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Note this is not a question about using copyrighted material I do not own. It's about materials I own and have all rights to.

A question on GraphicDesign.SE has spurred some comments regarding image licensing.

See the comments HERE

I posted a copyrighted image which I own. I am the sole copyright holder. All image rights are mine.

A user commented that as soon as I upload the image it is attributed a Creative Commons license and anyone can use the image provided they credit the author.

I disagree.

It is my understanding that uploading an image grants SE the right to use the image. It does not however grant everyone the rights to use an image, with or without attribution. Others can, in context, use the contents of my SE post under Creative Commons licensing with attribution. However others can't merely grab an image, or a cherry-picked piece of my answer/post, and reuse it for any purpose they desire. In this case, a rudimentary logo mockup.

I've reviewed the copyright policies, but they are more directed and the uploading of unauthorized material, not about unintentional distribution of copyrighted materials.

Now, I'm not an idiot. I know if I never want an image stolen I should never post it on the internet, anywhere. I posted the image. I'm aware it will most likely be "lifted" at some point. But, that does not mean I wish to relinquish all rights to the image, or to immediately attribute a Creative Common license to my image in itself.

Is there definitive information on SE's position regarding content which is copyrighted and legally uploaded? What license, if any, is attributed to uploaded content beyond the license granted to SE?

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    I'm the user who commented, and I'm eagerly awaiting the outcome. I was about to write a very similar question but I'm glad I did not have to. I found it equally unclear and hard to find when I started to research it. – pipe Apr 13 '18 at 12:13
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    Actually, looks like you can explicitly exclude images used (under fair use) from the license: creativecommons.org/faq/… – called2voyage Apr 13 '18 at 14:02
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    And this @called2voyage Marking third party content wiki.creativecommons.org/wiki/Marking/Creators/… -- I, myself, would merely be the third party as well. – Scott Apr 13 '18 at 14:03
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Images you upload to the SE imgur instance using the integrated image upload feature are licensed under a Creative Commons license, specifically cc by-sa 3.0. This is explicitly mentioned in the upload dialog. The human-readable version of the license is the following:

You are free to:

  • Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format
  • Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.

The licensor cannot revoke these freedoms as long as you follow the license terms.

Under the following terms:

  • Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

  • ShareAlike — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.

  • No additional restrictions — You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits.

This licence isn't restricted to SE in any way, anyone can use the images if they follow the rules of the license.

This doesn't affect your own copyright of the image, you still have all the rights to it you originally had. But now the image is additionally available under the CC license for anyone that wants to use it.

I'm not a lawyer, but based on all the previous discussions of Creative Commons here I'm pretty confident in this interpretation.

I've no idea how this works if you embed an image, but use a different image hoster. Not relevant in this specific case, but maybe in others.

