Creative Commons Licenses

Citation vs. Attribution

Sometimes, the terms "attribution" and "citation" are used as synonyms. However, when discussing copyright licensing, the two terms have different meanings.

Citation is a system used by scholars and researchers to acknowledge the books, journal articles, and other sources they consulted to construct their arguments and to provide context to their own research. Citing sources also provides information for readers to track down the materials used by an author of a particular work. Most disciplines follow citation styles, such as the American Psychological Association (APA) Style or the Modern Languages Association (MLA) Style, which have specific instructions on how to cite types of materials.

Attribution is giving credit to copyright holders of materials such as images, videos, audio files, and other creative works according to the terms of their copyright license. There are no prescribed styles for attributing as there are for citing materials.

Best Practices

There is no one system of attribution, but there are best practices to provide guidance on how to create attributions.

1).   All Creative Commons licenses require attribution, or giving credit to the licensor.

      Attributions should include:

  • Any copyright notice supplied by the licensor
  • The licensor(s) name(s)
  • The title of the work (not the website)
  • The URL for the work (for online material)
  • The type of Creative Commons license and its specific URL

      Other information you may want to include in an attribution are:

  • The date the work was completed
  • The date the work was retrieved
  • The URL for the website where the work is housed

2).   If the creator/licensor has special terms regarding attributions to their work, adhere to their instructions. For example, if the creator wants an attribution worded a certain way, make sure those wishes are followed.                  

3).   If you change a work in any way, you have created an adaptation, or a derivative work. Any attribution to the original work must acknowledge that the new work is a derivative, through phrasing such as "This work is a derivative of..." or "This work is based on...."

4).    Be consistent in how you format attributions in a work. For example, if you used several Creative Commons licensed images in a presentation, you should format the attributions the same way.

For more information, see the Creative Commons' recommendations on attribution.