Attribution Chains and Copyright Evolution

The other day, I was interested to see the comments on this Google+ post by BoingBoing contributor and general Internet person Sean Bonner.

Somebody called Steven G appeared to be complaining about Sean’s lack of attribution. Naively, I assumed he meant the creators of the work, and posted a reply along those lines. But I quickly realised by his reply to me that this wasn’t what he meant at all. He didn’t appear to care (or even know) about things like the photographer’s copyright – what he meant was that Bonner hadn’t said where the image was re-posted from.

Perhaps that’s not so interesting really – but wait – Steven G  also refers to an incident whereby G claims to have created an image to be posted on Google+, only to have it re-posted shortly afterwards without attribution by Bonner. Yet in complaining about the lack of attribution about somebody else’s work, Steven G also appears not to make a distinction between original works and things simply re-posted. It strikes me that this is entirely logical. If you create something to be shared on a social network, why indeed make such a distinction?

Now, at one level, this simply confirms that breaking an “attribution chain” is now a breach of netiquette. If you’re sharing something, you should be saying where you found it, regardless of whether that indicates the originator or not. But on another much more interesting level it also shows how confused (or just meaningless) copyright has become on the web. What irks the community is not a lack of what IP lawyers would class as proper attribution, but simply a lack of a “name check”. It’s a sort of “copyright lite” evolution of the rip, mix, burn culture. This is surely a return to ancient, pre-copyright culture where original works weren’t given much more status than re-tellings or derivations.

At any rate, it surprised Bonner enough for him to post this in reply to Steven G. A minor milestone in Internet history I think. Perhaps CC licencing will end up being redundant if this is where things are heading.