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Author Topic: we built this city on stolen gifs  (Read 2073 times)
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« on: February 14, 2022 @239.50 »

(sorry for the title, i was struggling to figure out what to put in the subject line so i resorted to Silly.)

So, we have all these ancient gifs and assets from the 90s. They were used by everyone, but where did they come from? GifCities probably shows a mix of freeware, linkware, and stolen/liberated clip art (If you like podcasts, check out episode #61 of Reply All, it explores a particularly litigious company). We can't trace most of these artifacts, so they're kinda in the public domain regardless of the original intent. But then there were sites that offered graphics and even full page kits in exchange for a link back. You can find them today, either on their own or thru sites that credited them. If the site is abandoned, do you still give credit? Not to be morbid, but some of these sites were made by grandmas almost 30 years ago. Does it really matter?

At what point do these assets become public domain? I'm not speaking in the legal sense - the personal web has always been the wild west, most people don't even know our sites exist, we can probably get away with anything. I guess I'm thinking more about personal responsibility and values.

What about our sites? We're repurposing a lot of abandoned web assets to build our homes, but we also make our own. How do you feel about people using stuff you've made, either without permission, or without attribution if requested? How do you feel about people who prefer not to share, or who want credit? Should public domain be the default, or should we always ask? Does any of this matter? Why/why not?

I have my own opinions (which may or may not be reflected in the tone of this post) but I kinda wanted to see what others thought, or if anyone thinks about this stuff.
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« Reply #1 on: February 14, 2022 @556.19 »

Oooph a very good question!

This is something I was thinking about a lot with MoMG and the most frequent question I get from non web people is (who made all these gifs) and of course the answer is that I do not know! All record of a gifs creator is lost unless its in the image itself.

I think it ties in deeply to Ted Nelsons arguments that maintaining a reliable connection between digital files and their authors is actually a really important issue. For us, I don't think it really matters who made a gif; but expand the same philosophy out to the wider web, does it matter who made a video or wrote an article? It totally does because not knowing who created something is the root of all misinformation (arguably).

I think there is a philosophical beauty though to the lost dream space of images that are created and lost and found and reused and lost again; their meaning changes over time along with their context and custodian. At the end of the day, the only thing that remains is art; as we build our virtual worlds, as they grow and fall to dust again, all that really matters is the moment in time that they are now and the fragments of art they will become.

I guess while I'm still alive and creating I hope that people link back and attribute my contributions, but when I'm gone and forgotten, I hope that some things I created will continue to do the rounds. So I'll hold to the idea its better to ask forgiveness than permission, but also think about each situation.

Some of you may remember the old window on my site, I actually found the artist who created that and I considered asking their permission, but after looking at their bio and stuff I decided they would prob not be happy to have their work used that way, so I changed the window. Maybe that was necessary, maybe not, but there is always a degree of judgment needed for individual cases.

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« Reply #2 on: February 15, 2022 @107.26 »

So, I think about this stuff a lot too-- this same discussion comes up in video game preservation circles. The term "abandonware" gets thrown around a lot, which is a pretty loose term, and generally means that it can be shared without damage, but not shared legally. It's typically the case where the rights holder either can no longer be found or contacted (generally a solo developer that's vanished), or the rights have been shuffled from company to company to company over decades of aquisitions, and the rights can't be traced-- likely being held by someone that doesn't even know or care that they hold the rights. Anyway, the point is: a huge swath of this stuff would be lost forever if people weren't continuing to share it with one another, and so it's generally agreed upon that it's a Good Thing that we continue to do so, even if copyright law doesn't agree. Law aside (since that's not really the topic here), is it ethical? I personally think so; I feel that most people that work on a creative endeavor would like to see it preserved and continue to be enjoyed. Occasionally, people in the abandonware scene will hunt down old developers to do an interview or somesuch, and the devs are both shocked and delighted that their games are getting played all these years later, even in a less-than-legal capacity.

With all that said, the sharing of gifs is a weird one. I think everything I said about abandonware relates to gifs-- I think we should continue sharing and enjoying them, even, for example, the ones that were distributed on commercial CDs as part of web design asset packs. I think the people that said "do not redistribute!" in 1995 would be pleased as punch to find out people were still enjoying their art decades later, even without permission. The part that is unique to the gif situation is that yes, gifs don't have credits. There's no metadata, nothing of the sort. Except for the rare gif that's watermarked with a tiny pixel signature in the corner, it's extremely difficult to find out who a gif's creator is.

