August 20, 2012

Maria Popova and the Ethics of Attribution


I have a professional crush on Maria Popova, creator of Brain Pickings.  Being smart is her job, and she gives her audience credit for intelligence too.  She was on NPR’s Science Friday last week.  It’s the first time I’ve heard her speak, and it was a pleasure.

Two things I was thinking.

One, she has followed her passion and created something new, something that didn’t exist in this exact form before, which shows by the massive popularity she has.  She puts so much time into it ~ I don’t know how she does it!  Because she loves it, because she has a passion for it.  Just goes to show, if you have a passion for something and “if you build it” they will come. Though you may not want to expect to make money off the endeavor.

Two, she brought up some very good points about attribution.  In our culture of everything for free and also the ease of the internet, we borrow stuff all the time.  It’s good because it leads to creative ferment and to all kinds of connections, but it’s bad because we’re sloppy about attributions (and we also expect everything to be free ~ more on this tomorrow).

Don’t you think if you’ve created something, put your time and effort into something, you should be credited for it?  On the internet, too often people are not.

Maria brings up another good point ~ the finders of this great original material should be credited as well.  Often what happens is that one person goes to a tremendous amount of work unearthing something (though they don’t necessarily create it) and showing it to the world, and then it goes viral and no one credits the finder.

So Maria (and others) came up with the Curator’s Code.  You can read more about it at Brainpickings or go to the Curator’s Code website.  What they propose is exactly what I’ve mentioned above ~ that you credit whatever you use with either a via or a hat tip.  They’ve even created symbols for each of these.  A via is crediting a creator, and a hat tip is crediting a finder.

Ethics are still very important in our day and age, and this is a good example of that.

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