Source and Attribute Creative Commons Photos Like a Pro

Miss Manners will be the first to tell you that when someone gives you a gift, the proper response is a warm, enthusiastic, “thank you!” in writing. Did you know that when you accept the “gift” of a Creative Commons-licensed work such as a photo or illustration for use in your web projects, Miss Manners would endorse that same, warm, enthusiastic “thank you!” in the form of proper sourcing and attribution? Being a good citizen on the web means demonstrating proper behavior, at all events. Today, we’re going to share the wonder that is Creative Commons and your responsibilities for sourcing and attributing any material you may download there.

Creative Commons can be a goldmine of high-quality, free images, music, and media that you can download to use in your projects and even modify for your personal use — provided you select works with the appropriate license and attribute the source correctly.

An example nearby

We recently revamped, a site dedicated to helping users learn how to create their blog or website, inject their personal style, share content via social media, and a lot more. As part of revamping the content, we also changed the design, more closely aligning the overall look with, but with an edginess we like to call a “pinch of punk.”

How did we achieve our aesthetic? Properly-attributed images — free for use under Creative Commons — were a big help. Let’s look at an example. Here’s the image that graces the top of Get Going Fast, a checklist for power users who are setting up a new site. It’s a tight close up of a wristwatch, with an orange and blue slash of color:


Now, scroll down to the very bottom of the page, and you’ll see we’ve properly attributed the original photo to Navins, sourced it with the original link to its home on Flickr and listed the Creative Commons license under which Navins makes the photo available:

Header image based on “Titan Fast Track” by Navins, CC-BY-2.0.

Here’s the original photo by Navins:

CC-BY-2.0 is a Creative Commons license that allows users to “remix” or alter a work, creating what’s known as a derivative work. There are six different types of Creative Commons licenses, some of which prohibit use for commercial purposes and some of which prohibit derivative works or “remixing.” In a nutshell, here’s what the six licenses allow:

  • Attribution: you can remix images and use them commercially, as long as you credit the original. This is the loosest license.
  • Attribution-ShareAlike: you can remix images and use them commercially, as long as you give your new version the same license as the original. (If you often use images from Wikipedia, this is the license they use.)
  • Attribution-NoDerivs: you can use an image for any purpose, as long as it’s unchanged and credited.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial: you can remix images, must credit them, and can’t use them commercially.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike: you can remix images, but can’t use the commercially and must give the new version the same license as the original.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs: you can download and share the image but can’t remix, must credit it, and can’t use it commercially. This is the most restrictive license.

It’s very important to ensure that you understand the different license types and the requirements of each. The good news is that each license is written in plain language, making it easy to tell precisely what you’re allowed to do with any material it covers. (Note: many individual bloggers also give their work Creative Commons licenses, as do people who post images on sites like Flickr, so be sure to take a look before snagging images from other sites.)

Your mission, should you choose to accept it

In your next post on your blog, illustrate it with media from Creative Commons. Search Creative Commons, for an image, illustration, or video. Carefully note the type of license under which the material is made available be sure to attribute the source. Share your post in the comments!

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  1. I source images by looking for creative commons photos on flickr. I attribute with a link to the photo on flickr, a link to their profile (which I read to check whether they want a message to inform them that I’ve used their pic) and a link to the relevant license.


  2. Reblogged this on waywardspirit and commented:

    Do I have to leave sweet the comfort of kinder-ignorance?

    Wanna fight?



    Step one:
    Misery loves company.
    For community exposure, familiarity and support.

    Wishing I could just reblog everything else I don’t want to confront.

    Step two:
    Close eyes and forget about this.

    Remember this is how you felt about SEO, trapped- handles out of reach. Now SEO had become a fabulous fun rewarding puzzle. No relation to this though.

    Crediting photos: paperwork, work, hard, confusing, law-needs a lawyer… It will never be fun like SEO is!…
    Crediting Fotos, you suck!

    …Might want my work credited though..

    That would be awesome!
    your thoughts here… (optional)


    1. It’s not so bad! All the licenses have icons, so just look for the icon and then check out the CC license page to see what it stands for. Everything really *is* written in plain language to make it as painless as possible.


  3. Always very useful to know. I’ve started to use Picassa photo’s on my blog, it’s a great tool to aid to my blog pieces but definitely want to attribute correctly so thanks for the useful information.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I appreciate the break down of the six different types of Creative Commons licenses. I first learned about this site thru WordPress when I began blogging about 1 1/2 years ago, and I do credit my sources for photos and quotes. That comes from my years as a reporter. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is good information. I personally don’t mind if someone uses a photoshop image that I created and blogged, as long as they link back to it. I don’t do any of my work for profit, so all I expect is credit where credit’s due.


    1. It depends, but if the photo is licensed under Creative Commons, you’d need the written attribution. (Even if it’s not, a written attribution is nice to include – many readers won’t click on the photo, and would never know it originated elsewhere.)


  6. I agree.Good info. I re-tweeted a photo then tried to ask my source who the photographer was so I could give them credit. Never got an answer so I removed the photo.Going a bit further on this topic, does the photographer really have any legal rights? Do we have to write “all rights reserved” as well as the copyright sign?Some sights will remove an offender from a site if caught “stealing ” photos. Some people will download a photo to sell them on cards, or copy for a painting and make money for this – what are the repercussions for using a photo without permission? Is there really any legal protection for the photographer?Thank you.Will reblog this.


