How to Attribute a Creative Commons Licensed Work

Two Parts:Understanding Creative CommonsMaking the Attribution

Millions of works around the world are protected by Creative Commons licenses (like all of the content and images on wikiHow). Since it's always your responsibility to credit the creator of any content that you source, its a good idea to be familiar with the ways to attribute works licensed under Creative Commons protections.

Part 1
Understanding Creative Commons

  1. Image titled Attribute a Creative Commons Licensed Work Step 1
    Keep intact any copyright notices for the Creative Commons licensed work. When a work is licensed under Creative Commons, that is not the same thing as saying that a work is in the public domain. A work licensed under Creative Commons is still subject to all copyright protections that aren't specifically waived through the Creative Commons licensing process. Therefore, if you see a © symbol along with a date and an author, you need to indicate who wrote the work and when it was copyrighted.
    • For example, a work in the public domain is released to the public--and any member of the public can reproduce it or alter it as they wish. The Bible is a work in the public domain. Anyone can reproduce, alter, and/or sell any number of Bibles they wish to alter or reproduce. [1]
  2. Image titled Attribute a Creative Commons Licensed Work Step 2
    Determine what type of Creative Commons License protects the work. Creative Commons is an organization that provides free copyright licenses to the public. The Creative Commons licenses allow the creator the ability to choose how much or how little of the work will be protected under the license, and in what way it will be protected. As such, there are different levels of licensing depending on the creators needs.[2]
    • Once you've located the copyright, a set of Creative Commons "buttons" should be lurking very close by. There are four basic protections that Creative Commons offers: attribution, share-alike, no-derivatives , and non-commercial. You can view pictures of the buttons and descriptions of the protections they offer at
  3. Image titled Attribute a Creative Commons Licensed Work Step 3
    Determine how the license affects your use of the work. The basic license protections offer the licensor different levels of security while under use. Since the protections offered by the license protecting the work will affect the way you attribute it, you need to understand what the levels of protection mean.[3]
    • Attribution is the most basic protection. It only guarantees the licensor of the work the right to be named as its creator. All Creative Commons licenses offer attribution protection.
    • The "ShareAlike" gives any derivative works the same Creative Commons protections that govern the original. Therefore, if an original novel was licensed under Creative Commons, any fanfiction derived from the novel would be subject to the same protections as the novel.
    • A work protected by a "NoDerivs" button is available to be distributed just as the other two categories are. The added layer of protection indicates that a user may not make any derivative works--such as fanfiction--based on the original work at all.
    • The "Noncommercial" tag protects a work from being reused for commercial purposes.
    • All of the above protections can mixed and combined, except for the "NoDerivs" and the "ShareAlike" protections, which are mutually exclusive.

Part 2
Making the Attribution

  1. Image titled Attribute a Creative Commons Licensed Work Step 4
    Credit the author, licensor, and/or other parties (such as a wiki or journal) in the manner they specify. If a creator has a note attached to her work that says, “Please attribute Molly Kleinman as the creator of this work,” then attribute Molly Kleinman.[4]
    • If there is no note, but there is a copyright notice (see above), attribute the copyright holder named in the copyright notice.
    • If there is no note or copyright notice but there is a user name, check the creator’s profile to see if it specifies how to attribute the creator’s work. If it doesn’t, attribute the user name.
    • If there is no creator or author name of any kind, but there is a website (like wikiHow), attribute the website by name.
  2. Image titled Attribute a Creative Commons Licensed Work Step 5
    Use specific titles and links where possible. Include the following elements in most attributions:
    • The title of the work: If the work has a title, call it by name. If it doesn’t, you can just say “This work by Molly Kleinman…” or just “Untitled, by Molly Kleinman…”. Use whatever seems appropriate and makes it clear where the work originated from.[5]
    • The URL for the work if applicable: Link back to the original source of the work. It can be argued that this is the most important part of the attribution notice. It can help creators keep track of places where their work appears by seeing what links are driving traffic to their websites. It also gives users of your work an easy way to track down the original source. If you're reproducing a CC-licensed work in a print format, you might prefer not to include a long and ugly URL, and there might be situations where leaving out a URL is appropriate. But in general, the link is the most valuable part of the attribution.[6]
    • The URL for the Creative Commons license: Link to the license. The original work should have a link to the license under which it was released; link to the same place. You do not need to include the full text of the license when you reproduce a CC-licensed work.[7]
  3. Image titled Attribute a Creative Commons Licensed Work Step 6
    Use the Creative Commons license builder for easy generation of a standard attribution. There is a clear standard way to format the attribution of a CC-licensed work:
    • Go to
    • Click on the button "Choose A License."
    • Select the radio buttons that are appropriate for the license you need, fill in the lines that should be filled in, and then the button "Select A License" below. It will then display the full HTML that you should copy/paste to the page. The license image will appear on your page. As you fill in the license generator, there are blue help buttons that will explain each option as you go along.
    • If, for any reason, you can't access the creative commons site to generate a license, simply add the following: "© CC- (?) 2008 Molly Kleinman). The information to be added in place of (?) can be found in the article How to use a creative commons license.


  • The licenses do not require you to inform a creator that you are using her CC-licensed work, but it’s a nice thing to do where it's possible. Most people are very happy to learn that someone is using and building upon their creations; that’s why they use Creative Commons licenses in the first place.
  • Licenses are occasionally updated. For example, the CC Attribution 2.0 Generic has been updated to CC Attribution 3.0 Unported, and CC Attribution 4.0 is scheduled for release at the end of 2012. Although you still see the CC-BY attribution, the legal rights to use the license have changed. While you read CC-BY, the license is actually CC-BY 3.0, the 3.0 is not normally written because all CC-BY attributions must now conform to the 3.0 standards. While this is not a great big deal for most people, it is good to know in case the legal limitations change.

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Intellectual Property