Questions of Access in the Digital Humanities: Data from JDSH

[On 8 August 2017, this post was selected as Editor’s Choice in Digital Humanities Now at http://digitalhumanitiesnow.org/2017/08/questions-of-access-in-the-digital-humanities-data-from-jdsh/]

[N.B. As usual, typos might still be present when you read this; this blog post is likely to be revised post-publication… thanks for understanding. This blog is a sandbox of sorts].

Para Domenico, siempre en deuda

tl;dr, scroll down to the charts

I used The Altmetric Explorer to locate any  articles from the Journal of Digital Scholarlship in the Humanities that had had any ‘mentions’ online anytime. An original dataset of 82 bibliographic entries was obtained. With the help of Joe McArthur the Open Access Button API was then employed to detect if any of the journal articles in the dataset had open access surrogates (for example, self-archived versions in institutional repositories) and if so, which content they actually provided access to. The API located 24 URLs of the 82 DOIs corresponding to each article in the dataset.

I then edited and refined the original dataset to include only the top 60 results. Each result was manually refined and cross-checked to verify the resulting links matched the correct outputs and to what kind of content they provided access to, as well as to identify the type of license and type of access of each article’s version of record.

A breakdown of the findings below:

Visualisation of numeralia from the JDSH 60 Articles Altmetric-OA Button Dataset

(Note numbers re OA Button results will not add up as there are overlaps and some results belong to categories not listed).

It must be highlighted that only one of the links located via the Open Access Button API provided access to an article’s full version.

This disciplinarily-circumscribed example from a leading journal in the field of the digital humanities provides evidence for further investigations into the effects of publishers’ embargos on the ability of institutional open access repositories to fufill their mission effectively.

The dataset was openly shared on figshare as

Priego, Ernesto (2017): A Dataset Listing the Top 60 Articles Published in the Journal of Digital Scholarship in the Humanities According to the Altmetric Explorer (search from 11 April 2017), Annotated with Corresponding License and Access Type and Results, when Available, from the Open Access Button API (search from 15 May 2017). figshare. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.5278177.v3

 

The Wordy Thing

Back in 2014, we suggested that “altmetrics services like the Altmetric Explorer can be an efficient method to obtain bibliographic datasets and track scholarly outputs being mentioned online in the sources curated by these services” (Priego et al 2014).  That time we used the Explorer to analyse a report obtained by searching for the term ‘digital humanities’ in the titles of outputs mentioned anytime at the time of our query.

It’s been three years since I personally presented that poster at DH2014 in Lausanne, but the topic of publishing pracitices within the digital humanities keeps being of great interest to me. It could be thought of as extreme academic navel-gazing, this business of deciding to look into bibliometric indicators and metadata of scholarly publications. For the digital humanities, however, questions of scholarly communications are questions of methodology, as the technologies and practices required for conducting research and teaching are closely related to the technologies and practices required to make the ‘results’ of teaching and research available. For DH insiders, this is closely connected to the good ol’ less-yacking-more-hacking, or rather, no yacking without hacking. Today, scholarly publishing is all about technological infrastructure, or at least about an ever-growing awareness of the challenges and opportunities of ‘hacking’ the modes of scholarly production.

Moreover, the digital humanities have also been for long preoccupied with the challenges in getting digital scholarship recoginsed and rewarded, and, also importantly, about the difficulties to ensure the human, technical and financial preconditions of sustainability. Scholarly publishing, or more precisely ‘scholarly communications’ as we prefer to say today, are also very much focused on those same concerns. If form and content are unavoidably interlinked and codependent in digital humanities practice, surely issues regarding the so-called ‘dissemination’ of said practice through publications remain vital to its development.

Anyway, I have now finally been able to share a dataset based on a report from the Altmetric Explorer looking into the articles published at the Journal of Digital Scholarship in the Humanities (from now on JDSH), one of the (if not the) leading journal in the field of digital humanities (it was previously titled Literary and Linguistic Computing). I first started looking into which JDSH articles were being tracked by Altmetric as mentioned online for the event organised by Domenico Fiormonte  at the University Roma Tre in April this year (the slides from my participation are here).

My motivation was no only to identify which JDSH outputs (and therefore authors, affiliations, topics, methodologies) were receiving online attention according to Altmetric. I wanted, as we had done previously in 2014, to use an initial report to look into what kind of licensing said articles had, whether they were ‘free to read’, paywalled or labeled with the orange open lock that identifies Open Access outputs.

