Images and Multimedia Files: Rights and Practical Considerations

From Observatory


Before you send us any image (i.e., photograph, illustration, chart, graphic, table, screenshot) or other multimedia content (i.e., video, audio, pdf, or other document file)* for consideration to accompany your text on the Observatory:

you must obtain documentation clearing the rights for the Observatory (and any other publications or individuals wishing to reprint it from the Observatory) to publish it under the irrevocable, nonexclusive, share-alike Creative Commons 4.0 license, as described in the Observatory’s Reuse and Reprint Guidelines.

*All of the aforementioned file types are hereafter generally referred to as “images,” “multimedia,” or “multimedia files” for the sake of simplicity.

For more on image licensing, see the Observatory’s Ethics and Standards.

Preferred Sources of Images

Wikimedia Commons

We recommend that you attempt to obtain images from the Wikimedia Commons library (unless you have original files that qualify for upload). This is from the standpoint of both rights and practicality (due to the wiki-based system of the Observatory).

Check to make sure the image is licensed under Creative Commons CC 4.0 and is not in dispute. Attribution to Wikimedia Commons images in good standing will be included automatically when your editor adds this to your piece and the Observatory media library. (If the image license is not in good standing and is pulled from Wikimedia Commons, it also will be pulled from the Observatory.)

Original Content

If you are providing the Observatory with an original multimedia file, you must provide written documentation to your editor confirming that you are the copyright holder to the media and all media in it and approve it for use on the Observatory under an irrevocable Creative Commons CC 4.0 license (which other publishers may republish under the same license).

Even if you are the copyright holder of the image, and you are sending it so others can share it, you still need to tell your Observatory editor/liaison in writing when you email it to them as an attachment, indicating in writing that you are the copyright holder and that we have the rights to use it.

Credits and Captions

Include any credit or caption that must appear with each file. If no credit or caption is necessary, please indicate that. If someone else is the copyright holder (and this does not always mean the subject of the image or the photographer by default—you need to check), get their express permission to share and republish the image on the Observatory under an irrevocable Creative Commons 4.0 license, and tell us in writing that you have it (and include their required credit/caption, if any, including links to their page, if any).

If you are not, you must provide written permission from someone confirming that they are the copyright holder and have granted this right to you and the Observatory under CC 4.0 with the understanding that it cannot be revoked.

Here’s the link to the license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/
Here’s the link to the Observatory’s Reuse and Reprint Guidelines you may share with copyright holders to explain the intended use: https://observatory.wiki/Project:Content_reuse_and_reprint_rights

Images Are Optional

It is not a requirement to provide an image to accompany your text. Your Observatory editor/liaison can do it for you.

Only provide an image if you have taken a high-quality photo or created your own graph; the image does not violate copyright (nor does it include any material that is copyrighted that is inside it**); it would greatly benefit the article’s chances of being read and your work’s benefit to readers; and you can provide all the proper credit line, images, rights, caption, and any other information that should accompany the image. If it meets all the above criteria, you may include it for consideration.

**For example, if you took a screenshot of a copyrighted graph, but the rights of the graph don’t belong to you, then the file is ineligible for upload to the Observatory because you don’t own the rights. You can include an in-text link to the graph where it was originally published if it is important to reference in your article.

How to Transmit Image Files to Your Observatory Editor/Liaison

When you have obtained permission or confirmed with written documentation from the copyright holder that we have the rights to use the image as described above, then please email the image file to your editor.

Transmitting Wikimedia Commons Images

Simply email the canonical link to the image on Wikimedia Commons to your editor. You do not need to include the credit or caption, unless your context calls for alterations to what is available on Wikimedia Commons.

Transmitting Original Images

  • Image quality and file type: Email the full-size as an attachment to the email (or link to a place it has been transferred from like Google Drive or Dropbox) rather than embedded as an email or a lower-resolution or screenshot version. PNG or SVG is best, then JPEG/JPG.
  • Make sure to include any credit language that must appear with it. Include any links to the photographer/organization/copyright holder’s website that they ask to include (or that would be nice to include). Follow the license guidelines for attribution from their email, or from the license stipulation beyond the required Creative Commons 4.0 license.
  • Also include the caption or description/metadata, especially if there is a person in the photo or the photo content might need an alt-text description to help the visually impaired or to help your editor and anyone who might reprint quickly identify what is going on in the photo so they can figure out where to insert it in the rendering of the article.

