How to credit images from Wikimedia Commons?

Learn how to properly credit images taken from Wikimedia Commons. It is not that complicated when you use these tools and sources.

Wikimedia Commons, a vast treasure trove of multimedia content, is an indispensable resource for individuals and organizations worldwide. Launched in 2004, it is a sister project of Wikipedia and an integral part of the Wikimedia movement.

Wikimedia Commons aims to provide a centralized platform where creators can contribute their work and users can access high-quality, diverse media files to enrich their knowledge and projects, also outside of Wikimedia platforms.

I have regularly found an image via image search hosted on Wikimedia Commons, though I never used them for fear of wrong attribution in the image credits. So the following article is as educating to me as hopefully for you.

Due to possible changes in the official documentation and image credit requirements, I will not give too specific examples. Instead, I will link to the most important sources you can use.

Can I use images from Wikimedia freely?

While you can use many materials from Wikimedia Commons, you must attribute them correctly.

You do not need to obtain a specific statement of permission from the licensor(s) of the content unless you wish to use the work under different terms than the license states.

Reusing content outside Wikimedia

Authors are relatively free to choose the license for their images. Some might allow you to use images for commercial purposes, while others might not. The same applies to releasing a manipulated image.

Even when using images with permissive licenses, respecting the creator’s moral rights is essential. Avoid using images that could harm the author’s reputation or presenting them in a misleading or offensive context.

Be aware of any trademarks associated with an image and avoid using them in a way that could infringe upon the trademark owner’s rights or imply endorsement. I am not a lawyer, but I am sure that even though I can find the Apple logo on Wikimedia Commons, I cannot use it freely, especially not for commercial reasons.

Credit lines for Wikimedia Commons images

Image licensing is a critical aspect of using multimedia content from Wikimedia Commons. Different types of licenses dictate how you can use the images. Understanding them is crucial to ensure proper attribution and avoid potential copyright issues.

The Wikimedia Commons Credit line manual gives a good overview of different formats. Here is a general summary of the points you need to be aware of:

  1. Author Identification: The credit line should identify the author of the work. This can typically be found in the file’s description on Wikimedia Commons and is often required by the license terms.
  2. License Identification: The credit line should also identify the license under which the work is released. For instance, if an image is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, this information should be included in the credit line.
  3. Source Identification: The source of the work, such as the webpage where it was found, should be included in the credit line. This is especially important for online use, as it lets others easily track the file’s origins.
  4. Modifications: Not all licenses allow modifications. If they do, mentioning such changes in the credit line might be necessary.

I prefer to have too much information in the image credits than to forget anything.

How to attribute Wikimedia images?

What held me back for a long time was the supposedly complex information about using content from Wikimedia Commons, like on their Reusing content outside Wikimedia page.

One important thing I had to understand: files on Wikimedia are hardly owned by Wikimedia. The most critical requirements are crediting the original author and linking to the license. Among others are releasing your modifications under a similar license.

All this can be confusing. Luckily, you and I don’t need to learn all the license types by heart. There are two ways to shorten the search for the correct attribution.

  • Finding the attribution information on the image page
  • Using the Attribution Generator

Let’s dive into them.

Attribution Information on the image page

Wikimedia Commons provides a simple solution to finding the proper image attribution on the media file page.

Let’s take this image that I found searching for “globe.” The shorted way to find out how the author would like you to cite them in the image credits would be to click “Use this file on the web,” the second link on the right.

Screenshot of a Wikimedia Commons image page.©Alexander Franke (Ossiostborn), CC BY-SA 2.0 DE via Wikimedia Commons

You will now see a modal with the Attribution section, telling you precisely the text to include in the image credits and where to link.

Examples of usage information for an image from Wikimedia Commons.©Wikimedia Commons

You can click on “HTML” to get the final code to include below the image as credits. You could also use the Embed code to load the image from Wikimedia Commons directly.

Since I tend to forget to copy the full attribution or it gets lost in the editing process, I am using Image Source Control to manage these links and warn me if they are missing.

Attribution Generator

Wikimedia Germany has developed the Attribution Generator, which generates image credits for specific images and purposes.

Screenshot of the Wikimedia Commons Attribution Generator homepage.©Attribution Generator, Wikimedia Deutschland

I entered the image’s URL in my previous example, followed by several questions, e.g., where I intend to use the picture. Finally, the attribution line is generated for me. I can also choose between plain text or HTML as the output format.

License notice information for an image from Wikimedia Commons that was generated via the Attribution Generator.©Attribution Generator, Wikimedia Deutschland

How to add Wikimedia Commons Image Credits to your website?

Now that you know which information to include in the image credits, you still need to add them to your website.

I have originally done this manually in the content text or as an image caption in WordPress. Until one day, I received a letter from a copyright owner whose image attribution I forgot – or deleted unwillingly. This started Image Source Control.

I recently worked with Wikimedia Austria to extend Image Source Control to include multiple links in image captions. They are now using the plugin to attribute images on their website.


©Wikimedia Austria

A Crucial Contribution to the World of Free Knowledge!

Until now, manually entering correct credits has been a significant challenge that often failed to work flawlessly. Given that most images from commons.wikimedia.org typically require three or more links for proper licensing (image, author, license), there was no plugin far and wide to simplify this process.

Thanks to Thomas’s dedication and effort, a tool is now available that allows this information – including any number of links – to be maintained much more straightforwardly directly on a WordPress website. He quickly responded to our request and adjusted his (also GDPR compliant!) plugin to meet our requirements in no time. Beyond fulfilling the legal obligation of correct licensing, he solves a long-standing issue for us and supports all those who generally care about acknowledging the (voluntary) work of others.

Thank you, Thomas and Image Source Control, for this crucial contribution to the world of free knowledge!

The Team from Wikimedia Austria


So here is how it goes in a nutshell after you install and activate Image Source Control. You can find detailed explanations in the plugin documentation.

  1. Enabling “Image Licenses” under Settings > Image Sources.
  2. Upload an image into the media library or the post content.
  3. Open the image options through the media library or post.
  4. Scroll to the image source options on the right and fill in the license information.
©Partially including material from Wikimedia Deutschland

To link parts of the image source text to different URLs, you need to separate these parts and URLs by commas. Image Source Control will then match them together. You can find an example in Use multiple links.

Image Source Control has the option to select a license for each image. This would add the license after the source string. I find this more comfortable since it reduces the risk of typos in the license text or URL. But you can also add it manually in the source text when you want to change the order.

Conclusions

I have always shied away from using images from Wikimedia Commons since I found image attribution confusing. But my research showed me that I don’t need to know all the details and individual licenses. There are places where I can find the correct attribution information.

Image Source Control then ensures that the image credits are stored and displayed correctly so that image authors who provide their work for free get their well-deserved credits.

Attention: Please keep in mind that this article does not contain legal advice. Take all necessary precautions before employing any technical proposals, and always consult a lawyer before making decisions on legal matters.

Portrait of Thomas Maier, founder and CEO of Image Source Control

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