Back in 2014 we did not have the Open Access Button nor its plugin and API. With it I had the possibility to try to check if any of the articles in my dataset had any openly/freely available versions through the Button. I contacted Joe McArthur from the Button to enquire whether it would be possible to run a list of DOIs through their API in bulk. It was, and we obtained some results.

Here’s a couple of very quick charts visualising some insights from the data.

It should also be highlighted that of the 6 links to institutional repository deposits found via the Open Access Button API, only one gave open access to the full version of the article. The rest were either metatada-only deposits or the full versions were embargoed.

As indicated above, the 60 ‘total articles’ refers to the number of entries in the dataset we are sharing. There are many more articles published in JDSH. The numbers presented represent only the data in question which is in turn the result of particular methods of collection and analysis.

In 2014 we detected that “the 3 most-mentioned outputs in the dataset were available without a paywall”, and we thought that could indicate “the potential of Open Access for greater public impact.” In this dataset, the three articles with the most mentions are also available without a paywall. The most mentioned article is the only one in the set that is licensed with a CC-BY license. The two that follow are ‘free’ articles that require permission for reuse.

The data presented is the result of the specific methods employed to obtain the data. In this sense this data represents as much a testing of the technologies employed as of the actual articles’ licensing and open availability. This means that data in columns L-P reflect the data available through the Open Access Button API at the moment of collection. It is perfectly possible that ‘open surrogates’ of the articles listed are available elsewhere through other methods. Likewise, it is perfectly possible that a different corpus of JDSH articles collected through other methods (for example, of articles without any mentions as tracked by Altmetric) have a different proportion of license and access types etc.

As indicated above the licensing and access type of each article were identified and added manually and individually. Article DOI’s were accessed one by one with a computer browser outside/without access to university library networks, as the intention was to verify if any of the articles were available to the general public without university library network/subscription credentials.

This blog post and the deposit of the data is part of a work in progress and is shared openly to document ongoing work and to encourage further discussion and analyses. It is hoped that quantitative data on the limited level of adoption of Creative Commons licenses and Institutional Repositories within a clearly-circumscribed corpora can motivate reflection and debate.

Acknowledgements

I am indebted to Joe McArthur for his kind and essential help cross-checking the original dataset with the OA Button API, and to Euan Adie and all the Altmetric team for enabling me to use the Altmetric Explorer to conduct research at no cost.

Previous Work Mentioned

Priego, Ernesto; Havemann, Leo; Atenas, Javiera (2014): Online Attention to Digital Humanities Publications (#DH2014 poster). figshare. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.1094345.v1 Retrieved: 18:46, Aug 04, 2017 (GMT).

Priego, Ernesto; Havemann, Leo; Atenas, Javiera (2014): Source Dataset for Online Attention to Digital Humanities Publications (#DH2014 poster). figshare. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.1094359.v5 Retrieved: 17:52, Aug 04, 2017 (GMT)

Priego, Ernesto (2017): Aprire l’Informatica umanistica / Abriendo las humanidades digitales / Opening the Digital Humanities. figshare. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.4902995.v1 Retrieved: 18:00, Aug 04, 2017 (GMT)

On Reading the Small Print When It’s Too Late- Access and Licensing Type in CFPs

Calvin and Hobbes: Susie signs a contrat© Bill Watterson
© Bill Watterson

tl;dr

  • In the social sciences, art and humanities calls for papers for collected editions remain a major form of dissemination of scholarship.
  • Scholars get very excited about the prospect of getting their work published in collected editions. Often, the conditions of publication are unknown to them until the work has been created, submitted and reviewed.
  • It is still rare for calls for papers to detail whether the final publication will be softcover or hardback,  paywalled or open access, and what type of licensing will be applied to the published work.
  •  It can no longer be assumed that certain publishing conditions are non-negotiable, always-already the default ones. It can no longer be assumed they will be the appropriate ones for all scholars either.
  • To reflect the current scholarly landscape accurately, and in the spirit of transparency and fairness, complete information about the intended format, licensing conditions and access type should be clearly and prominently included  at call for papers stage.

Academia might be the only creative industry where authors do submit work for publication without being fully aware of publisher licensing conditions and access type (we could learn a lot from Morrissey’s Autobiography! Moz seems to have never read a recording deal in advance…). Scholars get so excited about the prospect of getting their work finally published, that, traditionally, the conditions of publication (the conditions detailed in a publication contract, that will determine when, where and how the work will be published, what the author and the publisher will be able to do with the output, etc.) are unknown to them until the work has been created, submitted and reviewed, i.e. once it is rather late to do much about it. Understandably, a final contract cannot be signed until something has been accepted for publication and often it won’t be officially accepted until it’s finished. However, the case I’ll try to make here is for clearly informing authors interested in submitting to a call for papers about the intended conditions of publication (format, access type, licensing type) for the content accepted in response to said call.

