Astrid Bovell on August 9th, 2011
A while back I had a request from an outside organisation (for the purposes of this post, let’s call them Billy) who had seen an image on a University webpage. Billy was interested in using the image in a publication so I set about investigating who owned the copyright.
I found the image Billy was after and to my great disappointment, there was no citation attached to advise the name of the image, the creator or where it had been sourced from. Since I couldn’t gather anything from the website, I contacted the department to find out the old fashioned way. The department took a little while to respond and unfortunately, they didn’t offer much information either. After some gentle prodding I was given a name of someone (let’s call them Nanny) that might know who created the page and where the image was from.
So I got in touch with Nanny and very fortunately, it was Nanny that created the page so she knew about the image. Nanny told me that the image was copyright friendly, but I’d have to wait while she went through her notes to find where she’d sourced the image. Now I’m not a fan of telling a client that they have to wait while I’m investigating because usually when a client want something, they want it ASAP, but it’s the nature of the beast that these things can take time so I had to advise I was still investigating. Lucky for me, Billy understood that sometimes it’s just not that easy to find all the answers you need… (but it so easily could have been!).
Nanny eventually sent a web address for the source of the image but sadly, the page no longer existed. And here lies a problem. I didn’t know the title of the image, the creator of the image, I couldn’t guarantee that it was copyright friendly and I couldn’t direct Billy to contact anyone to request the image. This was problematic for a number of reasons – Firstly, it’s awful to keep a client waiting days for a response that turns out negative. One hopes that they’ve been spending the time working on a Plan B, but you can’t assume anything. Secondly, it’s concerning that the department wasn’t sure who created the page and that Nanny didn’t have an accurate record for the image. Thirdly and probably most importantly- no citation means it could possibly be construed that Nanny was asserting that she or the University, created or owned that image (ever heard of plagiarism?). Fourthly, it’s a potential breach of Moral Rights (unless the artist has chosen to waive those rights).
Luckily for me, Billy didn’t head-butt me when I explained that we didn’t own the image and couldn’t grant permission (turns out Billy did have a Plan B!) and after a brief chat, Nanny promised to do the right thing in future.
What gets my goat about this, is that the whole situation could have been so easily resolved if the image had just been cited properly.
Citing things properly is good practice, it helps you fulfil your and the University’s legal obligations, it makes a requestor’s life easier, it makes my job easier (and yours, because I won’t have to interrupt your day to get the information I need) and in turn, it promotes the University as providing efficient services.
So don’t get my goat – get citing! and if you don’t know how, well looky here – we’ve got that sorted for you! 🙂