Citation and Attribution in Grade 7

Our Grade 7 Science students are researching various natural disasters as part of their unit on Earth Science. The teachers have asked me to come in and talk about image attribution. As usual, I took things a bit further than that and used the time to discuss copyright, fair use, Creative Commons, MLA citations and attribution. It seemed a lot more interesting than just showing up, saying “This is you can attribute your image” and then walking out!

We started by looking at some of the amazing and horrifying images of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami at The Big Picture. We read the captions and discussed how the news wire services work. In every caption was an attribution to the photographer: for example (David Guttenfelder/Associated Press). We boiled the concept of attribution down to this:

Attribution is about being polite and giving credit where credit is due.

We took a moment to discuss copyrights and how it should work in the real world: ask for permission, pay some money (probably) and then use the other person’s work. All students agreed that that isn’t how it actually works for them. We talked about Fair Use in Education (for their academic work) and Creative Commons (for their personal projects) and how they apply. It was quick, simple and to the point.

A finally, what is usually the boring stuff: MLA citation. When I asked them why they needed to cite their work, I got some good answers:

  • Avoid plagiarism
  • Allow the teacher to check your sources.
  • Allow others to go deeper into material.

All of those reasons where useful to others, but weren’t actually useful to the students themselves. So I had an idea: I quickly loaded up the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus site and went over it with them. We talked about the various elements of a proper MLA citation and how it applied to this site. And then we made the connection:

Citation is about verifying the quality of your source.

Yes it takes some time to do (even when using NoodleTools), but most things that are important usually do!

A Letter to SMH Regarding Copyright

Like most people, I was enthralled and relieved by the story of Qantas Flight 32, which took off from Changi Airport in Singapore bound for Sydney. There were numerous (false) reports of the flight crashing over Bantam Island south of Singapore. There were also some amazing tweets sent by a passenger on the plane of the damage to the wing caused by an exploding engine!

Unfortunately, I was also extremely disappointed in the coverage of the incident by the Sydney Morning Herald. I was so disappointed, in fact, that I sent them the following email. I have yet to hear back from them.

Dear SMH,
I really enjoy your newspaper, both the physical edition and the online version.

I’m also very interested in the coverage of QF 32 and watching the drama as it unfolds. This certainly is a newsworthy event!

I do have a question about copyright and attribution, however. On your Contact page, you state specific steps that others should follow if the wish to reproduce images from you site: “If you would like to reproduce text, graphics or tables, you will need to obtain permission from The Sydney Morning Herald copyright department.” Yet, it does not seem that you follow those rules yourself when it comes to using the images of others.

In your article on the A380 (at 16:08 on Thursday, Sydney time) however, you have at least three images taken from social media sites (Facebook and Twitter/yfrog) that have no attribution or copyright notices.  Have you contacted the people who posted those photos and asked for their permission to use their images without attribution? In the same article, you make sure to credit Craig Abraham for his stock photo of a jet engine. Why the double standard? Were they sent in to your address by them? If so, shouldn’t that be stated in the article and/or caption? If these images are released under a Creative Commons license, the minimum requirement is attribution of the creator. Because they were found on Facebook and Twitter, it would be easy to find out who that person is!

As a teacher who is focused on digital citizenship and on teaching ethical behavior in a digital society to my students, particularly with respect to copyright and images found on the internet (seemingly for free and without repercussion), I find it hard to fathom how you have presented the information of others on your website – a commercial website at that! I don’t think you would be so cavalier about using an image from Getty Images or other ‘reputable’ sources without proper attribution. Why so with images found using social media? The concept of copyright pertains to those images too and affords the owners of those images rights of how their works are used by others, including large media outlets.

I look forward to hearing your response. If you have obtained permission from the image owners, I apologize in advance.

Kind Regards,
Clint Hamada