To be extremely succinct:

How to credit imagery used on a business card or ballpoint pen?

Inspired by this question, I started to think:

How do you attribute and give credit, when you use images and resources that are Creative Commons, copyleft; are in the public domain or have variation of "free" licensing?

(Some of the answers to the above questions grazes that question but it is not really the main issue in that question).

How do you attribute - say -:

  • a background tiled image for web?
  • a background tiled image for print?

(the point here being tiny-weeny images)

  • an icon set web?
  • an icon set print?
  • To make it more fiddly: tiny images you might use for t-shirts, printed objects such as ballpoint pens, t-shirts, keyrings, letterheads?

For web; there seems to be divided between those who think that in the source code is fine and those who do not. For web you could make a link somewhere discreet that says "credits". This does not really work for print. If you enthusiastically stand on the shoulders of giants, and use what is legally yours to use, your printed leaflet would be bogged down in 6point text attributions.

(Yes, there are differences between countries; I am asking on a general note.)

Edit: I could add GNU licenses, but that is usually pretty straightforward, as it is mainly concerned with software, code, programming snippets, digital programmable objects etc.

  • For (larger) print, you could point readers to a single online page containing all the licensing information. This license file could also be made visible in your company's site. So while the attribution is not strictly in the product, it's mentioned somewhere accessible.
    – Yisela
    Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 0:15
  • +1 Either way you can not circumvent the obligation, either you credit or your no better than anybody stealing the work. The fact that it is inconvenient to you is of no conseqence. If you can not make it work reasonably then dont use the resource. Credit is the price you pay and it may be worse than paying money.
    – joojaa
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 15:56
  • More info.
    – user29318
    Commented Nov 8, 2014 at 7:11

6 Answers 6


I would always search the site for any attribution requirements or guidelines. In the absence of that, the The Noun Project has some clear and concise instructions for different forms of media that can be reliably used as a guideline:

How to Attribute This Icon

Digital Attribution

  • Websites - Include the attribution either on the page where the symbol is displayed, or in About or Credits pages.
  • Video - Include the attribution either on the page where the symbol is displayed, or in About or Credits pages.
  • Apps - Include the attribution either on the page where the symbol is displayed, or in About or Credits pages.

Print Atribution

  • Magazines - The attribution should be displayed either in the same article as the symbol, with the colophon, or at the back of the magazine.
  • Books - The attribution should be displayed either on the same page as the symbol, with the colophon, in the bibliography or Credits section.
  • Posters - The attribution should be displayed either on the same page as the symbol, with the colophon, in the bibliography or Credits section.

They also have a more general blurb in their FAQ about attribution:

What is the proper way to attribute CC BY icons?

Please list the attribution as specified by the designer in license.txt file included in the icon's file folder (this is the same file that holds the .svg and .png files for the icon). The designer’s attribution must be followed by “from The Noun Project collection” (either hyperlinked to thenounproject.com or with thenounproject.com written out) and should be listed next to or around the symbol in reference. See medium-specific attribution requirements for more information.

  • Example 1: “Tree” symbol by Joe Smith, from The Noun Project collection.
  • Example 2: “Tree” symbol by Joe Smith, from thenounproject.com collection.
  • Note that the Noun Project documentation fails to mention an important requirement: the attribution must also reference the license! I informed them about this some time ago, but they never replied. (By the way, the Stack Exchange network has the same problem.)
    – unor
    Commented Mar 29, 2015 at 15:53

For a business card, my recommendation would be

  • Use a URL-shortening service to create a short url for the webpage that is hosting the original graphic with full attribution.
  • Use small print on the card to give the short url with the credit.

Sample business card with fine-print attribution link

If you have room, you might want to include the creator's name as well as the link. You also might want to include the creative commons logo or CC-BY shorthand. It only adds a few characters and checks off another requirement of the licence.

More verbose example:
Sample business card with more complete fine-print attribution

As others have said, if you're not willing to put minimum credit on the printed product, don't use CC-BY content.

For an extra tiny printed product, like a pen, it of course gets extra tricky to find room for a credit line. If the pen includes the URL of your client's website, and that website uses the same logo with clear and complete attribution and copyright information, I would probably consider that acceptable.

That said, it is a waffle zone. The example above on its own certainly doesn't meet the full requirements of "attribution" spelled out by the CC-BY licence. However, the CC licences specify that attribution should be "reasonable to the means, medium, and context of use", and so when space is at a premium a link to a page with the full copyright information would probably be considered reasonable. (But I'm not a copyright lawyer!)

In that way, CC is a more flexible than other licences which were drafted specifically for software and which therefore make assumptions about the medium by which something will be copied. For example, the icon above* is available as part of a public CodePen "pen", and is therefore released under the MIT software license. The MIT licence requires all "copies" to include the copyright and licensing information, with no stipulations about reasonableness to the medium.

*(which I created and therefore am free to use however I see fit, including using it here!)


