Repackaged images
February 4, 2011 10:04 AM   Subscribe

Help me find where (or if) people have talked about the practice, seen on tumblr and in wider visual blog culture, of completely forgoing citation when posting other people's visual work.

I have wanted to ask this question for awhile now but have held off, partially out of embarrassment (my age is showing). I follow some Tumblr blogs and some other non-Tumblr ones like If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger... that focus on still visual images. Hardly if ever do the posters tell us who created the original work, even if, in the case of If Charlie Parker Was... they at least tell us who the picture is of.

Often bloggers are good about telling us if they got the image from another blogger, but all context after that is gone. Understand I am not as interested in whether these people are violating law as I am interested in whether they are violating ethics and...not to sound dramatic, but ...meaning. I know none of these people are trying to pass off these works as their own. But no matter what revolutionary theory about copying and mixing this practice (or lack of practice) comes from, it strikes me as lazy and irresponsible and in my understanding of information sharing generally a bad habit. I get that perhaps some are meant to be reproduced in an entirely new individually curated context, but I see none of that spark of creativity that would convince me that these pastiche blogs represent a new artwork.

Here is another example, perhaps a little extreme: Comically Vintage, where panels are ripped out of context. They do admit right in the tagline that the that they are placed out of context. But beyond the tagline no explanation is given. The fact that they sell these isolated panels as merch takes this to another level.

I have yet to see explanations about the process of severing images from context in any tumblr-y manifesto or "about" page. I also haven't really seen anyone else gnashing their teeth about it or convincing people like me to get over it and embrace x y or z. Have I just been to blinded with anger to notice? Where should I look?
posted by theefixedstars to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
One of my Tumblr friends made a good post about it recently (pro-citation/crediting).
posted by carbide at 10:10 AM on February 4, 2011

I don't have specific cites to offer, but I do see people grumble on tumblr all the time about not knowing where an image came from or whose artwork (for paintings/drawings) it is. I'm an older tumblr tumbler and many of the people I follow are personal friends in and near my age group. The consensus in offline discussion seems to be that the lack of citation is a matter of simply not being bothered to post context rather than an artistic statement.

Personally I can't be bothered to look up who originally did something I'm reblogging, but my tumblr isn't a curated art space. It's an internet book of commonplaces and occasionally a conversation with others about things I enjoy, like Doctor Who, Inception macros, and fashion. Perhaps I'm interrogating the text from the wrong perspective, though.
posted by immlass at 10:13 AM on February 4, 2011

There's "So you found something cool on the Internet... which we talked about here at MeFi.
posted by ODiV at 10:39 AM on February 4, 2011

Best answer: I've thought a lot about this myself. Tumblr is just the latest and most popular venue for this kind of sharing; I think this is an endemic result of internet culture, and the fact that there are no standards-enforcing agencies to act as barriers to publishing. You could probably argue all day about why people don't feel motivated to credit the creator (I would argue that 'human nature' plays a big part) but I will note that metadata is a partial technological counter to this which requires no effort on the part of the (often-indifferent) re-poster, and I think Tumblr implicitly encourages/perpetuates this omission of citation through their stripping of the original filenames when their users post images, which is an otherwise generally reliable way of tracking down the original source (or at least more context) for an image via search. As much as I love the culture that has emerged there, I find Tumblr's technological practices highly suspect, in that they make it easy/nearly required to link the source when re-posting from within the Tumblr ecosystem, yet strip information that could be used to trace images to their sources outside the Tumblr world.

To venture further into speculative theory territory, I think you need to acknowledge that 'posting on the internet' encompasses a wide range of activities, with various levels of formality which are generally lower than that of traditional 'publishing' (immlass touched on this). While few would criticize a teenager (and you need to realize that a huge percentage of Tumblr users are high-schoolers or younger) for pinning a picture on their locker door without noting what magazine it was clipped from, a lot of the activity on Tumblr and other places on the internet is the digital equivalent of that, but now those things are available to people all over the world simply because that is the inherent condition of things shared on the internet. These personal journals take on the appearance of a formally published work even if they are not intended in that sense, because the internet makes those two categories precisely equal in terms of effort and visibility.

As much as some creators wish otherwise, I think the answer is not herding internet cats into changing their behavior, but rather:
1. People who do so could start embracing proper citation as a point of pride. This would be served by establishment of more specific categories of internet publishing as opposed to the catch-all "blog".
2. Metadata solutions could be further encouraged, and I think it is right to be heavily critical of Tumblr for constructing barriers to that.

Until then, we always have TinEye.
posted by brightghost at 11:10 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I will tell you my way of doing it, since I do post many pictures.

If a girl (yes, I have nudes) I never give citation unless I take a bunch from the same site. Why? Because most photos of girls are seen on A,B,C,D,E etc and I see no useful purpose in listing the one I got it from etc.

However, if the photo is done by a photographer, and he is the one who first took and mounted the photo, I always credit him.
In a number of photo sites, such as Tumblr, the pictures are from a set, gathered and mounted by a specific person, so I cite that person, though he mights have taken them from some other source, but I have no way of knowing so I credit him.

In the scholarly world, you give place you used for two reasons:
1. to credit your source
2. to note where you found it in case that source was wrong, in error, etc--gets you off the hook.

I find TinEye misses a lot.

There are of course many people who believe the net is free, information needs to be free. That of course is not true.
posted by Postroad at 12:24 PM on February 4, 2011

I have a question about ethics-- Say I find an artist on DeviantArt or Flickr. I really like their work and want to post on Tumblr with credit [a link back]. but the text says "all rights reserved, absolutely no use without prior permission."
Is is wrong for me to put their picture on Tumblr?
posted by ohshenandoah at 4:24 PM on August 10, 2011

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