Attributing Creative Commons Content

posted in: "How To" Guides | 2

We are living a golden age of freely available and open content for you to reuse in your design projects. Photos, audio, PDFs, H5P, videos galore! But are you giving credit where credit is due? Are you reusing this content ethically and legally? Are you unsure?

Just because it’s available on the internet doesn’t mean it’s free to reuse as you wish. Unless your media of choice is clearly labeled as public domain or CC 0, you should be giving full attribution and following the terms that the creator has set for reuse. Don’t fall into the Fair Use trap. Very often, Fair Use is just an excuse to use media however you want.

In today’s post, I’m going to give you a quick overview of how to properly attribute Creative Commons content. I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of remixing content, those are posts for another day.

Lots of creators, myself included, are happy to share their work under a Creative Commons license but we still retain full copyright to the work, which means that if you use someone’s work in a way that the license doesn’t allow, you could be held legally responsible. Plus, it’s just kind to reuse media ethically!

If you are not familiar, Creative Commons is an international nonprofit organization that maintains a set of licenses that anyone can assign to their work to make it open and reusable by others.

In the United States, content creators automatically hold copyright to their own work, with no need to register with the U.S. Copyright Office or to label their work accordingly. Copyright, at its most simplistic, is exactly what it sounds like – the right to control copies made of the work. Any creator has the right to assign a Creative Commons license to their own work, which proactively notifies potential users of how they may or may not reuse it. No matter what kind of Creative Commons license a creator assigns to their work, the creator still retains copyright. That means that if a creator discovers someone reusing their work in a way not allowed by the license, they could take them to court and sue. 

This may not be a big deal to you if you’re reusing content on a minor level, but if you are producing content for a public institution, or for a corporation, you are likely opening your client or employer to major legal problems without even knowing it.

How to Fully Attribute CC-Licensed Work

All Creative Commons licenses mandate attribution. It’s really simple to give full attribution to the creator of a work:

  1. Credit the creator
  2. State the title of the work
  3. List the Creative Commons license
  4. Link back to the source

Here’s how this works in practice. Say I want to reuse this sweet dinosaur picture:

Triceratops skull illustration
n448_w1150” by Flickr user BioDivLibrary, CC BY 2.0

I’ve already attributed it in full as a caption to the image, but let’s break it down:

  1. Creator: BioDivLibrary – this is the creator’s Flickr username, which is fine. I also linked to the user’s landing page on Flickr, which is really just a bonus, it’s not required.
  2. Title of the work: n448_w1150 – this is the filename on Flickr. There’s additional info in the description, but I usually use the filename.
  3. Creative Commons license: click “Some Rights Reserved” to see the full license assigned to this work by the creator. This one’s licensed Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0), just CC BY 2.0 for short.
  4. Link back to the source: because I’m using this image digitally, I just hyperlink the work title. If you click it, it takes you to the original file.

If I were to use this image in printed material, here’s how I would attribute it:

“n448_w1150” by Flickr user BioDivLibrary, CC BY 2.0.

Notice that in both formats I do include the platform, Flickr. 

That’s it! Creator, Title, License, Link. I also like to attribute any public domain work that I use, so that I remember where I got it and it’s OK to use, and also so that other people that see my work know they can reuse it.

Happy attributing!

2 Responses

  1. Erica

    Great post! What if you are adapting a CC work? Would it be the same but with “Adapted from” preceding the citation?

  2. Lindsay

    Yes! That’s what I would do. I would also make sure to mark your new, adapted work with its own title in case other people adapt or cite it.