  • I don't think this can be true.. I mean if I upload an image under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 then it's fine to use on SE sites... but that surely can't mean the license automatically gets diluted to CC BY-SA 3.0. – Scott Apr 13 '18 at 12:43
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    @Scott Nothing you do here can affect other licenses, but every time you upload an image it gets an additional license, CC BY-SA. This is of course only valid if you have the right to release the content under that license, which is the case here. – Mad Scientist Apr 13 '18 at 12:45
  • I guess I can't see how SE can grant everyone in the world the rights to my image merely because I grant SE rights to use. But.. admittedly, I am uploading the image. So yeah, perhaps I'll rethink before uploading any images. – Scott Apr 13 '18 at 12:49
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    @Scott I'm very cautious about uploading anything to IMGUR for this very reason. I think in this particular case you still have reasonable protection because of the duck. – Ryan Apr 13 '18 at 12:53
  • Thanks @Ryan I'm not overly concerned about this particular image. Again.. I don't upload anything if I never want it stolen :) I find it more imperative that I fully understand what I'm granting, because apparently I haven't. I thought I was granting SE usage rights.. not the entire world. – Scott Apr 13 '18 at 12:54
  • @Scott This happens in many places where you provide content, it's just much less obvious than here. You often give the company that runs a site essentially the right to do whatever they want with your content, including sublicencing it to anyone else without even the requirement of attribution. The difference here is that it's a CC license, and anyone else can reuse the content as well, not just SE. – Mad Scientist Apr 13 '18 at 12:55
  • I tend to watch licenses @MadScientist I know many sites are, well, less transparent. But generally sites require that they get a license in perpetuity, which is understandable. The right to sublicense is something that I, myself, really rarely encounter. But again, I watch where I upload. I merely have misunderstood SE stance on this it seems. – Scott Apr 13 '18 at 12:57
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    I think it's better to think of image inclusions like you would quotes from copyrighted texts - as fair use quotations. The CC BY-SA governs your use of the quotation but doesn't relicense the thing itself. See wiki.creativecommons.org/wiki/Marking/Creators/… – curiousdannii Apr 13 '18 at 12:58
  • @Scott I did quickly check the Quora license (quora.com/about/tos Section 3ci)before posting that. It's also a Q&A site, so somewhat comparable. That one grants pretty much every right to them I can imagine. There are certainly sites that are better, but many that require far more rights than necessary to just run the site. – Mad Scientist Apr 13 '18 at 13:01
  • Yeah I don't do Quora or many sites because of this reason... I thought SE was a bit less free with my copyrighted materials. :) Thanks! – Scott Apr 13 '18 at 13:02
  • @Scott the CC license is also a big advantage in many respects, even if it's not in your case here. It allows us to just take all our stuff and set up a new site with all the content, in case SE becomes evil. – Mad Scientist Apr 13 '18 at 13:03
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    I don't dispute the value of CC licensing. But, much like loaning my car out.. I kind of want to know what I'm granting before I do it :) – Scott Apr 13 '18 at 13:04
  • I wonder though, some locales do not allow simple notifications to change the status of a copyright. So in itself its not so self evident that this actually works if it goes to court. – joojaa Apr 13 '18 at 15:00
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    @Scott "I guess I can't see how SE can grant everyone in the world the rights to my image." They aren't. You are. You are releasing the image under that license, by dint of uploading it through that form: releasing it not specifically to SE, but to the world. – TRiG is Timothy Richard Green Apr 18 '18 at 11:57
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The content you contribute gets licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. Not just text, any kind of content. Text doesn’t get treated differently from images.

It doesn’t matter if SE’s upload tool gets used. It doesn’t matter where the image is hosted. The only thing that matters is that you embed/show the image (so it becomes part of the work, i.e., the question, answer, or tag wiki).

If you don’t want this, you can link (instead of embed) the image. That way, the link itself (i.e., the anchor text) becomes part of the work, but not the linked image.

If you don’t have the copyright

The license only applies to content which you are allowed to apply a license to (i.e., you have the copyright).

If you want to embed an image for which you don’t have the copyright, you should mark it, so it becomes clear (for other users) that it’s not (necessarily) licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. The most simple and clear way is to quote the image and attribute it accordingly.

Note that you can’t just embed any image you want. You need the permission, either by law (e.g., quoting laws, fair use, public domain, etc.), or by license (e.g., if the image author licensed it under CC BY-SA 3.0 or another compatible license).


I think (but am not sure) that you could quote your own image (if allowed by law in that context), and thereby bypass licensing it. I asked about it on Open Source SE (where question like your’s would also be on-topic, by the way): Quoting your own content (in your own work, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0) to avoid licensing it

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    I will forever "quote' my images now :) – Scott Apr 13 '18 at 13:33
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+50

If you upload an image using Stack Exchange's Imgur service, then I think it's pretty clear that you are doing so under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license. (Note that their "attribution required" thing is not legally valid.)

If you hotlink directly to an image you have hosted elsewhere, then the image does not necessarily automatically get CC BY-SA licensed. Instead it could be treated as third party content. Under fair use you may be able to incorporate copyrighted works in a CC licensed work without forcing that work itself to be CC licensed.

For example, imagine a movie review blog which includes a screencap under fair use. If the blog is CC BY-SA licensed, you could take the blog and transform it, perhaps keeping the same structure but turning a favourable review into an unfavourable review. You could include the screencap if you too could use it under fair use. But you couldn't take that screencap and make a derivative work of it as that goes beyond fair use, and the CC BY-SA license doesn't apply to it.

