Attribution

The Elizabeth I Portrait known to have been painted by Hilliard

Sadly a lot of older artwork gives no indication who actually created it. The BBC reports on a “sister” portrait to the 16th century painting pictured above will probably never be accurately attributed to the real artist.

Curator Tarnya Cooper said the research meant the work is probably that of Hilliard or someone working with him.

BBC: New clues point to portrait painter’s identity

Creative Commons LogoCreative Commons licenses are a good way to encourage digital dissemination of your online work.

Attribution is important to artists

The most basic element included in all of the six standard Creative Commons licenses is “Attribution“.
In other words, when using the the digital works of others, the license requirement is to give the artist credit for the work we are using. As far as I know, the only CC license that doesn’t require this is the public domain license.

Even so, I prefer to credit the artist if I know who it is. For pre-digital creative work, a lot of effort can go into trying to find out who the artist was. There’s speculation that Shakespeare didn’t really write the plays he is attributed with having written.

I think it’s a little bit sad that the best they will probably ever do is guess that The Phoenix portrait of Elizabeth I hanging in the British National gallery might have been painted by one of Nicholas Hilliard’s apprentices/employees.

It’s kind of reminiscent of early 20th Century Hollywood, when Walt Disney felt that the only name that should appear on any of the word produced by the studio should be his own. The artists working for Walt Disney had to go to court to compel him to give them onscreen credit for their work.

Attribution is important to artists.

The Elizabeth I Pelican Portrait photograph was licensed for reuse (CC by-nc-nd 3.0) by Euroyales

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6 Responses to “Attribution”


  1. 1 Mike Linksvayer September 13, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    Great article! Yes, attribution (or citation if one wants to say that, or more generally, provenance) is of great use even when not legally required. This should be repeated many times. 🙂

    One small note, the image — also available at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elizabeth1.jpg — is in the public domain, whatever the photographer and/or uploader says, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridgeman_Art_Library_v._Corel_Corp. — “which ruled that exact photographic copies of public domain images could not be protected by copyright in the United States because the copies lack originality. Even if accurate reproductions require a great deal of skill, experience and effort, the key element for copyrightability under U.S. law is that copyrighted material must show sufficient originality.” Admittedly a U.S. case, but in this case the U.S. happens to be right. 🙂

    • 2 lothlaurien September 19, 2010 at 4:44 pm

      Even so, one thing really great thing that attribution does is encourage sharing, even for public domain work. Just because it’s in the public domain doesn’t mean it’s accessible.

  2. 3 Avery September 14, 2010 at 5:06 am

    I don’t really see any reason why attribution is so important. As you seem to point out in the image caption, most artwork made before the 18th century is unsigned. CC used to have licenses without attribution, but it seems they got rid of them for some legal reason; it was never explained.

    • 4 lothlaurien September 19, 2010 at 5:09 pm

      Some pre-18th century art was unsigned because it was “work for hire.” If the artist wanted to get paid, or more important wanted a good recommendation from the patron, he did what he was told. Word of mouth gets the artist more commissions, but unwritten attribution can be lost over time.

      I’m relatively new to discovering Creative Commons, but as I understand it you can license your work directly into the public domain under a CC0 license so you don’t have to use attribution.

      Just because art is unsigned doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be attributed. There was a great bit in the opening credit sequence of the movie “The Great Muppet Caper” where Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo are floating in a hot air balloon and one of them complains about the credits taking so long and Kermit says, “They all have families”. That’s one reason.

      Another is when we know who the artist was it always easier to find more of what we like online.

    • 5 Mike Linksvayer September 19, 2010 at 5:49 pm

      Avery, CC licenses not requiring attribution weren’t versioned past 1.0 because very few people (<2%) used them and there's an inherent cost to having more licenses (more choice effectively required, more complexity, more non-compatibility); see http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/4216 and http://creativecommons.org/retiredlicenses

      CC0 can be used if you want to put something into the public domain and not require attribution.

      Of course as lothlaurien notes, providing attribution is still useful even when not required. It is helpful to users and can increase the comfort of curators who may need that comfort to make a public domain work accessible.


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