Copyright Corner: Attribution

by Roxanne MacMillan on 2022-09-26T08:30:00-03:00 in Copyright, Copyright Corner, Images, Publishing | 0 Comments

In our previous Copyright Corner post, we discussed the importance of citation and promised to address copyright attribution. This post might have left you wondering....

Aren't citation and attribution the same thing?

Citation and attribution are closely related terms, often used interchangeably. In fact, academic citation is a form of attribution, used to acknowledge the author(s) of a work from which you have quoted or paraphrased a small amount of content.

But you may have to provide attribution to an author or copyright owner in a different (or additional) way if:

  • it is legally required by the terms of an open license,
  • the terms of use (website or other) specify how attribution should be given, or
  • you are asked to do so when you receive permission to use or adapt a copyright-protected resource.

Open licenses

Copyright owners can apply open licenses to their work to give permission to use or adapt as the license specifies. Open licenses may be used for any type of resource, including:

  • Artistic works, such as photographs
  • Clinical tools and informational materials
  • Open educational resources, such as online courses and textbooks
  • Databases/datasets

The best-known open licensing system is Creative Commons, which we have discussed in a previous blog post. The minimum requirement of each of the six types of licenses is attribution.

Attribution statements for open-licensed resources should include the title of the work, the name of the author/creator, and the license type, with hyperlinks to each where applicable (Aesoph, n.d.).

Note that although there is no legal requirement to give attribution to the author(s) of a Public Domain or CC0-dedicated resource, it is good practice to do so. Not only does this acknowledge someone else's work, it also tells your readers where to find the original (Kat, 2015).

You can find examples of Creative Commons attribution styles on their Best practices for attribution page. Also useful is Open Washington’s Open Attribution Builder, which allows you to enter information about a resource to generate an attribution statement.

Terms of use

Sometimes, the creators of a website or other resource will explicitly tell you how to attribute their content. Look for language such as:

  • Terms of use
  • Terms and conditions, or
  • Copyright

in the fine print at the bottom/footer of webpages.

These terms should be interpreted as a legal agreement between you and the copyright owner (ContractsCounsel, nd.). Failure to comply could lead to a take-down request or even legal action against you or your employer.

For example, the Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network (AURIN) (n.d.) specifies:


When you request permission to use a copyright-protected resource, the copyright owner may say yes on the condition that you provide attribution in a specific way. Sometimes, they will just ask you to provide a citation, but quite often they will require you to use attribution terminology such as:

  • Adapted with permission from ...., or
  • Used with permission from ....

We will discuss the permissions process in depth in the next Copyright Corner post. For now, when you request permission, it is always a good idea to ask the copyright owner if they have any conditions for how the work can be used, including how it should be attributed.

A few things to note

The differences between citation and attribution are subtle. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Attribution is generally a condition of permission to use all or part of a resource (Aesoph, n.d.)
  • Attribution statements, particularly for images and figures, are usually placed on the same page as the resource, rather than in a reference list (Aesoph, n.d.)
  • If you are quoting from or paraphrasing part of a resource and want to direct your readers to your reference list with in-text citations, you may choose to provide both an attribution statement AND a reference.

You can read more about this and other copyright topics in our Copyright subject guide. If you have questions, you can book a consultation with a library team member or email us at copyright@nshealth.ca.


Some information is adapted from Self-Publishing Guide by L.M. Aesoph, published by BCcampus Open Education and used under the conditions of a CC BY 4.0 International License.


1. Aesoph, L.M. (n.d.). Self-Publishing Guide. BCcampus Open Education. https://opentextbc.ca/selfpublishguide/

2. Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network (AURIN). (2022, July 1). Copyright and attribution. https://aurin.org.au/legal/copyright-and-attribution/

3. ContractsCounsel (n.d.). Website terms and conditions. https://www.contractscounsel.com/t/us/website-terms-and-conditions

4. Kat (2015, February 25). Why Creative Commons uses CC0 [blog post]. Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/2015/02/25/why-creative-commons-uses-cc0/

Roxanne MacMillan

Librarian Educator
Central Zone

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