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Finding Media: Citing or Attributing

Learn where to look for no cost media to legally use in projects, presentations, advertising, and more.

Citation v. Attribution

You've probably written a paper for class where you had to create a bibliography to cite your sources, and you may be wondering if you need to cite media in the same way. Chances are, you'll probably need to make an attribution for the media you used rather than a citation, but it all depends on the purpose the source serves.

If the purpose of using media in a project is to visually enhance it, then you would give it an attribution. However, if you are using the piece of media to support an argument or provide evidence, then you need to cite the source both in text (if it is part of a written project) and in a works cited/bibliography/reference list.

Attribution

Whether a license requires attribution or not, as responsible information consumers, we should always attribute sources to the original creator. This allows other people to find the original work themselves and gives exposure to the creator.

A good attribution will always include:

  • The title of the piece
  • The creator of the piece (linked to their page if possible)
  • The source (where you found it - linked to the page if possible)
  • The Creative Commons license (if applicable - linked to the license page if possible)

If you don't know where to find that information, that's a great question to ask a librarian!

Here is an example of an image with a proper attribution:

A group of disabled queer Black folks talk and laugh at a sleepover, relaxing across two large beds. Everyone is dressed in colorful t-shirts and wearing a variety of sleep scarves, bonnets, and durags. On the left, two friends sit on one bed and paint each other’s nails. On the right, four people lounge on a bed: one person braids another’s hair while the third friend wearing a C-PAP mask laughs, and the fourth person looks up from their book. In the center, a bedside lamp illuminates the room in warm light while pill bottles adorn an end table.

"Sleepover" by Jonathan Soren Davidson for Disabled and Here is licensed under CC BY 4.0

If you have modified the original work in any way, created a derivative, or used multiple sources to create something, you'll need to include additional information in your attribution. The Creative Commons wiki page on "Best Practices for Attribution" goes into detail on the different attribution scenarios you might run into. Even if you are using public domain media or media under another type of free license, you can still use these as guidelines for attribution.

Where you decide to include your attribution will largely depend on the medium of your final product (a webpage, movie, etc...). Below are some suggestions of where you might include an attribution depending on your product's medium. Always remember that if your product is digital, it should link back to the creator, source, and license.

Digital Visual

  • Attribution can be on or underneath any images used or compiled on a list displayed somewhere on the visual.

Physical Visual

  • Attribution can be on or underneath any images used or compiled on a list displayed somewhere on the visual.

  • Additionally, you may consider publishing a webpage with the attribution information (in addition to attributing on the work) so others can easily find your sources.

Audio

  • Verbally recite attribution information as it occurs or at the end of the recording.

  • Additionally, you may consider publishing a webpage with the attribution information (in addition to the audible attribution) so others can easily find your sources.

Video

  • Media may be attributed on screen as it appears or in the credits of the video.
  • Additionally, you may consider publishing a webpage with the attribution information (in addition to the video attribution) so others can easily find your sources.

For examples and more recommendations on how to attribute various types of media, look at the "Attribution in Specific Media" heading on the Creative Commons best practices wiki.

Citation

If you've decided that you need to cite your source, the information you need to include and the format will depend on the citation style you are using. The links below from the Purdue Online Writing Lab provide examples of the most common types of audiovisual sources in the three most common citation styles.

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Attribution Resources