Attribution of authorship in the reuse of copyrighted content is important because it recognises the moral rights content creators have in their work, which is basically the right to be identified as the creator of the work regardless of who is licensed to republish it.

The importance of attribution is poorly understood by the general public, as this example demonstrates, like much of copyright law. The importance of attribution is not only misunderstood, but deliberately and egregiously violated, by media corporations on a daily basis. I have written repeatedly about this.

I’ve read with interest that the UK media organisation The Guardian has plans to establish a presence in Australia. I subsequently also read about their development of a platform to aggregate and publish user generated content called Witness.

I was initially excited as I usually spend more time reading the Guardian website than I do that of the Age, because its coverage of international events is far superior. However, I became suspicious when I read more about Witness, particular its FAQ. As of 17 April it made no mention of attribution as this version of the page I downloaded on 17 April 2013 indicates (25kb html).

I submitted the following feedback about this:

Why is there no mention of attribution of user generated content for Guardian Witness at Many social media creators do not expect to be paid for creating and licencing content to media corporations, but they do expect to be treated with respect and acknowledged for their contribution. Asking for contributions without guaranteeing attribution seems to be a fundamental flaw in your plan.

I received an automated acknowledgement of receipt of my correspondence, then this real response:

Further to your inquiry, please note that user submissions include the username and a link when they’re embedded in Guardian content.

I replied:

Thanks for your response. I believe it is essential that attribution be treated seriously, and defined in your terms, not least because of your legal obligations in terms of moral rights in copyright law.

They responded:

I have forwarded your comments on to site editors. Feedback is appreciated and will be taken into account.

I heard no more from them, but a few days ago I noticed an alteration to the FAQ that included a new section about attribution:

Will you credit me when you publish my contribution?
Yes. We will display your username wherever your contribution appears.

Without my interest in this issue, it is doubtful that The Guardian would have altered their FAQ to clarify their intentions regarding attribution. They’re basically as bad as the ABC, Fairfax and News Ltd then – they only address the issue when confronted with it and they only offer to acknowledge attribution reluctantly.

Given these circumstances I would not be willing to share my content with them.

media corporations don’t understand the importance of attribution to user generated content creators

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