    1. In the United States, the law is that any creative work is copyrighted the moment it is created. The photographer does have the legal right to go to court over infringements, and the damages can go way up if the photographer had additionally registered the image with the US Copyright Office.

      For more details, like the appropriate use of copyright notices and symbols, there are resources on the Web you can review like the guide from the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP).


    2. Hi I am a pro photographer and a photographer has rights to ALL the images he or she captures, taking a photo from the net is copyright theft and you can be prosecuted. I get quite annoyed that peoole can come along and think that a image is om the net that you have a right to it, unless you have permission or the site owner states that he owns the images and gives you the right to use them. Copyright also covers, text, poems, stories anything that is created. I have found a few on my images, ones that I make my living from on sites, one guy was selling them as greeting cards. I reported it to his ISP and issued DMCA take down request. If he had come to me and asked then no problem but he stole my intellectual property and was making money from it. So Google DMCA and Rights of a Photographer and you will find your answer. The internet is not a free for all someone took time money and energy to produce images for you to enjoy. Everything you see on a website from text to images belong to someone. Unless you produced it, it ain’t yours.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I did check it out and in Canada photographs only became protected in November 2012.up until then they belonged to the company who bought them but now it is the photographer who owns them. Thanks for your comments.


      2. I can and have done sold the cooyright to my photographs to the person I have photographed for example weddings. But there international laws and cc makes people beleive that you can take anyones images and thats not true. Basicly who ever presses the shutter button holds the copyright.


  7. I always indicate for the original source of every image I use in my blog posts when I use a picture not from my work.
    The dangerous fact not using an image that its not ours, there are people who steal our writings! 😀 Several times I found my writings on online forums without even directing to the original writer which is me!


  8. When I post to my blog I use Demanta and give credit at the bottom listing the source, hope this is the right blogging etiquette!! I appreciate a response. Thank you!


  9. This image also has a Getty license link. When would you be required to buy the licence? If you’re making money off the image like putting it on a t-shirt? What about using it in a book trailer?


    1. As the photo has been licensed under a CC-BY-2.0 license (the link will take you to the details), you are free to modify the work, make *any* commercial use of the work (including putting it on t-shirts), and to display the work on the proviso that you *always* give attribution. As some people may be interested in using the work without attribution (it may not look so great to have a link and attribution line on that aforementioned t-shirt, for instance), the photographer has also made their image available to license via Getty Images, wherein paying a licensing fee would presumably waive the need to credit the author as per the terms of the Creative Commons license.

      As Krista highlights in her post, the beauty of Creative Commons is that you can apply as many or few restrictions on the use and reuse of your work as suits your needs. If you don’t want people to modify it, there’s a license for that; if you only want people to be able to use it in situations where they won’t profit from it (i.e. non-commercial), there’s a license for that, too.

      Hope that makes sense!


  10. Wow. Assuming if Zemanta is offered to us, then it must be okay to use it and its own captions and attributions are legal, could be really dangerous. Why would anyone but a photopro know this before reading this post? So I think I have about a half a thou photos to recaption or remove. Great. Wonder how on earth to find all the info . . . Great. Long night ahead . . .


    1. Yup, if you’re using Zemanta, you’re good to go. Zemanta pulls images from a pre-determined selection of sites, like Wikipedia, and credits them properly.


  11. Thanks so much. I’ve gone to stock photo sites and tried to make sense of exactly what I can or cannot do with their photos, then left with no images. And I can’t always try to take just the “right” picture with my own camera. This makes it much clearer – I’ve saved a link to this for future reference when I need a good image.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I have nothing against someone to show my photos on their website or blog but in that case they should to write that it´s my photo.
    There are blogs that people open exclusively to reblogging other people’s photos. I do not understand the point of these blogs.
    I have Creative Commons on my blog and my pages with photo.


  13. As a blogger and amateur photographer who writes and snaps under a Creative Commons BY-SA license, I fully agree with the text, and I confirm: we CCers love it when our work is spread, liked, reused, and people just give credit and say “thanks” when they reuse something. 🙂


  14. On Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike:
    I’m not clear on the last portion of the description the reads, “must give the new version the same license as the original.”
    Is this so the license holder can track use or to give them ownership that protects them from commercial use? It seems smart but I guess I’m confused-do I list the license number also?


    1. With a Share Alike license, you’re basically saying that you’re happy for people to use the work, so long as they license the new work under the same terms. Possible motivations for choosing this license include:

      – If your licensing is “non-commercial” in addition to “share alike”, you’re insisting that any re-use of the work is also non-commercial. You’re giving it away for nothing, but you expect others to do the same with any derivative works, rather than turning a profit from a work derived from yours. Anyone looking to make commercial use of the work who wants to copyright their own derivative work under different terms is out of luck (or needs to contact the license holder to discuss).

      – Share Alike helps spread the word about Creative Commons. You can only take if you give back in turn, and that’s important to some people.

      – In the case of attribution paired with share-alike, someone else can take the image so long as they credit it with the appropriate license information. This allows the original creator to be attributed down the line, as you say.

      The great thing about Creative Commons licenses is the flexibility you can apply to the licensing of your work, from Public Domain (do what you like!), to just attribution (do what you like, but credit me), to stipulating exact circumstances under which it’s ok for someone to use the work (or not).

      If the work you’re reproducing or building on has a “Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share-Alike” (abbreviated to CC BY-NC-SA) license, you’ll need to apply the same license to it on your site. You can do that in an image caption using the abbreviated or full license term, or else make use of the badges supplied by Creative Commons.