Giving Credit

Of course you can protect your work with a copyright notice. And you can take the additional step and protect it with the U.S. Government, so you can sue a violator not only for use, but for damages. (You can’t sue for damages unless you register your work.)

Tree of Life, Klimt. No longer under copyright. Image from

Tree of Life, Klimt. No longer under copyright. Image from

Giving credit openly and freely would make most copyright unnecessary. Giving credit is not a boring obligation, it is a smart way to get your name known. To be more visible on the internet. Giving credit makes you look smart, but even better, helpful.

How does it work? Simple. When you use a photo from Flickr, Creative Commons (following their rules first), or mention a book, a quote, or an idea that is not yours, tell your readers where it came from. And not just whose work it is, but where you found it. For example, if you find an image of Klimt’s on a website by butterycrumpets (on Let’s Draw Sherlock!, for example) it becomes a different story than if you find a Kimt image on Wikipedia. The context is different, and the story you have to tell about it is different.

A different kind of tree. A Palo Verde whose brilliant yellow blossoms drift into desert snow this time of year.

A different kind of tree. A Palo Verde whose brilliant yellow blossoms drift into desert snow this time of year.

Context changes emotions and opinions, and when you leave breadcrumbs for people to follow, you open up a whole new path for people who are curious and interested in more than knowing where to take the next Kimt image from.

When you give credit, you become the person in charge of information, and people will think of you as a good resource. (Not a bad way to be thought of.)

When you give credit, you also share information, and as Annie Dillard warns, “Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Giving credit makes you look generous. That includes techniques you learn in a class, ideas you came up with (but find that others share, too), and shortcuts that make you look smart.

Why share? Because it makes the world more interesting, more expansive, and encourages other people to share your ideas and class tips. And to quote Annie Dillard again (Goodreads is wonderful for finding quotes):

“There is always the temptation in life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for years on end. It is all so self conscience, so apparently moral…But I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous…more extravagant and bright. We are…raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.” ― Annie Dillard

–Quinn McDonald is surprised how many people think clutching information to their chest is a way to become smarter. Every teacher knows that you learn by teaching.

10 thoughts on “Giving Credit

  1. I have nothing more profound to say than I agree. Knowledge, when held onto tightly, is not power at all. It isn’t job security either. Freely shared information is the only model that works well.

  2. I think the generous spirit you talk about is why good teachers are so highly thought of. I often hear how teachers give so much of themselves. What they give is not only from the heart but the gift of sharing ideas and new ways to learn. It’s about the student really learning the process as well as the content. And teachers are notorious for giving credit where credit is due.

    • A real teacher does that. An excellent teacher wants to share what they know, because they want company in the knowledge, and growing that knowledge.The teachers I know (and I know a lot of them) who clutch knowledge and make dire warnings–often exhaust themselves in the clutching. Sure, I occasionally wish I got credit for the ideas I share, but more often, it inspires me to do more and make the idea wider.

  3. Quinn I know you have seen this, since we are both “Quote Junkies”, you find a GREAT quote that you have never seen before, but there is no attribution… I will save this in my personal file, but don’t feel that I can share it or use it in my art since I cannot give credit. Pinterest seems to have a lot of quotes without a source.

    • That sounds VERY familiar. I’ve spent way too many hours tracking down the source of a good quote, one that was left off, or worse, attributed to “anonymous” when that was just a way to be lazy with permission.

  4. That impetus to hoard, like the childish belief that information you cling to greedily is still information, is curiously absent in some realms. In my world, if you don’t know [how to do] something, you broadcast a question. People you don’t even know will answer. Sometimes you see a question you know about and you answer.

    I would suggest that’s one reason why digital technology has advanced so far in the past thirty years while so many other fields have changed very little. Maybe it’s the main reason.

    • It’s easy to see that, and it’s such a better idea than grasping and hoarding. But it looks like a hard habit to break. Emotionally, we want to own and grasp. But that doesn’t do much except give you storage problems and cramps.

      • The next question, then, is where does that emotional desire come from? Are humans born wanting to keep every idea to themselves, or is it learned? One way to look, I suppose, is to ask whether every human society has always tended toward personal intellectual hoarding. I’m poorly equipped to answer that, but the bits of anthropology I’ve read suggest that there is no such general behavioral tendency. So if we learn to want to “protect” and hoard, where does it come from?

        I think it might come from school, at least in the US.

        • The emotional desire is cultural. We are taught pretty early that earning money is important, and much of our culture centers on that–the school you attend, the kind of job that is acceptable, marrying “well,” cars, house. It’s a short step from having to making sure you have enough, to having it all. Native American cultures are quite different about sharing. Many of the plains tribes measured honor in how much you gave away–ideas, techniques, food, gifts.

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