There are tons of sites out there with free graphics. You can find a bunch of these sites through freepik.com. It seems that 99% of these graphics use the CC Attribution 3.0 license. I'm wondering what the deal really is with these graphics, and the sites they are hosted on and their licences. I can understand if you are using someone's photo from Flickr or a free web template that you would put some attribution in the caption or footer. But when you are using one vector icon on a website or using a Photoshop pattern as a small part of some larger graphic... are people really expected to attribute that somewhere? I find it hard to imagine that people are carefully attributing things every time they use these graphics. Some of these graphics appear for download on multiple sites and they don't even attribute each other. How do I know that the CC license is real and not just a default license applied to every graphic on a particular site?

My real question is: in the context of using one or two different graphics from these free sites as minor elements in a web or graphic design, is it really necessary to attribute someone, and if so, how do I know who I should really attribute?

  • I suppose you could just have one small link in the footer that takes visitors to a page that contains all the attribution? That would be acceptable visually, but still a nuisance to set up. My issue is that it would be awesome if you could take advantage of these free graphics resources when you need to quickly grab an icon or texture or something, but the hassle of tracking down the attribution information and displaying it appropriately on a website or other work destroys the advantage of the work being free. If you are charging clients for your time you are better off buying stock art.
    – Moss
    Commented Feb 17, 2014 at 18:00
  • "If you are charging clients for your time you are better off buying stock art" = or creating it, but yes, that's absolutely correct. FYI, there are other types of freely licensed art other than CC. I actually agree that the CC license (tho a great idea) is not executed well and having to track down the requirement details of each CC license can be a rather big pain.
    – DA01
    Commented Feb 17, 2014 at 18:40
  • 1
    Generally, don't miss CC's Best Practices for attribution and their Detailed attribution comparison chart. Depending on source material, you may have many requirements.
    – user29318
    Commented Nov 8, 2014 at 7:09

4 Answers 4


It's absolutely necessary to attribute any third party graphics that your site utilizes as specified by the license agreement. Just because there might be other sites out there not properly attributing artwork doesn't make it okay at all. If the icon is so "basic" or "minor" that you think it's silly to give attribution, then consider just creating the artwork you require yourself.

Whether or not the site you're downloading the art from has the rights to distribute the files under a CC license is certainly a judgement call. Does the site look sketchy and contain stock artwork that you can find on more "legitimate" sites for a paid license? Probably best to avoid it. It's in your best interest to protect yourself in these cases, exercise due diligence to confirm the legitimacy of the license so that you have plausible deniability if any issues do crop up down the road.

The biggest re-assurance that you're safe to proceed is if the site lists the actual author (and even better, links to their personal web page). If you can trace the origin back to an actual person, the chances are better that the CC license is legitimate and not just ripped from another website.

  • Part of the question is "... how do I know who I should really attribute?", which I think is a valid point. If you find the same image on 5 different sites, and each say you must attribute it to them, What then? The actual "creator" may be none of these, and may have released the image for free use, or may not even allow it to be distributed at all. Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 18:45
  • @user15476 I addressed that in my second paragraph. A situation like you describe falls under the "probably best to avoid it" category
    – JohnB
    Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 19:51

The material is copyrighted. You can use it under the terms of the CC licence offered, you can negotiate with the copyright owner for a different license.

Or find another resource that has a license you're happy with. Or develop your own.

Either it's worth doing this right, or it isn't worth doing. Pick one.


If your main concern is not wanting to mess up your web design with bylines attached to every graphic, be aware that you generally have some flexibility with how you give attribution. In particular, you may be able to give attribution in HTML comments that don't actually show up on the page.

