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Image Citation Guide

Copyright and Creative Commons

Copyright Information

According to copyright law, every image on the internet is automatically copyrighted when it is created. This means that you cannot use just any image that you find on the internet. Often, but not always, a copyrighted image will be accompanied by the symbol below.

Copyright Symbol  All rights reserved: The image is not free to use. The owner reserves the right to this image.

Even if you do not see this symbol, you must assume an image is copyrighted by default.

Good News: Many creators allow their images to be used for free!

There are two ways to tell if the creator has given permission to use an image:

  1. Ask the creator for permission to use the image. This can be as simple as emailing them.
  2. Does the image have a creative commons designation?


Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that works to share creative works in an official, legally recognized capacity. Creators who want to share their work can use the following symbols to show others how their want their work to be used. They could choose one designation, or a combination of different designations.

Creative Commons Attribution Icon  Attribution: The image is free to use and alter, but you must give credit to the creator.

Creative Commons NonCommercial Icon  NonCommercial: The image is free to use and alter, but must not be used for business or profit.

Creative Commons NoDerivatives Icon  No Derivative Works: The image is free to use, but it cannot be altered or changed in any way.

Creative Commons Share Alike Icon  Share Alike: The image is free to use, but anything you create using this image must also be free to others.


Public Domain

Sometimes images are considered public domain (CC0 Creative Commons). A creator can choose for their work to be designated as public domain, or a work might become part of the public domain if an owner's copyright has expired, the owner failed to follow certain procedures, or the works are not eligible for copyright protection. Unless it is clearly stated, never assume that an image is part of the public domain.

Finding Free Images

Free Image Websites

Check out these websites for great places to find free images. The websites below allow you to search for images that have creative commons licenses or are designated by the photographer as free to use. Make sure you are filtering for creative commons or free images. Some of these websites also contain copyrighted images, so pay attention to the usage rights for each image.

Example of a image found on flickr's website. Point at arrow at the creative commons symbols, which indicate that this image needs Attribution, is NonCommercial, and allows no derivative works.

Take a look at the image above or open the page here for a closer look. This image has several creative commons conditions.

If you use this image on a website, you must give credit to the creator, do not use it for profit, and do not alter the image.


Google Search:Usage rights tool

You can find free images on Google, but you must filter how all the images that are copyrighted.


How to search Google Images. Step 1: Select Tools, Step 2: Select usage rights

Next, choose either Labled for reuse or Labled for noncommercial reuse. If you are using image for an educational assignment, either of these options will work. If you were searching for images to use for profit, you could only choose Labled for reuse.


Under usage rights tab, select either Labled for reuse or Labeled for noncommercial reuse.


This will show you images that are free to use. BUT, you still have to credit the creator of the image.

Citing an Image on a Website

To cite an image on a website, you will need to know the owner of the image and the website where it is hosted. If you use the free image websites, this information will be easy to find. You must also link the owner's name to the page where you found the image and link to the image website's homepage.



There is no standard for citing images on websites, but here are a few formatting options you could follow:

  • Image by _____ via _____
  • Imagecredit: _____ via _____
  • Source: _____ via ______

This text should generally be smaller than the regular text on your website and italicized.



Basset Hound Dog runningImage by Jelly Dude via flickr  Imagecredit: davidpwhelan via  MorgueFile  Source: OpenClipart-Vectors via Pixabay

In some cases it is difficult or impossible to add a citation underneath an image, such as when you use an image in the header of your website. In this case, add the citation to the footer of the webpage where the image appears.  

Steps to Use Images on a Website

Image of chocolate ice cream.Image by rhodesj via flickr

When searching for images, follow these steps:

  1. Go to a website that hosts free images, or search for images in Google using the usage rights filter.
  2. Make sure you are filtering for free images if the website hosts both free and copyrighted images.
  3. When you find an image, check the creative commons license. What does the creator allow you to do with the images? Do you have to credit the photographer/creator?
  4. Add the image to your website.
  5. Credit the creator using a line of text under the image, or the footer of the webpage where the image appears. Many images require you to give credit to the creator, and it is considered good practice even if it's not strictly required.

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