How do you attribute someone who doesn’t give his name?

A few weeks ago a coworker came to me with a conundrum: he was writing an academic paper and needed a picture of a certain kind of cloud to illustrate a point he was making. He used the Creative Commons search engine and found an image on that both fit his needs and was released under a license that only required that he give attribution to the photographer. Only one problem: the photographer’s Flickr page didn’t list his real name or contact info anywhere. Just a handle… “Cyberdude,” or something like that.

If he was just using this photo to illustrate a blog entry, my coworker would probably have just said “Photo curtsey of Cyberdude” and with a link to this guy’s Flickr page, but there was no way he was going to say that in a professional academic paper. He could have created a Flickr account and left a comment asking for permission and the photographer’s real name, but that’s the kind of effort to gain permission that Creative Commons licenses were specifically designed to avoid. No doubt the photographer didn’t list any contact info to avoid spammers or stalkers, but that need conflicts with the needs specified by his license. A Catch-22.