Wow. This is a topic I’ve intended to write about for a while, but I never imagined that it might cause such rampant drama across the community. Of course it had to start while I was out of town. I’ve only skimmed through a majority of the posts made thus far about fanart and artist attribution, but the number of comments and trackbacks to WAH‘s original post, as well as his two follow-up posts lead me to think that just about every possible opinion has already been shared. For the most part, I agree with WAH, and I’m glad to see that a lot of people seem receptive to the idea of attribution. Still, there might be a few other things that are worth bringing up.
I don’t really use fanart here. Almost everything I use is official art and the occasional screenshot, and hell, most of my earliest posts had no images at all. Official art and screenshots, regardless of artist, generally belong to the series’ company, which is easy to look up, so I don’t particularly feel the need for accreditation there. The fact that official art is usually purposed for mass distribution is also a good argument. Fanart, on the other hand, is always tricky business, even outside of the aniblogosphere (or perhaps, especially outside of the aniblogosphere?). Legality aside, it’s a question of common courtesy and manners. Regardless of your thoughts concerning your own work, be it your own fanart, writing, quotes, coding, or whatever, there’s no point in pushing your ideologies onto others. Just because you don’t care about being credited for your creations doesn’t mean other people can’t be touchy about their stuff. It’s their right to be touchy if they want to be.
A lot of people have been railing on the Online Fanarts Protection (OFP) union. There’s no point in getting into a cultural, racial, or xenophobic debate over it; whether the Japanese are being unfair towards foreign bloggers isn’t really the issue at hand. The OFP offers a clear message: artists that display the OFP button on their website don’t want you using their work without asking first. If you know the artist of a certain work and you know they back the idea of the OFP, then who are you to ignore the request to ask? Prompted with that, bloggers have pointed out that many Japanese artists don’t sign their work and with the propogation of image boards and collective archives, it can become very difficult to figure out the artist of any given work. I started out agreeing that “artist unknown” was a good enough compromise as I’ve done that in the past, but then I changed my mind. Accreditation is only part of the issue.
Many bloggers write their posts and find appropriate images all in one sitting; even if they know the artist, having to seek permission from anyone becomes a huge hassle because it significantly slows down that groove and routine. In addition to the hassle though, I think one of the biggest reasons people don’t want to ask if they can use something is the possibility that their request might be denied. Just think, you’ve written a brilliant post and you’ve got the perfect piece of fanart to go with it. You’re good and courteous and take the pains to email a foreign artist for permission to use their art on your post. They reply back with a curt “no.” What do you do then? Feign ignorance and hope slapping on a credit will be good enough? Or maybe they just never replied? That’s a better excuse to just slap on a credit.
Credit is a great thing. People deserve to be recognized for their work, and it’s nice for readers to be able to find the home galleries of an artist they’ve stumbled upon from a blog. I agree that more [Japanese] artists should consider signatures or watermarks to make it easier for people to contact them, but it’s easy to forget that some people just don’t want their work used in any way. Rather than attributing the lack of signatures to humility, I rather think many Japanese artists favor anonymity, just like the rest of their culture. They put their art up on display, but they really don’t want it to be associated with any blogger’s commentary or whatever else. Even if you don’t agree with that mindset, it’s fair enough, isn’t it?
Even before this topic erupted on the aniblogosphere, I’ve heard over and over again the argument that if someone doesn’t want their stuff used, then they shouldn’t put it online in the first place. But while I do think that it’s kind of naive for artists to expect people to abide by their wishes, I don’t think it’s wrong to wish it anyway. What ever happened to the “look, but don’t touch” ideaology? An artist’s gallery is like a museum. You are there to look. They want you to look. You don’t take the art home with you. On the Internet, you can save images onto your harddrive; this makes them tempting for later use, but consider this: many museums let you take photos of their exhibitions, but if you’re from the press, come in with your fancy DSLR and tripod, and look like you’ll be publishing your photos somewhere later, they’ll probably ask you to run it by management first. I don’t want to get into a debate comparing journalism with blogging, but I think the analogy works well enough.
It would be probably be ideal for most artists if their works were never displayed anywhere without their expressed permission, regardless of credit. But with the language barrier and the fact that most English-speaking bloggers are using foreign fanart, that’s probably unrealistic. (I don’t necessarily think it’s too much to ask, but it’s still unrealistic.) I’m not sure that “accreditation when possible and ‘artist unknown’ otherwise” is a good enough compromise since there’s no one here to represent the foreign artists (especially those associated with the OFP, who are explicitly against “artist unknown” accreditations), but I guess it does offer more bloggers peace of mind, and it will probably piss less artists off should they chance upon their artwork somewhere it isn’t supposed to be.