This creates a situation of virtual intellectual and creative kidnapping, where the author has lost the freedom to negotiate conditions of publication.  The output (journal article, book chapter, monograph, editorial for collected editions, edited collection) has already been created, it has passed peer review, revisions have been made; lots of work by several people went into it and valuable time has spent waiting for it to get finally published. Often the accepted publication will have been already listed in appraisal forms and academic CVs before the output in question has been actually published and a contract has been signed. The author is often disempowered to have a say about what they will be able to do with their own work (for example where and how to share it, translate it, adapt it, etc.) or about who will be able to access it and how.

In the social sciences, art and humanities calls for papers for collected editions remain a major form of dissemination of scholarship. Though some journals in these fields do include clear information about licensing and access type prominently, calls for papers in general still tend not to include information about how the content, if accepted, will be licensed and how and where (in which formats, at what price, open access, paywalled) it will be published.  I invite you to take a look at the calls for papers published here. How many calls for papers detail whether the final publication will be softcover or hardback,  paywalled or open access, and what type of licensing will be applied to the published work?

The issue of publisher takedown notices (e.g. Elsevier’s) highlights how scholars are keen to share their own published work (including any features added by publishers) on their blogs or social networking sites, but do so seemingly ignoring the licensing conditions they signed or agreed to. Publisher’s policies should be clear to  authors before the submission of work, not once they have been broken. If authors wish to disseminate their work in ways publisher policies do not allow, they should be free to either negotiate them in advance or choose a different publisher.

Our disciplines however seem to have somehow relegated licensing and access type to an after thought. As open access mandates from governments, funding bodies and institutions become the rule and not the exception, it is time we start changing this practice and start including licensing and access type information at call for papers stage. Now, it is of course understandable that some editors will not know yet if there will be interest from a range of publishers they might have in consideration, and often what happens is that they wait until they have a body of work so they can make their full proposal. This workflow places academic editors at a disadvantage as well, as they will have already worked hard on compiling and editing a collection (or on ensuring contributions) way before a publisher’s offer detailing conditions has been made.

These positions assume that scholars (editors and authors/contributors) are at the service of publishers and not the other way around. For authors, particularly early career researchers hoping to develop a publications portfolio, the power lies on editors and peer reviewers, themselves dependent on publishers, who most of the times are free to impose conditions that may seem to authors and editors to be ‘the way things are’, i.e. as non-negotiable conditions. In practice, it should be perfectly possible to negotiate these conditions (many authors have done it), if one knows how and one is interested. Luckily for publishers, the conditions are rarely interrogated and even less negotiated. Editors and authors are simply happy to get their work published, and see no option but to sign any standard conditions imposed by the publisher.

Open Access is not only about bringing down the barriers to access and reuse of scholarly publications. Behind it lies the desire to re-connect scholars with the fruits of their own work and to empower them to choose how they want their work to be published (and this implies choosing the conditions for their distribution, accessibility, and reuse).

To reiterate: what has been an after thought, the small print many authors discover once it is too late, should be detailed first thing at call for submissions stage. There is no content without form, and there is no content without the conditions of access and dissemination. I know I am not alone in hoping that more and more colleagues will take into consideration not just editorial reputations and  thematic and disciplinary approaches outlined in calls for papers, but how a submission will see the light of day in the end (if it does at all!).

Scholars today know better than ever before that publishing can no longer be the end of the road but the beginning of a conversation. There is a plethora of both legacy and pioneering publishing platforms and scholarly methods of assessment and review available to scholars today. Paywalls and hardbacks are not the only venues for publication anymore. Access and licensing type are not synonyms of research quality: and no single access type has the domain over quality. Scholars should be free to decide where they submit their work for consideration, and should be able to negotiate licensing conditions whenever possible. Scholars should be free to submit their work for consideration wherever they please as long as they have been made aware of the access and licensing type well in advance before submission. Licensing and access type is a factor many authors today have in mind before submitting work, and yet this information remains largely absent from calls for submissions. If the known or tentative publisher(s) are detailed in the call for papers authors can locate their policies via SHERPA/RoMEO, but informing potential contributors of the policies should also be the publishers’ and the editors’ responsibility. If the author ends up having to do detective work to find out something as important as this then something is wrong.