The thing is, this isn't a new problem, or one that's come up because of the passage of time. Gifs have always been shared on the web largely without credit. It was a good faith gesture to link back to a gif author's page if you got it directly from the source, but as soon as one person failed to do this, the author was lost for every website that followed down the viral chain. Some gifs would absolutely blow up and spread virally-- how many times did you see that Pikachu balancing a pokeball on its head?-- but the author was already buried at the peak of its popularity.

The thing is, at that point in the Internet's life, concepts like digital rights management didn't even exist, and the idea that you shouldn't right-click-save a gif you like and use it yourself was still really alien. I think within the culture of personal web designers, it was generally accepted that if you saw something you liked, it was free to use. People weren't attempting to profit off of sharing these gifs, and weren't trying to claim them as their own; they were only trying to share something they saw and enjoyed. And I have to assume that gif authors knew this was the culture, and knew that by releasing their gifs on the web, they likely wouldn't be credited, and most certainly wouldn't have control over their creation. I don't recall seeing any virulent rants about "stolen art" on the pages of gif makers (though I am ABSOLUTELY sure they're out there, somewhere.)

All that said, should the authors be credited? Ideally, yes. Even in the Neocities era, I think it's a very good practice to have some kind of attribution section and link back whenever possible. Even if the author is long gone, it's for the sake of the people browsing in the here and now: frankly, it's cool to see where these decades old gifs came from. It's not really a moral responsibility so much as it shows that you respect the art and want your viewers to be able to see more of it if they so choose. But that's a best case scenario, and a rare one at that: generally, we're finding these gifs from pages that aren't the author's, and who knows where they originated. I don't feel it's meaningful to give credit to these people that are just reusing them.

« Last Edit: February 15, 2022 @121.82 by Kutan » Logged

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« Reply #3 on: May 11, 2022 @8.76 »

I think it would be neat if we could have our section where visitors are free to ‘adopt’ gifs.

There could be people who make gifs that are meant to be shared.

The only issue of this idea is that anyone can save anywhere on a page. Now I think about it, you had a point about giving people credit and giving permission to use their gifs.

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« Reply #4 on: December 24, 2023 @314.48 »

I remembered this thread when I found this video regarding a popular gif that's been making the rounds for a while:

The videographer probably oversteps at the end, so I think our relevant portion ends at timestamp 31:00. The videographer had to go to a couple of lengths to find where the gif actually came from, and while the methods used to trace the gif might be replicable, actually crediting the sheer volume of gifs is a bit of a logistical problem. On top of that, the creator of the gif in the video at least expresses a sentiment shared with the abandonware developers cited by Kutan, that the artist is just appreciative & flattered that people would want to use their art in the first place.

There certainly doesn't seem to be harm in not properly crediting the creator of a gif, but there is joy to be had in doing so. If you like an artist's work, then if other people also like that artist's work, you can spread more enjoyment by pointing out where the artist's other works can be found. In that sense, you're doing a good thing by crediting the creator, but if you don't credit the creator, I'd say you aren't necessarily doing a bad thing. It's sort of in the realm of etiquette.

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« Reply #5 on: December 24, 2023 @586.40 »

I feel like there's a certain point where something becomes an ubiquitous part of the "pop culture" and goes beyond the scope of what it originally was. For example, the story of Beauty and the Beast is one that is considered "ubiquitous". It was written by a French novelist, but we generally don't discuss the author when we discuss the story, because the influence of her writing eclipsed its original scope. I think gifs are a bit like that. Like, that one spinning skull gif was made by someone, but the spinning skull to most people is a "cultural symbol" of 90s internet/Geocities rather than just a gif, so to most people it has eclipsed the need for credit, it's just the spinning skull gif. This is not necessarily a good or bad thing, I think. It's just kind of how information, stories, and symbols seem to get passed on over time- especially with gifs, which have always existed in an environment where it's easy to carry it on yourself and contribute to that. You just have to right click.

