Giving credit where credit is due is always the respectful way to say thanks, and is sometimes a requirement to use an image. Depending on the license terms set by the creator, they may give you special permission to use their image as long as you follow the terms. This is most common in a Creative Commons (CC) type license, where the creator grants permission at no cost, but requires something in return, e.g., attribution, no modifications, or non-commercial use.
If you wish to give credit, or comply with a CC license, this guide will cover everything you need to know about image credit and give you practical tips and actual examples.
Image credits 101
It’s important to know that giving credit on its own does not entitle you to use an image. For instance, an image published under an “All Rights Reserved” license (the default copyright grant, unless stated otherwise), means no rights are granted for any use. You must get explicit permission from the rights-holder, and/or secure a license before you use the image.
In the event therefore that you properly credited a work but never received permission from the image owner, you can find yourself in legal trouble.
As there are some misconceptions in this topic, it’s important to clarify the ins and outs of image crediting.
Photo by Melinda Gimpel
What is image credit?
Image credit is where the image user gives attribution to the image owner. It serves two main purposes:
- It transparently showcases that the image does not belong to the user but is the visual property of a certain image owner.
- It gives a fair warning to others that they too must follow the image owner’s terms and conditions if they would like to use that piece of work.
More often than not, the presented information will only be the image owner’s name and a copyright notice. That on its own should signal who to contact in the event of re-use.
Since 1989, it’s not required to attach a copyright notice to images in the USA, therefore you might find one without any information regarding attribution — although, photographers and all image owners are more than likely to still share that so they can protect their images online.
With that said, if you encounter an image without credit or contact information for the image owner, always remember that someone is likely the copyright holder and it cannot be used without permission or a license. If you cannot find the owner, you must consider not using that image and look for another one that you can clearly license from the image owner.
Why is it important to give image credit?
Giving credit where credit is due could be the simple answer to why giving credit is important. For a more detailed explanation, let’s look at the perspective of both the image owner and the image user.
From the perspective of the image owner:
- The image owner will feel appreciated for their work
- It’s a way to advertise their work and thus a possible source of new business
- In some cases it clearly displays the terms of a license, for example with Creative Commons (CC) images, and informs other viewers of the possible terms of re-use
From the perspective of the image user:
It’s the law-abiding behavior (in some countries image owners have the legal right to be attributed to their work)
- In some cases it makes a use legally compliant with the terms of a license, for example with Creative Commons images, and again, informs other viewers of the possible terms of re-use
Variations for image credit
To understand how to give credit and the terms and conditions set for a given image here are some commonly used terms:
- Copyright: Copyright is the right to “(1) distribute the work, (2) reproduce (or make copies of) the work, (3) display the work (for example, a painting that you want to allow a museum to publicly display), (4) perform the work, and (5) create Derivative Works based upon the original work”, and it’s also often referred to with the copyright symbol ©
- Image license: Image license is referring to what license the image owners are giving the potential users (see the next points for commonly used licenses)
- All Rights Reserved: All Rights Reserved signals the potential image user that they can only use that specific visual work if they received permission personally or directly from the image owner who has “all rights reserved” for it
- Some Rights Reserved: Some Rights Reserved refers to the fact that image owners can move on a spectrum of choices when it comes to the types of rights they reserve for their work — if you see this, make sure to read the set terms extra carefully to get to know every little detail about how you must give credit
- Creative Commons: Creative Commons (CC) license is a legal framework for enabling the copyrighted work to be distributed under certain conditions, set by the image owner — you can learn about the seven types of Creative Commons licenses here
Photo by Umberto
- Fair Use: Fair use means that the copyrighted photo can only be used for educational, personal or research purposes or if it’s beneficial to the public — a common misunderstanding is that fair use rules out all commercial uses, however, courts always balance “the purpose and character of use” against a number of factors, meaning that there is a possibility that a “fair use” image would be allowed to get used for commercial purposes but you must clarify that with the image owner
- Public Domain: Public Domain is the absence of copyright, meaning that the given work is not subject to copyright or other legal restrictions — this can happen if the owner of the work died or abandoned all rights related to it which is called the relinquishment of copyright
These are some of the common terms that will navigate you in the direction of image credits related to the given visual work online. However, as mentioned above, be prudent and do everything in your power to be law-abiding by asking for permission and then following the rules for use set by the image owner. If you cannot find them or you’re not sure about the terms and conditions set, ask the image owner. If you cannot contact them for any reason, move on and find an image that you can credit with confidence.