The Creative Commons site has a page about marking third party content.

Using third party content in your work that is not offered under the same license terms as the rest of your work may require additional marking. If you include works offered under other Creative Commons licenses, additional marking may be required for attribution. If you include third party content in your work that may not be available for reuse under the same terms as the rest of the work, you should warn users and mark it with any additional information that may be helpful. CC offers additional explanation and tips on giving thorough notices and marking for works.

So in short, you could include your copyrighted artwork in a SE post if you hotlink it and explicitly note that the CC BY-SA license does not apply to it.

Edit: however as animuson notes below, this would still be unwise as someone else may take your hotlinked image and reupload it using the Imgur service later (so as to prevent linkrot). If you do explicitly note that the CC BY-SA license doesn't apply to it they're unlikely to do so, but to be absolutely safest you'd be best off to not embed the image at all, and to only link to it.

  • This is very confusing after the entire "The Creative Commons" to the end part. If someone hotlinks their own material from their own website they don't have to explicitly note anything. They own the copyright, period. CC BY-SA doesn't apply at all in that case. -- In the case someone does upload to CC BY-SA this seems to imply you can mark off certain portions in which case @Scott did with the duck and mentioned more than once in text that the duck is not to be used as part of the CC BY-SA. – Ryan Apr 13 '18 at 13:20
  • @Ryan Because the default is that the entirety of the work is licensed under the CC BY-SA, if part of it is not it is best to explicitly mark it as such. However as Scott used the Imgur service (I think? it's an Imgur url at least) then regardless of his intentions, he did so under the CC BY-SA. Him saying that it's not CC BY-SA doesn't change the fact that he agreed to use the Imgur service under the CC BY-SA. He would be wise to remove that image and hotlink it instead. – curiousdannii Apr 13 '18 at 13:22
  • You're missing the point I made. Your conclusion is "you could include your copyrighted artwork in a SE post if you hotlink it and explicitly note that the CC BY-SA license does not apply to it." This is not accurate, if you hotlink it you don't need to explicitly state anything. – Ryan Apr 13 '18 at 13:25
  • Based upon answers here, it would seem that by my using imgur I did apparently grant a CC license (unintentionally). Hot linking is an option, if I wish to dissolve my anonymity at SE. So, it's a quandary. I'll express again, I'm not seeking to protect that specific image beyond my existing copyright. I could merely remove it.. but that devalues the answer considerably. – Scott Apr 13 '18 at 13:26
  • @Ryan Technically you may not need to, but as it is your own image and not obviously something being used under fair use, it would be very reasonable for others to assume the image is also CC BY-SA licensed. Read the final sentence as extremely wise advice and not a legal requirement. – curiousdannii Apr 13 '18 at 13:32
  • @Scott If you want to remain anonymous you could use another anonymous image service. I think the main Imgur site would allow you to do it (unless they block hotlinking now.) – curiousdannii Apr 13 '18 at 13:33
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    Hotlinking isn't really a solution here. Chances are good that a user will upload it to Imgur at some point to prevent linkrot. In fact, this has explicitly happened before, where a user demanded we remove the Imgur version. We did, but we also told him not to link any images they wouldn't want to end up on Imgur. All it does is cause confusion that need not exist. If someone isn't comfortable with an image being licensed under CC BY-SA, then they simply shouldn't use it here at all. – animuson Apr 13 '18 at 14:29
  • @animuson Yeah, that's definitely wisest. What about a link to an off-site image instead of embedding it? – curiousdannii Apr 13 '18 at 14:57
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    @animuson why isn't hotlinking blocked entirely then for images? – Mad Scientist Apr 13 '18 at 15:00
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    @animuson and that make the legal stand of stackexchange or imgur very weak in any event of dispute. But worse, anybody who acts in good faith on the images is in even worse condition – joojaa Apr 13 '18 at 15:23
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When you upload the image via the inbuilt "image upload" it says clearly:

User contributions licensed under cc by-sa 3.0 with attribution required

By uploading the image you agree to grant that license. If you do not wish to grant that license, do not upload the image.

