Minute Meme "Credit is Due" Distinguishes Plagiarism from Copyright Infringement

One of the most irritating myths promulgated by the entertainment industry is the idea that copyright is an ethical imperative because it's bad to "steal other people's ideas". This is frequently combined with an illustrative story of plagiarism -- in other words, a situation in which someone fraudulently claims credit for someone else's work. Of course, this is nonsense. Plagiarism and copyright infringement are two completely different things. Although they sometimes occur together, there are many examples of either without the other. And if your eyes just glazed over -- no problem: Nina Paley has made it easy with her new Minute Meme for QuestionCopyright.org, called "Credit is Due".

"Credit is Due" (Nina Paley & Bliss Blood / CC By-SA 3.0)

Lyrics: Credit is Due

Always give credit where credit is due
if you didn't write it, don't say it's by you
just copy the credit along with the work
or else you'll come off as an arrogant jerk

Always give credit where credit belongs
we know that you didn't write Beethoven's songs
pretending you did makes you look like a fool
unless you're Beethoven - in that case, it's cool

A transparent system makes cheating unwise
the simplest web search exposes your lies
no one wants their reputation besmirched
which happens to liars when they are web-searched

Proper citation will make you a star
it shows that you know that we know who you are
Plagiarization will only harm you
so always give credit where credit is due!

--Lyrics by Nina Paley. Performed by Bliss Blood

Attribution requires a balance between the need for the viewer to know where the material came from, and their need not to be overwhelmed with too much data. Paley explores this further in her accompanying article for QuestionCopyright.org.

In the early days, Hollywood movies often had very limited attribution on screen -- the credit rolls ignored a lot of people. I think it was largely due to union actions that agreements were changed and we now have long credit rolls that credit just about everybody, right down to the caterers.

A few comedy movies (e.g. "Airplane") had a lot of fun with this, sticking in bogus/gag credits, or just plain silly ones. I guess Paley knows that, since she did something like it in "Sita Sings the Blues".

But when the film is short (like this one), you can quickly get into the danger of the credit roll being longer than the film!

Reasoning like that was the reason why the "advertising clause" was dropped from the BSD licenses for software. The original BSD license insisted on notices in advertising materials or packaging covers of products containing the software. But there are 15,000+ packages in a Linux distribution like Debian. You can imagine what those covers would look like if you had to include logos or names for every package. You'd need a microscope!

The purpose of the long credit rolls was largely to support career networking. It was a form of advertising for people in the movie industry. Nowadays, though, we hardly need this. For most movies, if I want to know who did some task on the film, I'll check the Internet Movie Database

On the other hand, this isn't foolproof, since IMDB doesn't list everybody. When I was fact-checking a story on Blender Foundation's "Sintel", I noticed that Angela Guenette is not listed on IMDB for the "Barbie" animated video she was supposed to have worked on. Fortunately, of course, I do have a daughter... so I just watched the credits roll on the actual "Barbie as Rapunzel" video, and there she is, although she's credited under a generic list of 3D modellers without any specifics on what characters she worked on.

I've heard you can get the long-form credits on most films from the production company, though I've never tried and I don't know how you go about doing it.

For the Blender Open Movies, "Attribution" is defined as the full credits roll when the whole film is used, but simply "Blender Foundation | www.blender.org" for excerpts. That was an important thing for them to do, since the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license requires attribution to be followed. It's always been a little bit vague how that translates into second-order works, though: what happens when I combine two CC-By-SA works, and I need to give correct attribution? As far as I know, there's never been a legal case pressing this point, but it may happen someday that a publisher finds themselves not merely with an onerous attribution requirement, but possibly even a conflicting one.

When pressed on this point, representatives from Creative Commons who I've talked to have made it clear that the Attribution requirement is not an advertisement and that it is limited to simple textual explanations of sources. But of course, even that can be a little tricky when there are many works being combined -- especially when they are not combined in an "even" way so that it is clear (or possibly unclear) who deserves more or less credit in the final derived work. I faced similar issues when deciding how profits should be shared ("Artists Should Be Paid", Parts: 1, 2, 3) on my Lunatics project. Probably many of the same ideas would apply.

But satisfying such claims as legal requirements could be tricky, and that's one good argument for regarding attribution not as something to be legally enforced for the benefit of contributors, but as a norm to be followed in satisfying the audience of a work.

Personally, I love this video, and I've already heard from two high-school teachers who are planning to show this to their students next year!

Licensing Notice

This work may be distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, version 3.0, with attribution to "Terry Hancock, first published in Free Software Magazine".


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