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Finding Images: Citing and attributing images

Information on finding images in library databases and the open web, and finding Copyright Free and Creative Commons licensed images.

Attribution vs citation

The words "attribution" and "citation" are sometimes used interchangeably. However, with digital images, the words can have slightly different meanings.


  • Attribution: Establishing a particular person as the creator of a work of art and giving them credit for the work, as required by copyright law.
    • All Creative Commons licences require some form of attribution.
    • You would attribute an image used in presentations, posters, or other formats that don't require any specific academic citation style.
    • At a minimum, this usually means providing the creator's name and title of the work (if there is one) and the licence type.
    • If you're reproducing an original photograph of an artwork, it's important to acknowledge the artist as copyright owner of the work, and also credit the photographer (if possible).


  • Citation: Referencing the work of another within a scholarly context, as required by your assessment and copyright law.
    • Citing images is important for academic integrity (to avoid plagiarism), as well as to abide by copyright law. A citation is a specific type of attribution.
    • If you are writing an academic paper, and use an image to support an idea, then cite that image according to the citation style required by your assessment (e.g. Chicago, APA 7th etc).
    • Information about how to cite images can be found on the Citing and Referencing Guide.

Which images should I attribute or cite?

  • All images, diagrams and artistic works you plan to use in a scholarly work should be citedThis includes images that are from the web or scanned from a print source.
  • All images you plan to use in a web page, public document or presentation should be attributed to the creator/copyright holder of the work. Do not attribute an image simply to Google or Flickr - if the image is not public domain or Creative Commons licensed, you have to find the copyright holder and ask permission (for use outside of education).
  • Images from royalty free clip art resources, such as the clip art available in Microsoft Word or Power Point, do not need to be cited.
  • Works in the public domain technically do not need to be cited either, but doing so can help your readers find the original work.

Attributing Creative Commons images

All Creative Commons licences require attribution. There is no single correct way of attribution, as long as your attribution is reasonable, clear, and suited to the medium you're working with. You can list the licence name in full, use an abbreviation, or use an icon button.

Best practice attribution is:

[Title of image] by [name of creator] is licensed under [type of licence]. [URL or source].

If you have modified or adapted the original, that should be noted too.

You can download the creative commons licence buttons to indicate the licence or use ImageCoder which will generate the html code required to insert the image of the required buttons and attribution.

For more information see:

Examples of Creative Commons image attribution

Kenroku-en Garden, Kanazawa, Japan. CC0 - “No Rights Reserved” Source: The Coffee Travel book.

"Creative Commons 10th Birthday Celebration San Francisco" by Timothy Vollmer is licensed under CC BY 4.0