I for one really like that online spaces like these have cultivated a "culture of sharing". I've always found myself at odds with the way copyright laws restrict creativity. In a creative online space, where we create tools and resources to help each other, pass graphics around and make more for others to take with them, there isn't really any copyright. If you're a nice person you'll credit the gifs, but there isn't anything "lost" if you don't, beyond the interconnectivity part of internet culture (linking itself is such an important part of these web cultures tbh, being both a way to credit others as well as allowing the visitor to continue "surfing"). No one's careers are ruined, no one loses money, etc, when you don't link back, but it's just not courteous. It makes me imagine a world where we all make and share art just for the joy of it. I don't really have a neat little bow to wrap this in, just some thoughts lol.

I am definitely guilty of not crediting most gifs I found on gifcities, but I do have a few page adopts in my menagerie I got from defunct sites that I do actually link back to an archive of :) I always wonder if the people who made them anticipated people adopting their creations more than 20 years later!
« Last Edit: December 24, 2023 @593.56 by wygolvillage » Logged

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« Reply #6 on: December 27, 2023 @215.56 »

So first of all, copying isn't theft. Reposting isn't theft. Using somebody else's GIF on your website isn't theft. I know what it colloquially means to steal a GIF, but we need to understand its not actually stealing GIFs here. Theft requires depriving the somebody of something, or else we're just reinventing the RIAA and posting "you wouldn't download a car" rhetoric.

Perhaps reusing older GIFs is seen as more socially acceptable, as the original author isn't around to get mad at you. An embarrassing amount of web artists hair-trigger over reposting and derivative art, but time and abandonment tends to put some distance between you and a temporarily embarrassed idea landlord.


The term Orphan Work is a useful on in this discussion. An orphan work is a copyright-protected work for which rightsholders are positively indeterminate or uncontactable. A lot of web art falls under the definition of orphan work.

Another term, Provenance, is also useful. Provenance is the chronology of the ownership, custody or location of an historical object (in this case, artwork and web graphics). Attribution of an orphan work establishes provenance, making the chain of posting and reposting easier for future researchers to understand.

A web 1.0 GIF you lifted from elsewhere might be easily spotted by our eyes, but what about after another 20 years has passed? How will future web surfers tell an old geocities site apart from an old intentional throwback neocities site? You might think this will always be obvious, but consider if you can always tell. Have you been fooled into thinking a throwback song is genuinely from the era, have you ever been uncertain if a viral VHS tape was legit or a work of unfiction? But there is a way to make sure people know where you website sits: you tell people.

Becides, creating a "credits" page for your website takes less time than creating an original artwork. If it was your art + you weren't the kind of twat described in paragraph 2, you'd still probably want somebody to take the time to credit. Giving credit is quick compared to the time it takes to create a web graphic, after all. Even if this credits page can't point to the original source, there's still provenance provided by showing where you got something from. You can always update the credits page later, if new information comes to light, after all.


On the other hand, I mean, crediting is still a chore that takes time. Although most arguments against crediting boil down to laziness, there's nothing really immoral or bad about slacking off. If a viewer wants the source, they can take the time for themselves, and they do have access to the same tools as you do. How helpful is crediting at the end of the day, how many people are actually reading the credits.

It's me. I'm reading the credits. :4u:


You should also use modern and recent art and web graphics on your websites more. I want to see your fan shrine covered in fanart, it would look so cool.
« Last Edit: December 27, 2023 @588.92 by garystu » Logged

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« Reply #7 on: December 27, 2023 @613.38 »

Personally, I'd like to credit at least the bigger GIFs on my site, but I mainly collect GIFs through throwing them into my downloads folder and immediately forgetting whence they came. :/ But I think with a lot of buttons and stuff, it's nice to credit, but perhaps not ultimately necessary, since buttons/blinkies/etc. feel quite different to me from something one would typically give credit for, like the point is that they're just little buttons promoting/sharing other things or whatever they may be, and who made them isn't the overall point, if that makes sense. And most of the buttons in circulation in our community today are very hard to track down the creators anyhow. Personally, I'd want to be credited if I had made a drawing/painting/some bigger art piece, but if it's just a little button, I don't much care—I create buttons with the mindset that they'll be shared freely anyways, and even if I see someone use one of my buttons without crediting me, I'll just be pretty wowed that someone used my button! Now, I think it'd be cool if they credited, but I don't really care very much at all.

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