Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 56 seconds

Necessary or Nice? On Permission and Attribution

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 56 seconds

Several conversations spurred this post. One by Autumm Caines (arguably one of the nicest people on earth) regarding whether she should be asking ppl permission for something. I said it wasn’t necessary but it would be nice to ask. Given how nice Autumm is, she came back with a long string of reasons to ask permission and I said (slightly paraphrased):

Who said niceness isn’t important?
Niceness is important
If being nice means being kind, caring, sensitive to other people’s feelings… Why would someone not be nice, if they had opportunity to be?

Which reminded me of a different conversation that took place on Twitter earlier (I er asked permission to quote the tweets; Jamila said ok, but I forgot that Michael hasn’t replied*; will remove if he says anything).

So the back story is I wrote a Prof Hacker post on the perforated meeting Michael Berman invited me to. It was Michael’s idea and the term perforation comes from our #TvsZ work (can’t remember who started the term… Pete Rorabaugh?). If you read the post you can tell neither the term nor the idea are mine…and yet people refer to the post as if they are mine. So I tweet back that it’s actually Michael’s idea. Today, Michael responded that we should not worry so much about attribution. I responded that it does matter, because I have been in situations where people take away others’ credit and take advantage. It’s happened to me enough that I am really conscious of it. I am conscious (so so conscious) of people referring to Virtually Connecting as more mine than Rebecca’s, when it’s equally both of ours and was much more effort for her than me at first.

Michael’s response, though, was amazing: he said, “I acknowledge my privilege”.

I am unsure if I understood him accurately but I took it to mean two things:

A. It is a privilege never to have someone take credit for what you do. As someone who used to be in that situation, I am both more careful not to do it to others AND more aware of it when it happens in reverse. And I know it happens in reverse, not me intentionally taking credit, but people mistakenly giving me credit

B. Power comes into it. Taking credit from someone of equal or more power is completely different from someone with less power. It’s really not necessary for me to keep reminding people it was Michael’s idea or Rebecca’s because my Prof Hacker post is explicit and all Virtually Connecting material is explicit. It’s nice to do so, though. Nice important, not nice superfluous. But if it were someone with much less power than I, it would be necessary.

I still remember a situation where professors took work of students and published a paper (not identical but building on it) without naming one of the students as author. I know this is a completely different level of missing attribution. I have many more stories, some personal, some from close friends.

But in general… Thinking about issues of permission and attribution. There are laws and rules that tell us what’s necessary. But niceness or courtesy will almost always suggest we seek permission and/or attribute when possible. And in issues where we are privileged or have more power than others, I suggest it becomes a necessary niceness. And I would advocate for that.

(*note: upon reflection I do more of the attribution than permission thing. Gotta try harder)

13 thoughts on “Necessary or Nice? On Permission and Attribution

  1. Well-said Maha. I was particularly thinking about power and being in a position where I get all the credit I need so I can not really worry if everything I do is recognized, while there are others who are more vulnerable and who are more easily taken advantage of or ignored. So when I said “you can do more if you don’t worry about who gets the credit” I was speaking from a privileged position and was a little insensitive towards those who regularly see others take credit for their work.

    As far as being nice, or considerate or courteous – I ALWAYS appreciate it if I’m asked, and I ALWAYS appreciate it when people make a point of sharing the credit – and I should have told you thank you! It’s basic human decency to respect the agency of others and ask and attribute even when you don’t “have to”.

  2. Position is important and some people need recognition more that others. I think it’s a natural social grace for the more settled to go out of their way to highlight the contributions of, especially, newer entrants in the field. A form of hospitality and inclusiveness. We ALL benefit from an environment of sharing so being nice could be seen as a balancing gesture in recognition of our common wealth. We boost each other.

  3. I find lots of shades things to explore here. The idea of taking credit for ideas as theft means we own ideas? But that said, often credit/attribution is not given yet it is sometimes with intent, as malice, sometimes as oversight, and sometimes as just not being aware. In all cases, is credit “taken” from someone??

    Maybe Michael is speculating an idealized place where attribution/giving credit is such a norm that we do not notice, so then no one might ever feel as if credit has been taken from them? Too idealized for humans methinks.

    My interest in this area has been in the reuse of digital content, especially media. Nearly all the focus on open licenses is what the license says is required, or not wanting to break any law/ get sued / get in trouble, So this means, our actions are guided by what is the minimum people should do to avoid breaking the rules of a license of a copyright law.

    Minimal performance in school is usually what we consider average, passing. Where this comes into interesting space for me is media, especially photos, that is licensed Creative Commons 0 or public domain, and often the wording is “attribution is not necessary”, so everyone does the minimum. But if I am new to this realm, and I come across a blog post or a presentation of yours with images that you correctly are using, and are not required to attribute, what am I learning about re-use of media? It looks like I should just use anything I find.

    I always attribute,m whether I have to or not. Heck, i attribute myself, not to pile on my own ego, but to demonstrate publicly the act.