How to give image credits
- Make sure you can use the image in the first place. In some cases, the image owner won’t give permission to use their work in any form, or in other instances, as mentioned, you might not be able to use it because the image credits are missing, you cannot contact the owner to clarify the rules and there is just no legally safe option to use the image and give credit
- If the image owner and the image credits allow you to use the image, take time to learn in what way you can actually use it. Some image owners or photographers restrict usage by platform, i.e., online vs print or others may let you use the image online but with the exception of using it in an advertisement.
- Place the image credits adjacent to the photo which usually means below it or positioned somewhere along one edge.
- Make the image credit noticeable and readable. Besides placing it near the image it refers to, use a font style and size that is easy to see and understand.
- Follow this image credit template unless it has to be modified specifically because of the image owner’s required terms and conditions for the given image you would like to use:
[Image owner’s name] [Title of work] [Date of creation] [Link to the image owner/ source] Example: Photographer Penny, “Rockefeller Center”, 2021, via www.pennyphotos.co.uk
An image credit example from a Pixsy article
Image credit rules of popular platforms
Once again, whatever site policies and image crediting recommendations you may run into online, it’s advised to always contact the image owner and ask for their permission to use the image (unless you share something you created). Naturally, on some platforms, i.e., social media sites, where millions of pictures are in circulation without image credits, this can be extremely difficult — but that only raises the importance of the matter.
1. Image credit rules of Facebook and Instagram
Facebook and Instagram have the exact same copyright policy due to the fact that both are owned by Facebook. While stock sites, for example, as a collection of images have the intent to either only showcase images or help them get sold, Facebook and Instagram focus on (social) sharing which brings its own challenges when it comes to the practice of image crediting.
The basic rules of Facebook and Instagram to avoid image crediting issues:
- You can only post content to these platforms that don’t violate anybody’s intellectual property right or copyright.
- Only post images or other works (e.g., text or audio, too) that you created as it’s fairly easy to walk into copyright issues with other types of content on these platforms.
Common image crediting misbeliefs in social media:
- You think you modified or added your own original material to the work to a “sufficient” extent so it wouldn’t count as copyright infringement — FALSE.
- Found the content “available on the internet” and posted it thinking that if it wasn’t credited there, you don’t have to do it either — FALSE.
- You saw that others posted the same content as well and believed it was all right for you to do the same, without thinking of any possible legal requirements — FALSE.
- You believe if you embed the post into your site, without actually hosting the image, that you are protected — FALSE.
A recent court case found that the website is still liable for copyright infringement when embedding without the creator’s permission. Instagram also updated their Terms and Conditions to require the embedder to have the creator’s permission and/or a license before embedding a post.
Due to the nature of social media sites, it’s advised to give image credit to image owners the same way you would do it anywhere else which is following what they asked for on their platforms.
In addition, you can use the extra functions provided by these platforms, tagging the image owner with the @ symbol if they are present there but that should be a plus. On the other hand, if the image was originally posted on the artist’s Facebook profile or Instagram account, a tagging may be all you need — after asking for permission and discussing the image owner’s wishes before posting.
Example of sharing the work of photographer Greta Do and tagging her in an Instagram post by The Female Photographers Network
2. Image credit rules of GIPHY
GIFs, as part of today’s meme culture, have the potential to go viral and with that, lose image credits along the way (if they had any to begin with). However, let’s state it first and foremost: yes, GIFs are subject to copyright as well. On the other hand, as Lexology points out, they are actually not always 100% original work but contain “snippets of existing copyright material (e.g., a short sequence from a film or similar motion video)” — in fact, the most popular GIFs do.
Therefore, GIFs certainly present a unique problem regarding their creator who works with unlicensed material and the person who shares the GIF, not being authorized to do so. This means that currently, the legality of using GIFs is still not a clear issue.