I am going to stick my head out, as I have thought a good deal about this. I am first and foremost concerned with practicalities and decency and what actually is going on and a viable solution.

(Obligatory disclaimer: this is my personal opinion and experience. This does not reflect any law, nor does it cover all kinds of permissions given with various licences. I am not encouraging people to unfair use, merely trying to attract attention to this problem.).


Attribute for software is pretty straightforward. Depending on the type of programme or snippet, there seems to be some fair alternatives:

  • Write the attribution in the source code. Chances are, that if it is a snippet, the creator has already written this, and indicated how they want to be credited.
  • Some code for frontend often have a link attached (for example slideshows). Personally, I think it is ok to remove this link for design purposes, as long as the creator is credited somewhere accessible.
  • Software is straightforward, because it is "unlimited space", and the various GNU, copyleft, CC etc have usually pretty clear guidelines that are actually not a big hassle to conform to.

Web graphics

This is also fairly straightforward: a link on the site saying "credits" should be a reasonable thing. Again, web has pretty much unlimited space. So a background-tile for web, an icon or icon set, credits go on the credits page, with a link to the creator. This could, actually, bring some good effects for the company. Not only demonstrating that "we stand on the shoulders of giants", but also that credit where credit is due. It will in return be easier to demand credit further down the line.

In the above instances, I am convinced we all could get better at this. It is not often I come across a site that has "credits" attached to it. Some of this information could be buried far down, via "about us" and whatnot, but that is good enough. There are endless possibilities in placing a "credit" link. It should become a standard element for web work on par with headings, footer, columns, about pages etc.

Personally, I can be a little messy in my design process, so I confess that I can loose track of the objects I use in the sea of the ones I do not use. Into the workflow: a system for keeping track of this.


Books and magazines should be pretty easy. In fact, book design and layout have a long tradtion and good guidelines for where to put credits.

Then the headache; small, printed items:

Business cards, ballpoint pens, lanyards, key rings, t-shirts, memory sticks....

There are few options. As @AmeliaBR points out, you could use a short link on a business card. Even better, you could put it on the reverse side. However; I do not think this really is viable; no one is really going to do that. And it becomes pretty much impossible for smaller stuff. I would like to see real-life examples and be proven wrong here, though. Business cards, key rings, memory sticks are small, the real estate on them precious. So then there seems to be these alternatives of bad practice:

  • Use it anyway, with no credit.
  • Alter the graphic slightly and pretend all is well. This is more dishonest than the one above.
  • Do not use the graphic in question on the business card. Find a secondary elements from the design process that can replace it. This too is not likely, if the graphic in question is a logo or an icon.

Often, the client will say; "use this logo/graphic element on the product"; you are not always the one designing the entire range of graphic materials, so your freedom to sort this out in the best possible way is not always there. You can insist, you can demonstrate to the client that this is breaking laws, licensing and flies in the face of all decency and respectability. You can refuse to do it. Sometimes this is like talking to a wall. Personally, my experience is that this is easier implemented in USA than other places. The fear of litigation is much stronger there.

There is a shift going on, regarding sharing, using and creating mashups of what you find on the net. On Facebook, the coolest thing is to have lots of people sharing your kitty-photo, so the idea of ownership is sliding dramatically.

So here is what I think: (I am no lawyer, do not quote me on this as an excuse, follow the laws governing these things until they change):

I believe we need to rethink the whole idea of use. I believe that the only way this can work in the future, is if there is the possibility of using the graphic on small print without credit.

This is the current practice, though no one is ready to admit it. It is illegal in many instances.

In our days, everyone printing business cards etc have a presence on the web. And if you go down to small print objects, they oftentimes only display a logo and a web address.

enter image description here

However, I strongly believe we must get much, much better at giving credits on web and in larger print objects.

What I think is the most viable solution, is the acceptance that credits will be there, on the web. And they should be, much more than it is now, visible. A link. Reasonably prominently displayed. And there a list, a graphic demonstrating where the graphic was used. Stick a pic of the object in there, and list credits. Interestingly, this could also be good for the client. Image searches will show you their lanyards etc.

Small .txt files squirrelled away in some dark nook is not good enough. I have come across a few, usually in software, and I do not think I have ever read one. Even readme-files I rarely open.

This is the way forward. The Internet is a fairly young thing, we are still figuring it out. Instead of nail-biting and hoping no one will notice that you used something on a key ring, we should put a good effort into standardising the credit-pages.

