Commons Machinery: Your Name in the Credits

Commons Machinery: Your Name in the Credits

Creative Commons has brought some order to licensing content for free distribution. But how good is modern software at properly crediting contributors to works of art in music, design, and filmmaking?

A few days ago we screened a sneak preview for a new episode of The Adventures of Boris Munchausen animated cartoon. For the whole year my students have been working on this piece, and finally it reached its first audience (quite a bunch of people) at a local conference.

After the show Nastya, one of my students, came up to me: “I’ve just seen the closing credits and haven’t found my name there...”. We checked that and confirmed that her contribution wasn’t mentioned. Of course, I fixed the oversight right away.

Lucky us, it was not a final release — just a sneak preview. Besides, Nastya doesn't bear a grudge. She knows that for the whole night before the event I’ve been working on the final cut, so making such a mistake was at least excusable. Still, Nastya has contributed a lot to the cartoon, and thus mentioning her in the credits was important.

Production routines

Unfortunately, such accidents are not rare. Usually we focus solely on a movie leaving credits till late at night. Besides, it takes time to recall everyone who has participated in the process, so you might miss someone once in a while.

Certainly, I'm trying to maintain a list of all our comrades as they work along, but it doesn't always help. Besides the core crew there are people who come, draw something, and disappear. And you can’t tell if their contribution will make into the final version or not until you are done with the final cut.

There are also a lot of other aspects to pay attention to when it comes to preparing the credits scroll. For example, we take sound fx from for free, but under the terms of license that demands mentioning authors of each effect we use in the credits.

Sure thing, we experiment with the effects till the very last second — adding, tossing and replacing them. So, when the movie is almost finished, I have to review the whole project, making a list of used effects and their authors. This takes a lot of time.

A typical audio project with a decent amount of sound fx — catch them all!

And it’s the same with 3D models (we used some models from BlendSwap for Morevna Project), music (if you can’t afford to hire a composer), photos (yep, we use them as well), and the rest. Add here checking for correct spelling of the first and last names, and you'll see the outlines of the work that should be done.

Thus, creation of perfect credits requires a military discipline and plenty of time. Be ready to spend some extra hours on this work right when the deadline is already breathing down your neck. That's quite frustrating.

Commons Machinery to the rescue

I've always had a feeling this process could be automated, and just recently stumbled upon Commons Machinery initiative.

The idea of the project is quite simple — to develop a technology that would make it possible to embed attribution (and licensing) information right into the file of a digital work. Creating such standard would ensure that this information is always transferred with the work, and third party tools can automatically use it to provide an attribution where appropriate.

Although the idea sounds simple, in real life it turns into a real challenge. Let me elaborate on this below.

The writing and preservation of metadata

Consider a situation: a user downloads photos from a camera, and software automatically suggests to embed his/her credits into the downloaded images. Similarly, when creating a new animated cartoon file or 3D scene, your name could be automatically written into the files (as metadata) and after rendering would be replicated to the rendered files as well. All this is about writing metadata.

The process has its own peculiarities. Let's start with us, authors. It’s clear that a file can have more than one author. A simple situation: one artist creates an image, another opens it in GIMP, modifies and saves.

It's clear that changes could vary drastically: from simple cropping to serious fixes that could be equal (or suppress) the original contribution of the author. I believe, it's impossible to evaluate the importance of such contributions at the level of artificial intelligence, but this evaluation responsibility could be entrusted to the contributor. Thus, upon saving a digital work, software could show a dialog box offering users to add their name to the list of authors.

In fact, this is what font editors like FontForge suggest to do: fill in FONTLOG metadata, where contributors typically summarize the changes they had introduced and mention themselves.

As we can see, dealing with writing metadata implies not only initialization of original data, but also its preservation when the file gets modified by some software. This is a very important moment and it smells like trouble: e.g. Twitter, Facebook and Flickr are known to strip metadata from files. The developers of Commons Machinery plan to pay a special attention to this.

Besides, one shouldn't forget about such thing as the clipboard. Along with main data transferred through the clipboard, the attribution information probably should be transferred as well. Here we face the same problem with evaluating the level of importance: how important the copied information is, and whether author’s info should also be replicated into a destination document.

Users can copy a mere gradient fragment that bares no artistic value, or they can choose an important part of a photo. Throwing dialogs with questions is not an option here, since any user would go berserk, if he was forced evaluate the potential value of a copied piece each time he pressed Ctrl+V.

