Doing the right thing isn’t just about paying for images – it’s also about making sure creators are correctly credited for their work. In most cases, if you’re using an image, you’re legally required to attribute it, and failing to do so may lead to legal proceedings. Luckily, image attribution is quite straightforward; read on to find out exactly how to do it.
Attributing Creative Commons images
Unless you’re using an image that has been published under a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, attribution is a legal requirement. The Creative Commons (CC) framework defines attribution as giving “appropriate credit,” which some people mistakenly believe is open to interpretation. In fact, what CC means is TASL, a simple and flexible method that accounts for the requirements of the various CC licenses.
To make sure images are correctly attributed, include the following details and make sure they are clearly displayed by the relevant image (ideally directly underneath):
- 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 relevant license.
According to Creative Commons, an ideal example of TASL would be:
Here are some helpful hints for correctly attributing a Creative Commons image:
- Make sure you do the work to attribute images per the TASL method, including sourcing missing information if necessary.
- Where there are multiple creators, each should be listed.
- Only substitute a username or handle if the creator’s full name is not available.
- If there’s any doubt as to how the creator(s) should be credited, get in contact with the copyright owner.
- Make sure the attribution is fully visible. If it’s not possible to determine the license type and/or ownership of the image, you have not correctly attributed it.
- For images under CC 4.0 licenses, including the title is not mandatory.
- Our article includes full details on how to use Creative Commons images.
- This page details best practice examples for attributing under Creative Commons.
Attributing modification to Creative Commons images
Some Creative Commons licenses permit you to make modifications to an image. Before you do anything, check that modifications are permitted under the conditions of the license. If you do make any changes to an original image, it is important that the changes are referenced in the attribution, both to protect the original work and disassociate the creator from further derivative works.Here’s an example of how to detail modifications:
Attributing a Creative Commons image when the owner cannot be identified
You might come across Creative Commons images that have no clear link to their creator or license type. Publishing an image without identifying the creator immediately breaches the terms of a Creative Commons license (unless it's CC0). If there is no clear link to the creator or license type of an image – just don’t use it.
Attributing outside of Creative Commons
Outside of Creative Commons, images should be attributed to their creator as per the license agreement under which they were procured. Attribution can take a variety of forms, and it’s standard practice for it to be negotiated into any licensing agreement as part of the work’s usage terms.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.
- If attribution of is part of an image’s licensing terms, it is a legal requirement.
- Follow the TASL (Title Author Source License) attribution method for Creative Commons images.
- Read and link to the relevant license terms when using CC images.
- Do not use an image if you can’t trace the owner and/or CC license type.
- If you modify an image under an appropriate CC license, note how it was modified in the attribution.
- Be sure to formally agree on attribution terms (if any) when procuring images.