Many, many people think that attribution is a key part of copyright law, but in the US it's really not a part of the law at all (with a few tiny, nearly meaningless exceptions). Attribution issues may come up in situations of plagiarism, but they have little do with copyright infringement, which is infringement with or without attribution. Elsewhere, there are issues of moral rights, but for the most part, the US does not recognize moral rights in copyright. Of course, many have argued that perhaps attribution
is more important than much of what is in copyright law, and at times there have been efforts to focus more on the question of attribution over infringement. A recent study has tried to quantify some issues around this idea and put questions about the value of attribution into context. Eric Goldman
points our attention to this recent paper by Christopher Sprigman, Christopher Buccafusco and Zachary Burns which is entitled Valuing Attribution and Publication in Intellectual Property
The paper's authors seek to get a real sense of what the tradeoffs are for content creators -- and they quickly discover that content creators are willing to accept significantly less money in exchange for attribution and publicity. They also discover -- as their own previous studies have shown -- that content creators tend to significantly overvalue
their own works. But the key finding is that attribution has tremendous value to content creators -- both amateurs and professionals alike. You can read the full details of the experiments in the study, but the researchers came up with a clever way to effectively get photographers to value a work with the possibility of getting a large cash reward for it vs. the possibility of having the image published with credit in a major publication. Notably, the impact was much stronger
with professional photographers, since to them making people aware of their work had much greater value, even if it meant getting paid much less. It was also interesting to see that amateurs valued publication without attribution less than just getting paid, but for professionals, they were willing to get paid less if the image was published somewhere major even without attribution
. Not surprisingly, getting published with attribution was the most desirable, and for that the pros were willing to accept the lowest payment.
I know that some copyright maximalists love to bash those of us who point out that there is significant value for content creators in getting their works out there and accessible in ways that people see/hear/experience them -- and this study presents some empirical evidence to support the idea that it's a pretty strong effect. Towards the end, the study digs a bit into the policy questions and suggests that requiring attribution (a la moral rights) as a mandatory part of copyright law actually could be harmful,
in that it would take away a key negotiating point over which prices could change drastically. Coupled with the fact that artists have been shown to overvalue their rights, such an attribution right actually makes it more difficult
to come to an agreeable price on content, and limits how much content is likely to be sold. Definitely an interesting read overall.