Personally I would like software to have a kind of a “Borrowing List”, which would keep the record of pasted pieces along with their thumbnails and the authors’ names. It would be convenient to refer such a list when necessary and mark important borrowings adding them thereby to the list of authors of the main document. Still, maybe I'm digging a bit too deep here?

Metadata utilization

The utilization of metadata implies that it appears where we need it right when we need it. In practice that could have various applications. E.g. one of the first prototypes the Commons Machinery developers are going to create would be a WordPress plugin. It will automatically display author’s attribution as an image description when image inserted to a page.

Recalling how much efforts I've spent adding and maintaining credits to all the photos in my recent LGM report, I do understand why this plugin is among the first priorities.

But lets get back to the original problem which I've started this article with: the attribution metadata could be utilized for automatic generation of animated cartoon credits.

A credit scroll constructed in Synfig Studio

We use a special script called Remake for automatic rendering of all project files. It analyses dependencies of all the files, so it could as well extract authors’ data and make a list.

Certainly, such list should be reviewed and reorganized by a human, since a program can't set the right priorities based on participants’ contribution. But at least it would deliver a basic information which could be used as an input for some other tool to build the final credits text.

It's logical that besides author's credits a file may contain a license type. On the utilization level it could be implemented as an automated alert at any attempts to use the file, if its license is not compatible with the license of the main document.

These are just a few examples. I believe, you could name a lot more use cases.

Why is this important to you?

In this part I was planning to write, why Commons Machinery might be useful for people who don’t have pleasure of making credits for animated cartoons on a daily basis. But I think it's already clear from my reasoning and samples above.

It doesn't matter if you publish a model to BlendSwap, a photo to Flickr or a track to Jamendo — when you set a license type to something other than CC-Zero (Public Domain), it's obvious that you expect your name to be attributed, when your work is used.

Many of my friends who do photography do not mind their works used by someone else as long as they get the attribution. This is the netiquette for people who use somebody's content and the reputation for those who produce the content. Unfortunately, presently maintaining the netiquette is far from being easy.

Above I’ve ventured to dream up on how it could be done. Maybe my vision slightly differs from that of the developers, but my 6th sense tells me it isn’t too much off. Besides, it’s our fantasy that determines our future, isn’t it?

How you can help to make it a reality

Of course, it's too early to speak about the integration with any software before both the standard and a reference implementation are done. Though, there already are several ways you can help this project.

  • Realization of the problem is the first step to resolving it. Many people are so used to spend hours for maintaining attributions(if care about it at all) that they don’t realize this routine could be eliminated. You can help by raising awareness of that there is something called metadata that is super useful. Tell your friends about Commons Machinery and their goals.
  • Bachelor or master student looking for a thesis topic, are invited to use work of Commons Machinery as a basis for a scientific research. See the call for bachelor/master students.
  • Developers who are interested in this initiative are invited to join discussion at Creative Commons’ development mailing list.
  • Finally, you can support the project through a campaign on IndieGoGo. There also you can find more information about the Commons Machinery project.

As you can see, the implementation of Commons Machinery requires certain unconventional problems to be solved. It’ worth mentioning that Commons Machinery is not some kind of amateur-driven initiative. The project is supported by Shuttleworth Foundation, and its initiator is Jonas Öberg, who is known as the former vice president of Free Software Foundation Europe and the regional coordinator of Creative Commons in Europe.

I hope this technology will see the light sooner or later. The question is — how soon.

Translation into English by Anna Orlova.

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4 Responses. Comments closed for this entry.

  1. Thats why I’m a fan of CC-Zero (Public Domain), for simple stuff. E.g. all cliparts on are CC-Zero (Public Domain), and you don’t need to care about using it.

  2. Alexandre Prokoudine 13 June 2013 at 6:25 pm

    @Tobias, are you referring to your own art or someone else’s? Where do you draw the line between simple and complex stuff? :)

  3. Looking forward to Commons Machinery springing to action soon! I feel the pain too; being an independant developer of small-scale projects, and having to rely on expertise beyond my own, keeping track of credits often creates painful hours of precision checking to make sure we do justice to the artists’ behind each stock. Sometimes it’s very easy to accidentally forget someone out of the credits. At other times, it prompts others to “cheat”, and hence get into legal problems.

    It’s a good idea to begin these mechanics from the Free Software foundations that can accept it. Metadata can then be a great boon for emerging artists and developers alike.

  4. @Alexandre is 100% CC-Zero (Public Domain) and my own art of cause too:

    > Where do you draw the line between simple and complex stuff? :)

    I don’t know, it’s a feeling.