Indeed, the current model of academic publication still remains strongly aligned with paywalled access models, but calls for papers that will paywall accepted submissions (or publish them in expensive hardback editions only) should not take for granted that paywalls and hardbacks are the only available model. Authors today must be informed of complete information and assess, in advance, before even considering making a submission, how and where, under which conditions, their work will be published if accepted.  This implies interrogating the current power structure: it should be authors who have the agency to decide. Declaring licensing and access type as small print well after authors have had their work accepted for publication removes authorial agency, and quietly, falsely positions traditional publishing methods as the default.


Colleagues interested in knowing more about negotiating licensing and access conditions may be interested in the following two guides:

Collins, E., Milloy, C., Stone, G., Baker, J., Eve, M. & Priego, E. (2015). Guide to open access monograph publishing for arts, humanities and social science researchers. OAPEN-UK project. Available at http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/12373/.

Collins, H., Milloy, C., Stone, G., Baker, J., Eve, M. & Priego, E. (2013). Guide to Creative Commons for Humanities and Social Science Monograph Authors. 0OpenUK, JISC Collections. Available at http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/11863/


Disclaimer

I am not a publishing lawyer nor copyright officer. Needless to say, the information in this post is not legal advice. If you need more details on your  author rights or legal advice about what action to take, please contact your  publisher, librarian, copyright officer, an adviser or solicitor.

Notes on Sci-Hub

Due to different reasons (including health reasons!) I have been quite unactive on this blog. It does not mean I have been unactive everywhere though! Actually the opposite. I’d still like to continue using this blog whenever I can to document some of the work I do. Maybe this post helps me to re-start a bit of rapid blogging activity here!

Yesterday I published the following on The Winnower:

Signal, Not Solution: Notes on Why Sci-Hub Is Not Opening Access, The Winnower 3:e145624.49417 (2016). DOI: 10.15200/winn.145624.49417 

You can also download the PDF which is handy for some. Please apologise the remaining typos etc.

The article is leading to significant discussion online. There was this response from Sci-Hub’s Alexandra Elbakyan on her blog. Read the comments (!) for the conversation that ensued.

I remain thankful to everyone reading and commenting, sharing, etc. I may not always be able to acknowledge directly, but all engagement is appreciated.

 

 

 

Assessing the Assessment Evaluation Reports: Are They Setting the Example?

Reflections logo

As I write this the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is hosting an invitation-only event titled “REFlections: Evaluation of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 and a look to the future“.

At the time of writing this line my #REFlections archive has collected more than 1,100 Tweets published today. (I’ll share the archive later after the event).

This is a quick note to refer to two of the reports shared today:

These two reports are available online for free. However, it is no small detail, particularly given both the general context and specific topic of these reports, that none of the reports are available with an open license (I don’t mean CC-BY here, but any license at all).

Both reports indicate they are © Copyright HEFCE 2015 and © HEFCE 2015, which is itself as we know not in contradiction with open licensing (open licenses complement copyright).  However, page 2 of the RAND Corporation report also indicates clearly:

Manville et al, 2015, page 2
“All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the sponsor.”

[I am aware I am most likely infringing copyright law by reproducing this copyright notice here. I invoke fair dealing for educational use].

Unless I totally missed it, the Digital Science and King’s report file does not contain any licensing information telling the reader/user under what conditions the report can be reproduced or re-used or if it can indeed be adapted or enhanced in any way under attribution or any other conditions without having to request previous permission (which takes time, which means resources, which means money).

According to the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Definition, the first requirement for a work to qualify as “open” is that

“[t]he work must be available under an open license […]. Any additional terms accompanying the work (such as a terms of use, or patents held by the licensor) must not contradict the terms of the license.”

[See definition of “Open License” in 2.2. in http://opendefinition.org/od/].

Some authors consider this definition of open licensing too permissive, hence unappealing to academic authors or organisations that may have reasons to restrict the conditions under which they publish their work. However, the reports mentioned above do not provide any licensing indication, apart from the copyright notice, and in the case of the RAND report a very clear All Rights Reserved notice.

Open Access and Open Licensing are of course related. The relationship is the object of a long discusssion and it has taken place elsewhere. In this case the reports in question refer to a research assessment exercise that had the Open Access requirement at its core. HEFCE’s “Policy for open access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework” indicates that the open access requirement

“applies only to journal articles and conference proceedings with an International Standard Serial Number. It will not apply to monographs, book chapters, other long-form publications, working papers, creative or practice-based research outputs, or data. The policy applies to research outputs accepted for publication after 1 April 2016, but we would strongly urge institutions to implement it now.”

