Thursday, March 20, 2008

Pondering attribution

Research and Big6 skills are some of my favorite lessons to teach and I've been doing quite of a bit of it recently.

This made me reflect on a discovery, of sorts, that I made while reading a book to a group of elementary kids. How much attribution should an illustrator give if they use a large portion of another artist's work in their own illustration? I'm not talking about a re-imagining of the Mona Lisa or the Blue Boy or the Scream or other iconic, well known work of art.

This is a photograph that is in the collection of a major fine arts museum. In the children's book, the photograph has been reversed and embellished but the major part of the illustration IS the actual photograph. I assumed there would be an attribution to the photographer at the end of the book but there is none.

I know there are rules about the age of the work, the degree of change and the percentage used etc. but I was struck by the lack of attribution when the illustration is so obviously a photocopy. It was sort of fluke that I happened to have seen the photograph and also been reading the book simultaneously. I know artists who use photos in their work but they have staged the photos and used friends and family as models. Maybe this is not a big deal and I just happened to see the photo and made the connection.

When I teach research and note taking skills we discuss plagiarism and the importance of listing resources and taking notes in a way that inhibits copying.

I stress that with the Internet it is very difficult to "get away with it," whether the intent was deliberate or not. Students have to submit their work to at the end of an assignment. The whole point of a research assignment is to exercise their gray cells.

(An aside: I am noticing an alarming trend as students grapple with note taking. Maybe it is the age group, jr. high, but I am wondering if they are so awash in media as passive recipients, that they are becoming incapable of extracting important facts and information from research resources--worry, worry, worry)

But, to return to my ponder, does an artist owe it to a photographer, even if deceased, to reference their work? I wonder what rights to the photo are owned by the publisher of the book that includes the photograph or the museum that has the photo in their collection? It is entirely possible that they had permission to use the photograph but just didn't include the origin of the work. I guess I would give credit where credit is due. It also makes me wonder about other work by this author/illustrator.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"But, to return to my ponder, does an artist owe it to a photographer, even if deceased, to reference their work?" you asked.

Yes! And I've seen examples of this "borrowing" in other books, too, with no attribution whatsoever.