GIPHY, as the world’s first and largest GIF search engine, home to more than 10 million GIFs, stickers and animated content, acknowledges this the following way in their community guidelines:
- “Credit the Community”: a guideline to use GIPHY’s share tools to give credit to the original creator of the work
- “Sharing”: highlighting the importance of properly sharing and embedding GIFs on blogs and social media accounts, being aware that the use complies with “any laws applicable where you’re located”
Illustration: via GIPHY
It can also happen that a GIF gets uploaded on GIPHY’s platform that is already a clear subject of copyright infringement — in that case, GIPHY acts in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
3. Image credit rules of WordPress
WordPress, first and foremost acts as a blog engine that helps people share their own work, yet, creators can easily turn into image users on the platform if they wish to use illustrations for their posts.
For such cases, WordPress has a “Prevent Content Theft” section where they encourage content producers to include a clear copyright notice on their site with a full name, a site name and the current year, plus a statement of rights that they advise to put in the sidebar or footer. Besides they follow the DMCA process to protect images.
Other than that, WordPress advises to first ask for the permission of the image owner to use their content and then, according to the general practice, placing the image credit beneath the image, stating the name of the creator with a link to the source if possible. Nevertheless, in the first place, don’t forget to comply with the image licensing rules of the image owner and the image source itself when phrasing the attribution.
It’s good to know that in the WordPress editor, content creators are now specifically prompted to give image credits. When a user uploads an image to a post, below it a “Write a caption” title will appear — this is a perfect placement for image credits.
The “Write caption” prompt in the WordPress editor — Photo by Nathan Lemon
4. Image credit rules of Flickr
Flickr supports a total of 11 image license types from “All Rights Reserved” to “No known copyright restrictions”.
Photographers usually praise Flickr as its default license setting of uploaded images is “All Rights Reserved”. This means, even if the creator forgets about this option when sharing their picture on the platform, they will be able to easily defend their work if any legal problems would occur later as they never gave permission for use in the first place (“just” by sharing it).
As an image user, make sure to check what license to follow for the Flickr image you would like to use and make sure to give credits accordingly. Besides “All Rights Reserved” (where you cannot use the creator’s image without their explicit permission), you’ll see that Flickr’s system relies on the CC licenses, e.g., the “Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)” which says:
“You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.”
Appropriate Flickr image crediting, in this case, means providing:
- Name of the creator and attribution parties
- Title of the material
- Copyright notice
- License notice
- Disclaimer notice
- Link to the material
5. Image credit rules of Unsplash
To look at a different example or the other end of the spectrum, there’s Unsplash, “the internet’s source of freely-usable images”, where you can download and use all photos for free, even for commercial and non-commercial purposes and without any permission needed.
With that said, there are permitted actions for photos found on Unsplash as well:
- You cannot sell photos: learn more here
- You cannot compile photos to replicate a similar or competing service
Furthermore, although attribution is not required, as discussed, it’s always nice to give credit to the photographer and Unsplash provides a concrete example as well: “Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash”.
How to give attribution — Unsplash License
When a user clicks on the “Download free” button next to a photograph, they’re even prompted to give a shout-out to the creator or copy the image credit text already written for them which they can paste to the platform where they will use the picture.
“Say thanks” pop-up for a photo by Jeremy Bishop
+1: How do you give credit to Google or Pinterest images?
If you want to use an image you found on Google or Pinterest, it’s important to know that simply referring to Google or Pinterest as the source, will not be satisfactory. Google is a search engine and although Pinterest is mostly perceived as a social platform, it also shares a similar functionality.
Therefore, none of these can be accepted and signaled as the original source of an image and you must track the actual creator and/or owner to get their permission. As with other platforms, if you cannot find the person, don’t gamble: find another image that you can properly credit.
Google’s “copyright alert” in an image search
Image credits: ask for permission, follow the rules
The easiest way to give image credit would be if it wasn’t needed at all because you purchased the work of the image owner and are free to use it. However, even in some of those cases, the scope of use could be limited, depending on the arrangement.
All in all, giving image credit as an image user must always start with asking for the owner’s permission and following the image crediting rules they set for the given work.
For more practical tips and advice around copyright, visit the Pixsy Academy and learn about your rights as a visual property user.