It is clear that the HEFCE policy cannot be applied to the reports mentioned above. They are not journal articles or conference proceedings with an ISSN.

However, I’d like to suggest that in order to engage fully in a transition towards open access to research data and information all stakeholders would need to adopt good practices in open sharing themselves.

The lack of licensing potentially limits the reach and (ironically in this case) the impact of these reports. Certainly users with an awareness of open access, open data and open licensing will notice the lack of open licensing in these reports, and find in this a limitation if not an obstacle.

Since both reports, as far as I understand, were partially or fully funded by a public body, and hence by the taxpayer, and since both reports are available for no economic cost online, noting here that citizens should have been provided with clear open licensing indicating what they may or may not do with the reports seems to me fair.

How can we demand the adoption of open practices if outputs assessing assessment mechanisms (there’s meta for you) based on the mandate to share openly do not adopt open licensing?

The publication and availability of these reports is welcome and worthy of celebration. The fact one of them explicitly forbids any reproduction without previous permission and that none of them contain licensing information is a disappointment.

[Post published 13:35 PM GMT]

14:00 PM GMT Update

This just in:

https://twitter.com/HEFCE/status/580729154787766272

Sharing Research Images in a Networked World

Version 1.14. Written and published quickly… editing is ongoing… comments had been accidentally disabled, now enabled. If you are re-visiting this post, please refresh/reload your browser to ensure you see the latest version.

Update: Via Twitter Amber Thomas recommends Into the wild – Technology for open educational resources (December 2012) edited by  Lorna M. Campbell, Phil Barker, Martin Hawksey and herself (open access). Thank you Amber!

Addendum:

I should perhaps clarify that in this post I am thinking of “research images” in the case of charts, cartoons, doodles, infographics, posters etc. created by researchers/teachers/artists etc. and which are shared online. These images allow the inclusion of contextual text in the form of non-intrusive captions. I appreciate photographs shared online, particularly when published on line immediately after being taken, pose different problems.

I’ve also been thinking that researchers could be encouraged to share any research images we create on repositories of Open Educational Resources, which could contribute to creating awareness of licensing issues.

Attribution seems to me to be a key currency in scholarship (since direct financial reward for the creation/publishing of open content is rare). Therefore embedded licenses and self-archiving in repositories that offer a clear open licensing framework could be positive developments in the fostering of an academic culture that a) encourages sharing, b) recognises the work involved in sharing open resources, and c) attributes online sources.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about attribution in the scholarly context of our days. Having done research for Altmetric, for example, made me very sensitive to the differences in the way different disciplines and cultures behave online in relation to sharing, commenting and attributing research online.

When I conceived The Comics Grid I was primarly concerned with establishing innovative mechanisms for addressing the need for online comics scholarship where original and annotated comics pages where shown without being deterred by copyright. Part of the project included helping develop critical awareness of how we cite different sources, including ‘non-traditional’ sources like comic books, cartoons, blog posts, online videos…

As I mentioned in my Forms of Innovation workshop session last Saturday in Durham, the World Wide Web is not the Wild Wild West, even if sometimes it definitely feels like that, a kind of no-man’s land where everyone takes whatever they want, even, perhaps surprisingly, in scholarly circles. I believe that Creative Commons licenses are an ideal way to develop a culture of ethical sharing and attribution.

Licenses by themselves cannot stop people from using content created by others in ways the licenses themselves preclude, but can be used in a court of law if there is evidence of misuse. This means that Open Licenses cannot by themselves make people act ethically: even when there is due licensing, where attribution and granted or reserved rights are clearly stipulated, people can always potentially act wrongly. Same happens with the law. So using and promoting Creative Commons Licenses is only the beginning of helping create a different culture where the World Wide Web is no longer the Wild Wild West, but we need this culture to become gradually pervasive to be really effective.

In the UK, a new Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act known as “The Instagram Act” has just been passed. Images found online that do not contain clear attribution can be considered ‘orphan works’ and therefore fall in the Public Domain (so anything goes with that content). Read about it here.

Earlier today, Amber Thomas from the University of Warwick tweeted a concern about infographics: “my problem with infographic practice is lack of provenance. hard to cite, lacking in publication date, rarely a clear copyright statement.” (Tweet, 1 May 2013; 11:29am GMT ).

