How to correctly attribute images

Featured Photo: Black Wire Art Piece by William Bout, is licensed under CC0

Doing the right thing isn’t just about paying for images, it’s about making sure the right credit is given to the creator of that work. Unless otherwise stated, attributing images is a legal requirement. Here is how to make sure images are attributed correctly.

Attributing with Creative Commons and TASL

Unless an image has been published under a CC0 license, attribution under Creative Commons is a legal requirement. Fortunately, attributing an image is straightforward when using the TASL method (see below).

The Creative Commons defines attribution in their licenses as giving “appropriate credit,” which some content users mistakenly believe to be subject to their own interpretation. In fact, CC has specified exactly what appropriate credit means by providing a framework around attribution called the TASL (Title Author Source License) method. This method is flexible and accounts for the special requirements of individual licenses.

To make sure images are correctly attributed, users should adhere to the following:

Title: The title of the image

Author: The name of the creator

Source: The URL where the image is hosted (plus optional link to author profile)

License: The type of Creative Commons license it is available under, including a link to the license terms

According to the Creative Commons, an ideal example of TASL would be:

Winter in town”, by David J, is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Note that when using CC 4.0 Licenses, ‘Title’ is not a mandatory component of the license

Reasonable effort is required to find any of the individual pieces of information that are missing and to complete attribution as per the TASL method. Where there are multiple creators, each should be listed. Only substitute a username or handle if the creator’s name is not available. If there is any doubt as to who or how the creator or creators should be credited, get in contact with the owner.

Attribution should be clearly displayed with the image, ideally directly underneath. If the attribution is not visible, or it is not possible to determine the license type and/or ownership of the image from an immediate review of the webpage, the image has not been correctly attributed. 

See best practice examples for attributing under Creative Commons.

Attributing outside of Creative Commons

Images should be attributed to their creator as per the license agreement under which they were procured. Note that some photographers will charge higher fees for publication of their work without attendant attribution – this makes sense when you consider that attribution is a form of marketing for the photographer, and the absence of attribution therefore commands a higher price.

Attribution can take a variety of forms and it is standard practice for it to be negotiated into any licensing agreement, as part of the work’s usage terms.

Attributing modifications in Creative Commons

If making any changes to an original image, it is important that the changes are referenced in the TASL attribution – or TASLM (Modification) – doing so protects the original work, and disassociates the creator from further derivative works.

Before any modifications are made to an image, check that it is permitted under the conditions of the license. If changes are permitted and made, detail the modifications as follows:

Winter in town”, by David J, is licensed under CC BY 2.0, Desaturated from original

Attributing in CC when owner cannot be identified

There are Creative Commons images that have no clear link to their creator or license type. Publishing an image without identifying the creator is not advised – doing so immediately breaches the terms of a Creative Commons license. If there is no clear link to the creator or license type of an image – don’t use it.

Key Takeouts:

By introducing the TASL method, Creative Commons have made it straightforward to clearly and legally attribute a work to its creator. Unless using an image published under a CC0 license, it is imperative to follow this method. Failure to do so may lead to legal action being taken up by the copyright holder.

  1. Follow the TASL attribution method when using Creative Commons licenses.
  2. If attribution of an image is part of its licensing terms, it is a legal requirement.
  3. Do not use an image if the owner and/or CC license type is not traceable. It is important to link through and read the relevant Creative Commons license terms when using images through these platforms.
  4. When modifying an image under an appropriate CC license, be sure to not how it was modified in the attribution.
  5. Be sure to agree on and document any attribution terms (if any) when procuring images.


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