The full legal text of the international version of CC-BY-3.0 includes this description of the "BY" requirement (emphasis added):

If you distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform the Work or any Derivative Works or Collective Works, You must keep intact all copyright notices for the Work and give the Original Author credit reasonable to the medium or means You are utilizing by conveying the name (or pseudonym if applicable) of the Original Author if supplied; the title of the Work if supplied; to the extent reasonably practicable, the Uniform Resource Identifier, if any, that Licensor specifies to be associated with the Work, unless such URI does not refer to the copyright notice or licensing information for the Work; and in the case of a Derivative Work, a credit identifying the use of the Work in the Derivative Work (e.g., "French translation of the Work by Original Author," or "Screenplay based on original Work by Original Author"). Such credit may be implemented in any reasonable manner; provided, however, that in the case of a Derivative Work or Collective Work, at a minimum such credit will appear where any other comparable authorship credit appears and in a manner at least as prominent as such other comparable authorship credit.

The credit attribution has to be "reasonable" for the medium, but must be included in any comparable credits. In other words, if you have a footer or similar element on the webpage where you or your company as web designers are credited, then you should probably include credit for the graphics there:

Site design by Nifty-Doodle WebPages, with graphics from Cool CC Graphic Source and Other Cool CC Graphic Source.

However, if you don't have any comparable credit on the main page that implies ownership of the graphics, then I don't see anything wrong with putting the attribution in the source code.

However, do make an effort to verify that the images you're using are actually licensed as the site claims. At the very least, consider how much of a hassle it would be to re-do your design if the copyright holder issues a take-down request. Or an invoice for royalties.

  • Interesting thoughts. It seems like hiding stuff in the source code is not really better than leaving out credit altogether. I work for a company that puts their name in the footer anyway so I guess that is where credits would have to go. What's annoying about this is that the chance of a copyright holder finding their graphics being used without credit and getting upset is probably 1 in a million. In my opinion, if you want to share things like textures and icons online for free use you shouldn't care if you are credited or not. It's unreasonable to expect that.
    – Moss
    Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 23:46
  • 3
    @Moss You have to think about why people are sharing their work. If someone is sharing work with a CC-BY licence, they are hoping to get attention and respect for their work, to make a name for themselves, maybe connect with a potential clinic for custom work. If you're not willing to give that much to them, then only look for no-attribution licences. And yes, people do make reverse image searches to track down illicit use of their work.
    – AmeliaBR
    Commented Feb 16, 2014 at 16:39
  • As for credits in the source code, I agree it's a little wishy-washy. It's perfectly acceptable when using someone else's Javascript or other code, which is the case I'm most familiar with. After all, anyone who is going to examine or copy the code you used will end up seeing the credits. For images, however, people can copy the image file without looking at source code (or even knowing that such a thing exists), so a visible credit may be best. But again, the credit doesn't have to be right next to the logo.
    – AmeliaBR
    Commented Feb 16, 2014 at 16:45
  • I totally understand that people would want attribution for their photos or templates or icon packs. I have used and credited such things in the past. But for some things it really doesn't make sense. "Part of the background on the image of the 3rd slide at the top of this page came from coolfreevectors.com". Seriously? How would people reverse image search that? Or how would they find their icon if you used it in an icon font? I honestly don't think they would care anyway.
    – Moss
    Commented Feb 17, 2014 at 18:06
  • "I honestly don't think they would care anyway." If they wouldn't care, then they wouldn't have released their work under particular licensing conditions.
    – DA01
    Commented Feb 17, 2014 at 18:43

If the license says it should be attributed, I don't think it should be questionned if it should be attributed or not. These are the conditions and you are free to make your own visual if the conditions are not right for you. Then again, I am fairly sure that in common practice, a lot of people don't bother attributing even when the license requires it which doesn't mean that you should do the same. It is still not right or professional to use an image without attributing to the source when it's requested.

As for knowing if the license is real and not just a default license, I would guess that it is the site's responsibility to manage that information (and potentially, I would believe the responsability lies in the user who uploaded the image on the site since he has probably agreed to terms that says he is the creator of the image). It's always better to be careful. I've seen a Photoshop brush distributed on a CC license before and it originated from a vector image distributed by iStockPhoto.

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