A.J. Cann replied that “publishing on http://Figshare.org  would fix all that” (Tweet, 1 May 2013: 11:34am GMT). He is right (I also talked about Figshare as a means to ensure content is properly attributed, cited and licensed  in my presentation at Durham), but later I thought that perhaps that was not enough: files made to be shared online should include the attribution, citation and licensing information in the file itself.

Indeed, figshare helps providing a digital object identifier, citation and licensing information, but once the file is downloaded this can be shared further, separated from this context. Once downloaded the file can be endlessly shared, and if clear attribution and licensing is not included in the file, how many will actually trace back the file to the site it was originally made available from, where the attribution and licensing information appears? Thus the need for this information to be included in the file itself, not only on the figshare location from which people are downloading it from.

In the case of images this does not have to be a horrible watermark that compromises the artistic integrity of the image and renders it practically useless, and I’m not talking about some kind of digital rights management thing or restrictive permissions. Simply a clear legend explaining who is the author and in what terms the file is being shared, as a caption at the bottom of the image, in small but legible print. This information can/should be ideally included in the file’s properties too as metadata.

Take this fantastic image for example. I came across it through a retweet by Melonie Fullick.  I loved the image, and I retweeted Melonie’s tweet. I thought this is awsome! Who did it? Can we do t-shirts? Go on, click on the link again, it’s at http://annfriedman.com/image/49152967734.

We notice from the URL the image file is hosted at http://annfriedman.com/ which happens to be a site made with Tumblr. On that URL, the image file is orphaned from any context outside ‘Tumblr’ the name of the blog ‘annfriedman’ and the URL itself. I suspect many users will get there, see the image there and stop there: they won’t necessarily go and make an effort to find who did it or under what kind of license it has been shared online.

Because the image file has its own URL at Tumblr, I argue it is possible not to realise that the image is actually part of a blog post (and linked to it), with permalink http://annfriedman.com/post/49152967734/in-my-ongoing-quest-for-the-perfect-framework-for. On that blog post, Ann Friedman explains she “created The Disapproval Matrix**. (With a deep bow to its inspiration.)” (So please note that strictly speaking, as the author recognises, the image in question could be considered a “derivative” of another concept or series of images).

Granted, the image file URL, on its own, shows us the name of a person and the name of the Tumblr log (“annfriedman”) but what is crucial here is that the image file itself does not contain a caption indicating any authorship, attribution or licensing information, nor descriptive metadata, in human readable form, of what it is. One has to do “dilligent search” to find the actual blog post with the contextual information, and even then there is no indication whatsoever about how we as readers/visitors/users are allowed to use the image file in question (which has everything to go viral if you ask me).  If one scrolls down though, one finds the legend “Copyright 2012 Ann Friedman” at the bottom right corner of the Web site’s footer, but not in the post itself, and as I’ve said, not in the image file itself.

Copying “The Disapproval Matrix” is as easy as dragging and dropping. Folk are already sharing the link to the image file, not the link to the blog post that contains the image file and which explains Ann Friedman created it basing herself in the “Approval Matrix” series from New York Magazine.

Now, this post is not about this particular image or its author. It is not a personal critique. I have also shared lots of images online which do not contain attribution and licensing information on the files themselves. I am making use of an example to make a point, about how images are easily reproduced online and about what authors can do about it, regardless if they care or not if they are attributed for their work.

This is what the Web does: it makes decontextualising extremely easy, and it demands an effort from users to locate source, authorship, ownership and/or licensing. As authors of content, we cannot assume that people surfing the Web will all do “dilligent research” to find to whom does an image or any other file (say, an academic paper in PDF or PowerPoint presentation) belong to and how they can use it. The image file and the blog post providing context are very easily separable; the name in a Web resource’s title or URL are no clear indication of authorship, and we cannot just assume that people will make the effort to do “dilligent research.”

The context we live in online is one of attention deficit and speed. Social media platforms allow, encourage and maximise decontextualisation and recontextualisation. Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest: a file that does not indicate source and other information required for citation in itself (as a caption in the case of an image file, which is not in HTML of the resource hosting the file but as part of the image itself and in the file’s metadata) will always run the danger of becoming orphaned.

Needless to say, images can be edited using very basic software, and PDFs can be annotated, slides containing attribution and license deleted, etc. People wanting to steal content will do so no matter what. But we have to stop acting alarmed if our content ends up being shared and reused endlessly without our name if we don’t take some basic measures to ensure everyone and anyone will know easily and directly and very much obviously who created what, and in which ways others are allowed to use it.