybe that doesn’t matter when the public’s idea of inventor is more prominent than the paper proof of inventor.
Let’s look at it this way:
If I take your photo, do you have the right to own it because it is an image of you? Some say yes.
If I write a poem about you, do you own it because it is about you?
If I copy over your poem about you but do it on handmade paper, with collage and calligraphy, whose is it?
If your art is in a gallery or show, you may have a sign banning any photo of it because reproduction means the artist is harmed and the work is ineligible for contests where the artist may make money. In poetry that may be bootleg copies of a reading. If the new work is previously published, it can’t be submitted to someone who wants first publishing right. Youtube sometimes counts as published. It could help promote the person, but in real terms it curtails, causing harm.
What advantage is it to make an idea proceed if it can’t be expanded on by someone else? What advantage is it to take an idea that stands out as not your voice as much as a photoshop disaster?
If an idea has legs, it’ll run away from you and a whole pack of people will want to run with it. Should the jerseys be labelled with team originator?
Back to the art show. What is the message when you display art but shush the viewer? At a fibre art show, I felt I shouldn’t look at some things because proprietary claims were posted in all caps beside some pieces. Is it illicit to look? Can I verbally describe? Couldn’t that give away the technique as well as photo? It is like fashion espionage except it’s not the upcoming season but that which is already public. It can be displayed publicly but not spoken of in case someone “out there” does a knock off and the artist gets risk of competition? or collaboration?
I find the notions of unique confusing as something to protect.
I have a sense of ownership for my photos. I can recognize them year later even if it only took a button press of time to do while poems that took weeks I’ve moved past and can tilt my head back and forth at, say, well, it’s in that folder, or in that journal which has my name attached. It seems like something I would write. I have no memory of it in particular.
I don’t feel attached to it once its more than a few days or few weeks old. They fledge in a way; photos are more mammalian. When I look through a filter thru words or photos I get a different conclusion. I don’t have any particular ownership over my words. If I’m quoted in a poem that’s nice. Oh, was that something I wrote?
Blog scraping is another deal. Why? That’s en masse appropriating to sell ugg boots or drugs or Russian brides. That’s unsettling, perhaps because the whole site is intact and claims to be me. Take my words and claim to be yourself but a bot selling their shill as me is worse somehow.
I’m not out to make my millions on a poem. I’m more a model of insect wide broadcast of many seeds than narrowcasting on poem in every possible avenue, a perfect little quatrain box for ahh effect until the whole set of brass rings are collected.
If that’s the difference, it doesn’t account for photos vs words. I also make many photos. 2000 photos may yield 30 useable ones. and 2 or 3 that please me. Likewise with poems. I write a lot because that is what I do to process the world. Exceptional happens less than I’d like. If I have an idea that moves someone else forward then that’s the win.
Maybe it’s residual expectations. I never expected one could make a living as a poet but as a kid expected I could earn bread with photo journalism. People work for news, fewer than before, but some whereas poets work and do poetry for the most part.
What is the use of owning and making sure people remember it came from you? Maybe that’s a female tic of mine where I want to help and stay in the background. I wrote a long poem about that lately, the economic argument of asking for money for art. The probability of someone stealing my poems is so remote as to be comic. But if the right person did it, they could market it better and exceed me I’m sure.
To go back to Aaminah Khan’s earlier post on how Nice gets you a whole lot of nothing while the conflict novel of win-lose, zero sum game can get headway instead of head pat.
At the same time it’s a newbie move to mark © on the bottom of each page of poems whether being workshopped or blogged. It generally corresponds to art that is at the rudimentary beginning. The younger in craft the photographer, the bigger the watermark to obscure the composition of the photo. It is about it being hard work and scary work to learn and wanting to protect oneself. That’s kind of understandable. I was told Mary Oliver opposed being made incorporated into an epigraph although if true, policing at at this point would probably take a full-time law firm.
When I first made chapbooks, in primary school, the first thing I’d write was my name to secure my claim. The last one I made I printed a few and realized I had no name or date on them. Doesn’t matter. I put it on anyway tho. Not to say “mine” but to say, “this is who you’re saying hello to if you want to find me”.