  • 1
    A very well-written manifesto! As you say, books and magazines and such have standard practice for giving credit somewhere it can be found without distracting from the content; a similar standard practice is needed for other graphical content, and the natural place for that is a company website -- but as you say, it has to be respectfully, prominently positioned, not tucked away out of sight.
    – AmeliaBR
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 16:05
  • hehehe - manifesto indeed. I think the most important point is to attract attention to this; political correctness and pretending is not going to get us anywhere - I will also congratulate you on a splendid, more succinct answer :)
    – benteh
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 16:23

For web:

You could add everything into a humans.txt file located in the site root. Humans.txt is an initiative for knowing the people behind a website which contains information about the different people who have contributed to building the website or content used. If you want to know more about the humans.txt you can reference humans.org. An example taken by humans.org:

/* TEAM */
    Chef:Juanjo Bernabeu
    Contact: hello [at] humanstxt.org
    Twitter: @juanjobernabeu
    From:Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

    UI developer: Maria Macias
    Twitter: @maria_ux
    From:Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

    One eyed illustrator: Carlos Mañas
    Twitter: @oneeyedman
    From:Madrid, Spain

    Standard Man: Abel Cabans
    Twitter: @abelcabans
    From:Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

    Web designer: Abel Sutilo
    Twitter: @abelsutilo
    From:Sevilla, Andalucia, Spain

/* THANKS */

    (First) EN Translator: Jos Flores
    Twitter: @prosciuttos
    From: Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

    CA Translator: Eva AC
    Twitter: @evaac
    From:Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

    EN Translator: Marta Armada
    Twitter: @martuishere
    From: Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

    RU Translator: Alexey Bass
    Twitter: @alexey_bass
    Location: Israel, Netanya

    RU Translator: Vladimir Epifanov
    Twitter: @voldmar
    Location: Moscow, Russia

    NL Translator: Rowdy Rabouw
    Twitter: @rowdyrabouw
    Location: Gouda, The Netherlands

    DE Translator: Dennis Fischer
    Twitter: @ichderfisch
    Location: Düsseldorf / Germany

    CZ Translator: Daniel Kršiak
    Twitter: @krsiakdaniel
    Location: Czech Republic

    ZH Translator: Ana Villalba
    Location: Spain

    JA Translator: Clémence Haure
    Location: Spain

    FR Translator: Thibaud Desodt
    Location: Belgium

    Media Queries by: Marta Armada (@martuishere) and Javier Usobiaga (@htmlboy)

/* SITE */
    Last update:2012/02/04
    Language: Català / Czech / Deutsch / English / Castellano / Japanese / Dutch / Russian / Chinese
    IDE: Sublime Text, Notepad++, FileZilla, Photoshop

Place the humans.txt logo in either .gif or .png in the footer with a link to the humans.txt file


enter image description here

or you could do something like a sitemap that is commonly found on sites and call it reference with the links to the material used, licence, or whatever content that has been requested to be used in regards to giving credit.

For Print

  • Magazine - Typically it is in the footer in a small italic outlining a brief description that would have the author and a site link.
  • Print Material - Similar concept as a magazine but depending on the design can be displayed vertically.
  • Books - If its for an image, blurb, or any material used not of your own there is a number or brief naming that some us, example [boblet 12] under an image, that will have more information in the rear of the book. This is also known as cite and more about it can be found on englishclub.com's article "Proper Citation".

I want to also point out you should always check, first, what the original author wants for their work. Some people may not require it and some may simply ask for a link to their site.


I would say that in the code is only a valid place if IT IS code.

For images I would when possible credit as close to the image as possible. If not possible (such as in your question) then probably creating either an About Page or License page that you could add to your footer.

site design / logo © 2014 boblet inc; additional content licensed under cc by-sa 3.0 with attribution required

where attribution required could be a link to a complete list of CC sourced materials in a about/license page. If there's only one then you could get away with simply mentioning it; in its entirety in the footer

site design / logo © 2014 boblet inc; gummyworms licensed under cc created by Scott

or whatever.

For printed materials it is somewhat the same - as close to the piece as possible. If its a book then it can be done at the start or end instead of throughout but would need to number the pieces or identify them some other way. In smaller pieces it is really up to the designer, but if you cannot fit the attribute then you shouldn't use the piece.

For additional information take a look at Creative Commons Australia: How to attribute Creative Commons licensed materials

  • To both Ryan and @JohnB thanks for answers, but a question still stands. I am well aware of the (legal and) ethical points. But "what about a small image used on ex. ballpoint pens": I cannot believe for a second that every designer will attribute in print on the pens. Nor do I believe that all designers will not use an image/icon that is part of the company profile. The only option is to alter it a tiiiny-weeeny bit and "pretend" that it is a mashup/original. I am mainly interested in what people do, not what they should do.
    – benteh
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 18:50
  • They leave it off. You know this just as well as the rest of us. You'd be lucky to find someone give CC attribution on a website let alone a pen. If someone really wants to use it, they're going to.
    – Ryan
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 19:11

Here's a question/possible solution: Everything that is prepared for print has a digital version, so would it not suffice to include full attribution in the metadata of the digital image? This would not only ensure that the attribution is complete, but that it will follow the image wherever it goes, even if someone crops the attribution off of it. Who really needs to see the attribution anyway, especially in a context like the pen example, unless you're crediting a photographer or someone who would benefit from the exposure of having their name displayed by the graphic?


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