    So I think attributing ought to be reflexive, not because we have to or to show we are not stealing, but because it’s an act of gratitude to someone else’s work, as Scott commented above on the notion of hospitality. I’ve been piling up some stuff on this idea, maybe the Venn diagram of attribution and gratitude–

    Computers can’t Give Credit: How Automatic Attribution Falls Short in an Online Remixing Community

    And some interesting stuff on gratitude and social media by Nate Matias

    I doubt one can go overboard on attribution or gratitude?

    Thanks for letting my blog in your comments 😉

    1. Lol. Blog in my comments 😉 is right. I have noticed all you mention and started posting photos to Flickr and attributing myself when I use em – models to others how i would like em to be reused. And although tech won’t give u judgment for it, Flickr attribution helper helps a LOT

  4. I’m in a conversation right now with an old friend and a comment she made unstuck me from a trap I built for myself that I couldn’t escape. Haven’t actually seen her in person for over (well a looooong time) and she just metaphorically walked into my mind and released a stuck switch. So given we aren’t sure who’s idea I actually had and it’s between us and not others this is what? An exchange I guess that proves some greater point about people.

    Teachers deliberately provide un-sticking services almost like it was it was effortless and bloggers often leave their doors open and unexpected things happen. Many of those things have value and the important thing is they keep moving between us.

  5. One more thought – there’s a difference between attributing a work vs. attributing an idea. To me there is no excuse for not attributing a work – a photograph, an essay, a piece of music. That’s not just being nice, it’s an ethical requirement. My idealism runs more to the idea that we could live in an information commons where everyone has the right to build on, expand, mashup the work of others, with appropriate attribution. Obviously there’s all kinds of practical problems around making that happen but it’s the right direction to move towards.

    Attributing ideas is more tricky. I’m not sure there are any “original ideas” out there. Yes, I invited Maha to join our meeting, but would I have thought of it without the Visual Connecting idea, and would that have existed without #ds106 or cMOOC or watching video phones in 2001:A Space Oddesey? And while we were having that conversation, how many people around the world were doing more or less the exact same thing?

    So Maha deserves credit for blogging about it and people read her blog and said “what a great idea Maha!” And then because she is generous and humble she says “thanks but it was really Michael’s idea” and I appreciate that. I will take a bow for helping to make this one thing happen but it’s just one tiny drop in the sea of ideas represented by the people who have commented in this blog and so many others. I’m just glad I get to be part of the flow and I really need no than that myself.

    1. I hear you on the ideas vs works… But works are simply…ideas someone put into a form others could attribute in a more clearly ethical way. Does that make sense?
      I agree that it’s difficult to recognize original ideas. You’re right that the idea of me joining your meeting may have been inspired by Virtually Connecting, that Virtually Connecting itself, while it takes an original angle, is inspired by lots of other things… But what happened e.g. With the Prof Hacker post, is that I WROTE it up, and by writing it, made it into a work that others could attribute. See where I am going with this? I think if I had written about it on my personal blog it would have had a different impact, maybe? I don’t know…

      In this instance it’s really really not a big deal 🙂 but in real life, at work, where people are rewarded for initiating good projects/ideas, it does matter if someone does this. When we write, we create something attributable that someone else may have articulated in a much less formal way… And… You know what I mean?

  6. I think this idea of permission really touches on what makes me so uncomfortable about a lot of the sociology work that happens on social media data. I really don’t like that people are using blogs and social media content without asking. There are cases where asking is impractical – I get that – but there are cases where it is actually pretty easy and courteous. Recently a PhD student asked if they could use my Breast Cancer blog for a discourse/content analysis they were doing. Of course, I’m honored. Another person asked if they could link to a specific post in a course they were creating. I am honored to to say yes. These people didn’t need to ask – the content was self-published on my blog – but honored that they did ask. We also get the occasional request to use a photo from our GoingEast blog (apparently there are few photos of the pot ash tailings in Saskatchewan!).

    I’m glad that you brought up power in all this. In the social media data context, what I see is a lot of people with privilege using “publicly available” data and analyzing it, and publishing research on it, without providing any attribution (anonymizing sources even), which is done as completely ethical practice within that field.

    I actually had another issue happen with my research. When I did interviews, I found that people were giving me ideas in the interviews. They were sharing their experiences. They were giving me their stories. The default ethics says that they shall remain anonymous. But the ideas where not mine, I was merely the person collecting them. Why should I get all the credit. Fortunately, I was able to fight the ethics process a little and get a check box that allowed my participants to chose whether or not they wanted to be anonymous or credited. I think that is a much more ethical way to proceed with research.

    Perhaps I’m not really making a point with this comment, just sharing a few different scenarios. I’m conscious of having my contributions not recognized in certain spaces because it has happened to me before – both in school and in professional settings. In both cases the person who took my ideas without crediting me benefited from my work, and I did not (I got a lower mark in the class, and fortunately my partner talked to the professor about it – but really, I didn’t get the credit for the co-authorship that I deserved as we drafted the original together, she just typed it in and edited while I illustrated – but alas, I learned from that experience).

    I’m also aware of at least some of the privileges that I hold. I only hope that my friends and colleagues feel comfortable enough to let me know when I overstep or do something insensitive. It is never my intention.

  7. PS: with your permission, I’d like to use this post and thread as part of the required reading on the media reuse module for my classes … I think that it complements the creative commons specifics quite well 🙂

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