How to Properly Use and Attribute a Creative Commons Photo

While you must obtain permission to use someone's copyrighted image, you can immediately use someone's Creative Commons photo- so long as you respect the stipulations its owner named in its license. Below we provide the basics of properly using and attributing Creative Commons images and provide some quick tips for utilizing pre-formatted or automatically-included attributions.

How to Attribute a Creative Commons Photo

Before we get into additional explanations and fast tricks, we'll give you the information you came for. To properly attribute a Creative Commons photo:

  1. Name the title (if given) and author of the work and the type of creative commons license used*
  2. Link the title and/or author name to the original work, and link the Creative Commons license name back to the designated Creative Commons license page**
  3. Include this linked attribution in close proximity to the photo***

*An example of this format would be: Awesome Cheetah by Simone Smith, CC-BY-2.0.

Heart Of The Storm

Heart of the Storm by JD HancockCC-BY-2.0
An example of a Creative Commons image attribution that closely adheres to best practices

**If a title is given to the work in addition to the creator's name, we recommend linking the title to the original work and the creator name to the individual's profile page.

***Disclosing Creative Commons licenses in a caption whenever possible is ideal; we do not recommend attributing them at the end of a page or post as people are less likely to see them and make a direct connection between an image and its creator.

Those who share their images with you deserve to be given proper and prominent credit!

For more details on properly attributing Creative Commons images, visit Creative Commons' guide to marking.

Why Do I Have to Attribute a Creative Commons Photo?

You might be wondering why you are required to go through so much trouble to attribute a photo that someone clearly wants to share. People give their photos Creative Commons licenses, which require attribution (and sometimes other conditions), because they want to maintain a certain level of control over how their images are used. Creative Commons license enable one to:

  • Get credit for one's work (this is demonstrated through the "BY" part of "CC-BY;" "BY stands for "attribution")
  • Get more coverage and traffic to one's work, as use of it requires a link back to the original content
  • Control whether or not one's work is altered  (this is demonstrated by the presence of a "ND" stipulation; "ND" stands for "no derivatives")
  • Control whether or not one's work us used for commercial purposes (this is demonstrated through the "NC" stipulation, which stands for "noncommercial")

Image creators who do not care about these controls give their images Public Domain licenses, which do not require any sort of attribution.

Where to Find Creative Commons Images that Come with Ready-Made Attribution Templates

Should you find it cumbersome to write out proper attribution for every image you use, we recommend sourcing Creative Commons images through Wikimedia Commons, which provides a helpful attribution template for every image. Wikimedia Commons Image Options To avail yourself of this template (and Wikimedia Commons' magnificent database of images):

  1. Visit Wikimedia Commons
  2. Search for an image subject (e.g. "blue whale") using the search box near the top right corner of the main page
  3. Select an image from results
  4. Click on the "Use this file on the web" option to the top or right of the image (it is accompanied by a globe icon)
  5. Copy the attribution text
  6. Add a link to the page URL from the image creator's name
  7. Remove the URL of the license type(s) and add them as links for each license name

You can also just copy the HTML, however we don't like that the format includes attribution in the form of a tooltip (the attribution is incorporated into the title tag) and not presented as a caption.

WordPress Plugins for Creative Common Images

Should you use WordPress, you're in luck. There are a couple of plugins that make it easy to add attributions to Creative Commons images used in pages and posts. PhotoDropper is our favorite tool easily attributing Creative Commons images within a WordPress site as it:

  • Makes it possible to search for Creative Commons and Public Domain photos from a wide variety of sources within a post or page editor
  • Automatically ads full license disclosure (linked attributions, license type, etc.) and gives you control over where the attribution is placed (we strongly recommend keeping attributions as captions- people are less likely to notice attributions at the bottom of a page)
  • Provides an easy-to-use and attractive broswing interface
  • Automatically filters out Creative Commons images with a noncommercial stipulation if your site has commercial uses

Unfortunately, Photodropper does not include license type in its attribution information- only a link to the image creator- so we don't consider it to be a stand-alone solution, and still recommend adding additional information about the license.

Flickr - Pick a Picture also enables you to search for and incorporate Creative Commons images into your work that specifically hail from Flickr. Alas, with this plugin as well, the attribution that is automatically applied to the images does not name the Creative Commons license that was applied to the image; only the name of the image's owner is provided.

Attribution 2000 enables you to input attribution information and select a license type for a Creative Commons image directly from the WordPress media editor, but we do not recommend using it for two reasons:

  • The attributions are displayed as "Sources" at the end of the page- many people won't see them and assume you created the photos you used
  • The plugin does not work well with WordPress' newer media selection window