Regarding your edit/update:

Someone else's CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 image is fine to use on SE sites (provided you follow its terms and provide attribution). However, if you want to get all technical, you are not permitted to upload it via the "image upload" functionality as you would claim to grant the CC BY-SA 3.0 license - something you are not entitled to, if you are not the image's copyright holder.

  • Good point about the CC license switch.... but SE would be non-commercial.. so... well I'm not a lawyer :) – Scott Apr 13 '18 at 12:59
  • SE is commercial, why would an image under an NC license be acceptable? – Mad Scientist Apr 13 '18 at 13:02
  • Yeah.. that was a bad example... I wasn't thinking of the entire pipline.... – Scott Apr 13 '18 at 13:03
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It's still your copyrighted image, but you've given everyone (through SE) the right to reuse it as per the cc-by-sa licence.

So people can reuse it but they must attach the proper credit. If you attach the original credit when you post the image in the first place, then you've got it covered. If you don't indicate the true origin of the image then the attribution will just be to the original post.

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CC-by-SA 3.0 says:

You are free to: Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially. The licensor cannot revoke these freedoms as long as you follow the license terms.

Under the following terms: Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

ShareAlike — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.

No additional restrictions — You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits.

So anyone can use the content you post here as long as they provide that attribution.

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    I understand what the CC license states. That wasn't my question. – Scott Apr 13 '18 at 12:40
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    Did the final sentence not answer it? I have a feeling it did :-) – Rory Alsop Apr 13 '18 at 18:40
  • @Scott I suspect the reason you're getting answers like this one that seem not to address your question is that, from the reader's perspective (or at least my perspective), it does kind of look like you don't understand what the CC-BY-SA license states. The "share-alike" clause is pretty prominent; I'm rather confused as to how you were able to read it and come up with the interpretation that you espoused in the question. – David Z Apr 15 '18 at 14:43
  • @David there's a variation between the contents of a post, and an attached image. The text I write in answers is assumed to be under the CC license and free for distribution.. whereas images are generally assumed to not change licenses merely because the copyright holder uses them. To be fair, the practice of "if you answer questions and need images to do so.. you give us, and everyone in the world, the rights to use that image." is a bit over-the-top. Giving SE rights is understood, giving the world rights is too broad in my opinion. – Scott Apr 15 '18 at 14:53
  • @Scott I guess this assumption you're making that images don't change licenses seems... flawed. Or at least quite strange. Images are content that you contribute to the site, just like text. I find it very unintuitive to assume that they would be exempt from the license that applies to contributed content, without explicitly being told so. Anyway, this is not really the place for a discussion and perhaps it doesn't matter anyway. If you'd like to discuss further I'd love to continue this in Meta Stack Exchange Chat, when I have time (unfortunately I can't keep going much longer right now). – David Z Apr 15 '18 at 15:02
  • @DavidZ I think the difference is a stack where users make their living via images so there's more concern. I don't give two hoots about screenshots or images of that nature, it's proprietary, revenue generating, content that is more troubling. My answers will now be diminished at times, that's all. Please realize I do have some SE experience, so I'm not a "noob" overall. I merely misunderstood that SE was granted the entire world rights to images I upload. – Scott Apr 15 '18 at 15:06
  • Also realize most websites which are dedicated to graphic design and which allow image uploads grant that website a license in perpetuity, they do not attribute a CC license to images. (Behance, Dribble, Logopond, et al.) In fact, just the opposite. They specifically try and protect the images from distribution via Terms of Service clauses, user agreements, and things of that nature. My professional industry isn't the same as other industries where images are concerned. – Scott Apr 15 '18 at 15:19
  • @Scott Sure, I understand that in graphic design you make your living via images, and accordingly many sites frequented by designers have terms of service (etc.) which only grant distribution rights to the site itself, not to its users. But from the way you wrote your question, it sounds like you took a close look at SE's license - in which you must have noticed that it's quite different from what's typical of design sites - and after doing so, you still concluded that the license here does not allow users to redistributed images. That's what I don't understand. – David Z Apr 15 '18 at 15:40

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