My photos I have under not for commercial use. If they profit and I don’t, well, something’s amiss. I’ve got thumbed noses from a few publishers saying we found it online so it’s free. Cars are found unchaparoned on streets yet oddly, some buy them. Sigh. If I take a photo, as has happened a few times and a magazine or text book wants it they want it for free. Huge publishing house who will pay for every other staff and material but short shrift for photos?
And these few companies, have asked me to work to dig out a bigger sized original and send them a.s.a.p. Which I no longer do because it would take a few hours to dig out and even when money is promised it is not delivered. Even when I ask only for a screen shot or record of where it appeared, page citations, it doesn’t happens. A few ruin things for everyone.
When I take photos of public events, it is fair to photograph the person while they are performing. I may, on request, take a shot of a room, but prefer to do it from behind so face recognition software doesn’t help big brother. Or I tell people so they can block their own face if they choose.
When I photograph someone reading, I try to get my card to everyone pictured so they can yay or nay. Usually, they even process this information. I realize when people perform they may be rattled and not really understand what I’m saying and lose the card. But that’s in their court. They can decline being put online. Occasionally I get someone who has not registered what I said and then vanity searching months later find one, and tear a strip off me for posting photos of their public reading. *sigh*
When someone uses my photo I’m pleased. I’m far more pleased if they ask me first and give photo credit so I know where photos are going, how they’re being used and other people can see photos don’t magically appear from nowhere. I’m not going to pat someone down for cash but asking is nice.
If you’re going to take a color swatch from a corner and run with that it’s not my business.
If I epigraph someone I’m not going to find the person and ask if I may quote them. If I do it online I’ll set it to pingback. If I were going to scan a whole book and put it up for free or sale, I’d think twice, then ask. But that’s me.
When it is a unit that’s worth attributing? Everyone is living a creative life. When the gas station attendant made a quip, it wasn’t a throwaway of “non-writer” therefore in the wild and “undiscovered” a “found poetry” that doesn’t know its own intelligence. The person worked on that, either shaping it better or making it up or remembering it to the right context and popping it in at the right timing. But it wasn’t lost any more than North America was lost before Columbus.
It is a kind of Colonial vanity that poets can get to think only their brand of lineation is real poetry and if they rescue/appropriate from conversations, street signs, biology texts, that they are making, rather than curating an appropriated text.
It is how it all goes together and where it is displayed.
It is also about doing research. Did you see the meme that a pop star’s photos were made into thought panels with quotes? The joke was the quotes were all nice thoughts from dictators, like a joke on the kids who didn’t read the original and thought it was her.
People who quote someone quoting someone don’t always trace back. Actor said this, oh, but he was quoting Orwell, or Aristotle.
I bought a book of poetry on the strength of a line in the middle of the poem opened at random. If one phrase is that good, it’s a measure of a whole. (Also one weak phrase means the whole thing is rotten.) It was a jolt to be reading 15 years later and realize that it was verbatim a famous line from a book that came out when the writer I knew was probably in her 20s. I didn’t get the reference. Maybe for her it was so internalized she no longer remembered the singer or the song of its sound.
Crediting the proper source is good practice of thinking. Sometimes things slip, remembering what was said by not by who where.
Where is the place for citing sources when it is the grocer, a conversation with a friend, a tweak of an ad, a recognizable song retrofitted with new lyrics? Where’s the line on need-to-know?
And what amount is sufficient, direct request of the person, rely on pingback or vanity search? Or just for the audience to get a recommendation of who the idea came from so to provide reference and route back?

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  1. Pearl, you will drive yourself mad on this sloppery slip. In yoga, we just sing the names of the teachers and influences at the beginning of every class and everyone knows we’ve left a whole bunch out or we’d be there for 10,000 years.

  2. Most arguments are b&w of theft vs. culture.Such reductions are summative and threatened instead of explorative. What could inform each case? What compares to what? I have no emotional engagement. It’s an interesting thing to look at from various angles. It’s worth thinking about that there are different boundaries of fair for different people and situations.

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