Crediting Images at an Author Website

Colorful collage featuring dozens of photographs

Your author website probably has a nice banner image, and if you blog, you probably look online for eye-catching artwork to illustrate or decorate your posts or pages. Maybe your About page features a professional headshot or images from book signings or other events. When you borrow images from another creator, whether you found them in printed form, online, or crumpled in your mother’s coat pocket, there will be times when you’re obliged to acknowledge that the work isn’t yours.

In printed books, such credits can appear in captions, footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies. Sometimes credits are gathered on the copyright page or in a list of illustrations. But those options weren’t exactly invented with your website vibe in mind. Here, I’ll explain how you can easily adapt several of these traditional crediting methods for website use.

Do We Really Have to Credit?

Not always! The internet offers a virtually unlimited supply of free images that require no acknowledgment, and their creators will tell you so. (It’s classy to give credit and link to the original anyway.)

But as a creative artist yourself, you can understand that many works are out there for sale or hire and require attribution. So check for usage rights anytime you grab an online image to post at your site. If you pay for or commission professional artwork or photography, the fine print or contract should spell out your obligations and whether a credit is required.

Why to check the fine print:

  • The same artwork might be cost-free and rights-free for posting at your blog but require payment or permission for other uses, such as in advertising or for publishing in a book.
  • Some art is free to use but not to modify in any way, such as using only a portion of the image, adding a color filter, or laying type over it.

If you know in advance that you’re only interested in rights-free images or images you can edit for your own purposes, you can narrow your search from the get-go. Many image search platforms allow you to specify the rights you’re looking for.

Screenshots from CC Search and Google Image Search

CC Search (from the Creative Commons; top) and Google Images (bottom) allow users to filter results by usage rights.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

There are various ways you can position credits without spoiling the aesthetic of your site or getting in your readers’ way.

Captions

Most blogging platforms allow you to type a caption into a box at the base of a photo like the one just above—an efficient way to combine an image description and its source.

For images that are purely decorative, however, like the one at the top of this post, a caption would be intrusive and unattractive. Even in the body of a post, the style for captioning in your website template may be ugly and limited, and perhaps you don’t have the coding skills to override the template. In that case, skip the built-in captioning and go to the next option.

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If you don’t display a caption or credit, be sure to attach alternative text to the image for the visually impaired. Alt text isn’t visible but is readable by text-to-speech tools, and it’s easy to add. (See CMOS 3.28 for more on accessibility.)

Text mentions

A credit doesn’t have to be a footnote-style citation. An easy way to identify an image and give the creator credit is to incorporate it into a sentence. Just tell what it is and where you got it, letting the link to your online source do the heavy lifting:

In researching the historical background for my novel, I came across the thrilling US Navy recruitment poster “Man the Guns” by McClelland Barclay in the National Archives collections, which I describe in the scene where the three boys enlist.

To illustrate my memoir, I used several photo collages, which you can make easily with various apps. I liked the way Simon Steinberger did it in this image I found on Pixabay, with thin white borders.

If the credit info is complicated and bogs down your sentence, however, there are better choices.

Source notes

If you don’t want to clutter your text or images with fine-print verbiage, put your source notes at the bottom of the post (as I’ve done today). You can list them under a thin rule or set them off by color or type size, in a box, or in any way that suits your theme. Use a heading if you like: Sources, Photo Credits, etc.

Examples of wording for credits:

Photo by Marco Verch (adapted for post), licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Cartoon: “Punctuation Party,” by Hilary B. Price. Rhymes with Orange © 2015. Distributed by King Features Syndicate Inc., Hearst Holdings Inc. Used with permission.

Treasure 013-1 by leigh49137 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Photos: (top) Lewis Minor, Synchronized Identical Twin Fencing, licensed under CC BY 2.0; (bottom) George Arents Collection, Exercises for Men: Falling Astride, New York Public Library Digital Collections.

For more examples of how to word credit lines, see CMOS 3.29–37.

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Many image downloads include a credit line and a preferred URL on the download page. All you have to do is copy it. It’s fine to change punctuation and the order of the elements to be consistent with your other credits. It’s standard practice to embed a link instead of writing out the URL.

Download page at Wikimedia Commons showing how to word a credit. (Background by Sven Damerow, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.)

More notes on source notes:

  • If there’s more than one photo on your page, identify each by position (top, bottom) or by description (butterfly, photo collage).
  • You can run all the notes into a single paragraph (as in the last example above), or start each note on a new line.
  • When a photo is titled, Chicago style puts the title in italics.
  • If you’re sure it’s OK to edit, crop, or alter an image you buy or borrow and you do choose to modify it, mention in the credit that the image was altered. See the first example in the list above.

Credits page

A final option is to load all your credits onto a single web page, but first consider whether anyone will actually see them, and ask yourself how important it is to you to acknowledge your borrowings transparently. If your site requires a lot of crediting and its top menu isn’t already crowded, you could add an item called Photo Credits. Otherwise, it’s a bit weaselly to banish the credits to a page that’s virtually hidden.

Links

When you embed an image on your page, readers are bound to click on it. (You know you do.) In each case, you can decide what you want to happen. One choice is for the image to open in a separate view at its original size. This is helpful if the image is detailed and hard to read without enlarging.

You can also choose to link the image to any linkable destination—ideally, to its online source. Linking out to the source is another form of crediting and a nice courtesy if you aren’t naming the source elsewhere. The disadvantage is that it takes the reader away from your page.

Avoid linking to anything of little further use to your readers. If a link leads to a paywall, either skip it or give a warning. Always consider whether the external materials are important enough to your message to justify sending readers elsewhere.

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Many download sites include a donation option, so while you’re at it, consider sending a few bucks to the creator.

Permission versus Credit

Permissions and credits are two different things. A borrower of a copyrighted image acknowledges it by giving credit. If the borrowing exceeds fair use, the borrower must also seek permission from the copyright holder, who in turn may ask for a fee and for specific credit language.

Exceptions: Permission isn’t needed for works in the public domain, and permission is implied when you pay for an image or borrow it under a Creative Commons license. Even so, credit should be given. To acknowledge Creative Commons sources, write “Licensed under CC . . .” and link to the license, per the CC guidelines. (Read more about Creative Commons licenses at CMOS 4.62.)

Author websites are subject to the same rules and courtesies as any published works, so if you’re fuzzy on the concepts, read more about public domain and copyright—and fair use in particular—at CMOS 4.90 or here at Shop Talk. Read about works made for hire at CMOS 4.10.

If You Go Wrong

Credit and permission issues are confusing, and there are a lot of gray areas, but there’s no need to be intimidated or avoid borrowing from the trove of images available online. Just pay attention at the sites you borrow from and do your best to follow any requirements and requests. If someone challenges an image you posted at your site, simply apologize and make the requested changes or take it down. Any time you sense that you’re wading beyond fair use, consider getting legal advice. (Which this isn’t, I should add.)


Photo collage by Simon Steinberger from Pixabay.

Fiction+ posts at Shop Talk reflect the opinions of its authors and not necessarily those of The Chicago Manual of Style or the University of Chicago Press.

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Carol SallerCarol Saller, The Subversive Copy Editor, 2nd editionCarol Saller’s books include The Subversive Copy Editor and the young adult novel Eddie’s War. You can find Carol online at Twitter (@SubvCopyEd) and at www.carolsaller.com.

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