Obligatory attribution could easily be written into copyright law, argues Greg Lastowka, a legal scholar who is a visiting professor and specialist in intellectual property at Columbia Law School. Lastowka and others say that at the least, writers, journalists, and artists could be paid in “attribution currency.” Today, some journalists and photojournalists are dependent on their names more than their institutional affiliations—credit-by-name is the coin of the realm. “Now, journalists should build a career on an icon or an image, by being appropriated as much as appropriating,” Michael Heller, a professor at Columbia Law School and author of The Gridlock Economy, told me.
And finally, what are we to make of that other persuasive and idealistic argument for “the gift” in culture—that an open flow produces more innovations and greater enlightenment? It’s a profound concept. But there’s been a certain lack of reciprocity in some quarters of contemporary culture, including journalism. These days, many of the professional journalists and photographers who give away their work feel that they don’t receive enough in exchange, at least not yet. With proper attribution, the culture of the gift will and can help the smaller journalists. The gift economy, though, probably won’t help the AP and the big media companies much. And as always, a gift freely given is one thing, but a gift that is taken is another.