Where's the credit? Attribution in digital humanities slides

I've been at Digital Humanities 2011 since Sunday, and it's been as delightful and inspiring as always. This is the first time I've actively followed the tweet stream at a DH conference while I've been there in person, and while the extent to which it has added value has varied depending on the session, it may have been one of the most fascinating aspects of yesterday's plenary (Chad Gaffield's "Re-Imagining Scholarship in the Digital Age"). The audience was highly impressed that Gaffield walked around the stage and gave a talk, rather than reading a paper from the podium, which seems to be the common practice. His use of slides with a single interesting image, with fewer text-heavy or (as commonly seen here) screenshot-heavy slides, was also notable.

Day 101: Creative CommonsWhat struck me, though, was the lack of any credit line for most or all of the images. At least one of the charts had some burned-in metadata indicating its source, but the origin of the images remained opaque. At first, I thought he was using stock photos that he'd purchased (in which case no credit line would be necessary, though I'd still like to know something about the source). But unless the standards for stock photo companies have plummeted, I don't think that can account for all of his images. There were a couple photos-- charming, if not great on the technical level-- of students sleeping that really got me wondering.

For a talk that made reference to the importance of managing open data and copyright towards the end, I find it ironic, but not unexpected. Managing credit for slides takes work. There's no equivalent to the WordPress plugin that lets you find Creative Commons licensed images within the post-writing screen, and inserts them for you with a reasonable credit line. The easiest way to find images for a talk is to do the Wrong ThingTM and just hit up Google Images. A presentation with a wide variety of images, and no credit line for any of them (besides, possibly, what's burned into the images) generally suggests that's how the image sourcing happened, and there's no social censure.

I've seen a few different approaches to doing image sourcing right, with "right" meaning both legally and in accordance to the ideals espoused by DH-ers (including the importance of giving others credit for their work, given the essential role that credit plays in our professional lives). In the slides for her talk on DH syllabi, Lisa Spiro included the URLs on Flickr for the images she used, and put a Creative Commons Attribution license on her own slides, too. I like that approach better than an alternative I've seen (though not at this conference), where all the credit names/URLs are piled together in a tiny font on the last slide. Doing it that way loses the connection between the image and its creator, and it feels a little bit begrudging. For myself, I think I'm a bit unusual insofar as it's been a long time since my personal stash of 55,000+ Creative Commons licensed images didn't suffice.

What I'd like to see, ideally, would be some sort of presentation software plugin that-- like the WordPress plugin-- would easily let you search Creative Commons licensed and public domain images without having to switch to your browser and copy-and-paste. The likelihood with which people will adopt legal practices is a lot better if it's more convenient than the common illegal alternative. This software would insert the image into your presentation, with a small, unobtrusive credit line that pulls from the cc:attributionName property in the HTML license, or whatever the closest equivalent is in the data available from the hosting service (e.g. I don't think Flickr includes the Creative Commons properties such as attributionName, but "username/Flickr" might be the closest equivalent.) Not putting the full Flickr URL on the slide itself would reduce the amount of extra text, make it clearer who the creator is, and probably not be any less useful-- how often do people actually type out those long URLs while the slide is visible?

As a final step I'd like to see such a plugin generate a webpage that shows a thumbnail of and link to all the images that were used in the presentation, with full information (including information about, and a link to, the Creative Commons license used/public domain information). The plugin would automatically insert a link to this page on the last slide. There is, admittedly, some hand-waving necessary here about where such credit pages would be hosted, but some kind of (initially, at least, grant-funded) service for scholars seems not inconceivable. The service could also provide information about the most commonly used images, both as material for scholars studying scholarship, and for those who are less interested in browsing the wide world of CC-licensed images and would prefer to choose from images that someone else has already deemed to be of high enough quality to merit inclusion in a presentation. Since none of the images would be hosted there in any way, the number of bits needed for any page would be tiny. Of course, if such a service were to exist and then go away, the impact of the link rot on the traceability of the images used in the presentation would be non-trivial. That said, given how willing people are to use link shorteners just to get URLs to fit within the arbitrarily small character limits of Twitter, it doesn't seem like an image credit/connector service that could make reusable multimedia more accessible and better-cited should be immediately ruled out due to the possibility of link rot.

I'd like to hope that the trend towards Creative Commons licenses for scholarship will have the effect of increasing the social pressure for providing reasonable credit, as the implications of not providing credit become personal for more and more digital humanists. Having a tool that makes it easier would be a boon, though. Anyone up for applying for a grant to do something like this?


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