Examples of Image Captions and Credits

1. Creative Commons License Example (Image From Flickr via Wikimedia)
Caption: Jane Doe at the Specific Event on August 12, 2022.
Credit: Photo by Photographer Name Linked to the Image on Flickr via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

This example only applies because the hypothetical image license indicated by the copyright holder is a Creative Commons license that is explicitly “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)”—check the license information on your specific photo, which might have a different CC license than the required 4.0 model.

If you’re not sure about the license, find another image or skip an image altogether.

If the file is hosted on a site outside of Wikimedia Commons, note the original source (i.e., you found it on Flickr or another site that link to Wikimedia Commons as their source, explain where you found the file to your editor if the Wikimedia Commons credit line does not include all source information).

2. Example of Credit/Caption to Transmit to an Editor for an Image You Own or That the Copyright Holder Expressly Granted in Writing to You
Credit and Caption: Your Name at the Big Conference, June 11, 2023. Photo by Greta Paparazza (gretapaparazza.com).

Follow the copyright holder’s exact language for attribution in the permission (if they don’t indicate this, put their name in as a courtesy).

If no credit or caption is necessary, please indicate that. If someone else is the copyright holder (and this isn’t just the subject of the image or the photographer in all cases), get their express permission to share and republish the image, and tell us you have it (and include their required credit/caption).

Credits and Captions

We must give proper credit to every image we use.

While Wikimedia Commons automatically creates this, you need to provide it for original images.

Proper credit/metadata includes:

  • credit information:
    • name or username of rights holder or “courtesy of”
    • how it was obtained (i.e., Wikimedia Commons)
    • what the reuse license is, and a link to the license (i.e., CC-BY 4.0)
    • Anything else that the license requires you to include (i.e., “modified from original” if you crop or make it black-and-white and the credit requires it)
  • The caption (who is in the photo, what year the photo was taken, relevant context—but don’t make it too long if you don’t have to)
  • source URL (where you found the image, and where others can find it if they like; a canonical link is ideal)

We prefer to receive original images in a separate Google Drive folder with a document in there with a list of the captions and credits that lines up with the file names.

If you are submitting your article as a Google Document or Word Document and you have to do inline story images, which we don’t recommend, simply put the following text in italics directly underneath each inline image:

Image: [name, copyright holder]/[source]
Graph courtesy of the Institute of Graphs. Used with permission.
Photograph by Photographer Name.

Where to Find Images

Generally, our best advice is: Don’t even go looking for photos or images. Focus on the article text.

We don’t want you to waste time looking for images. If you took photos or own photos/images that are relevant, you can include them with captions/credits. If you find an image you want to include, make sure you have permission to use it (permission should be written, from someone confirmed as the copyright owner), or that it is confirmed as being either in the public domain or has the aforementioned Creative Commons license.

Beware Stock Photo Websites

While there are some legit stock photo websites (such as Shutterstock, iStock, Getty, AP, AFP, etc.), they require whoever uses them to have paid for a license—so just because you or someone you saw online used a stock photo, it doesn’t mean the Observatory or others who wish to reprint Observatory content will also have a subscription there. And the use you or someone else paid for only applies to them, often for a limited period of time.

Free stock photo websites like Pexel, Pixabay, Unsplash, and more don’t always have the rights to the images. If there isn’t confirmation that the image rights holder grants the rights, ideally via public domain or Creative Commons, then don’t use the image.

This reference guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Reprinting with attribution to the authors for ​​noncommercial use is allowed under the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license guidelines, excluding third-party content.

For inquiries regarding content reuse, reprint rights, and licensing, visit the Observatory’s Reuse and Reprint Rights Guidance page.

Last Updated: October 27, 2023

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