The CC licensing requires attribution for any content that isn't your own, including images. People often post unattributed clarifying images copied from somewhere else. It is clear from the post that they are not taking credit for it, so plagiarism doesn't apply. But use of the images doesn't meet the license requirements.

New contributors are typically informed and given time to add the attribution. On questions, they often leave after getting an answer and don't bother fixing the attribution. Other users will sometimes do a reverse image search and add the attribution if found, but it often can't be found that way.

This presents three related questions:

  1. If the image creator can't be identified, the identification attempt is shown by adding text to the effect that the source is not identifiable. The thinking is that should the originator become aware of the usage, they could identify it as theirs, and it would be clear that an attribution attempt was made. Is this adequate to meet at least the spirit of the license requirements?

  2. If #1 is not adequate, or nobody wants to invest the time to identify the image, we have a thread with a question and answers. How far do we need to go to comply with the license requirements? For example, if we hide the image, the post usually becomes too unclear to be useful. If it's a question and we hide the image, the answers become non sequiturs, which is unfair to the answerers. If the image is in an answer, the answer may become too unclear to be useful. So hiding images, means closing/deleting posts, which removes otherwise good and valuable content.

  3. Should questions containing unattributed images be immediately closed pending attribution when it's noticed before answers are posted (would result in very unequal treatment of posts depending on how fast answers are posted and when people notice the missing attribution)?

What's the appropriate way to handle unattributed images that are not plagiarism but don't meet the CC license requirements, and how far do we go in removing or degrading content to comply with the license when the OP does not?

  • 1
    Mods and users do not enforce content licensing issues, except in the narrow case of plagiarism, which is not strictly a content licensing problem but an ethical one where you claim (attempt to pass off) the work of others as your own. Since you explicitly put this out of scope, supposing that the author acted in good faith without attempting to claim the image(s) as their own work, there is no issue here. Sure, it'd be better if attribution were included for all images, and it'd be appreciated if you set that standard in your own posts, but we don't remove content for violating a license. Mar 8 at 21:35

1 Answer 1


My experience across the network is that almost all users do not care about proper attribution on images in other users' posts. I've seen quite a few (suggested) edits adding alt text for accessibility, but I can't remember one adding attribution (though no doubt you'll be able to find them). So we're clearly in 2. territory: nobody wants to invest the time to identify the image.

Yes, if you encounter unattributed images and have the will and time to fix those problems, that will be appreciated. If you can't find it, perhaps start with a comment direct to the author of the post asking to provide the source, and if they don't react in 6-8 days, I wouldn't mind adding text to the effect that the source is not identifiable. Hiding the image seems counterproductive to our primary goal of creating a library of high quality Q&A; because the images will remain visible in the revision history (unless redacted by ♦ moderators, which is never done for this purpose), does that really solve the license compliance issue?

However, I fear unattributed images are too widespread for the communities to fix it entirely - just like not all posts have correct English grammar, even though there are people who care for that. I'm also not sure if it can be fixed semi-automatically, like my scripts that repair broken links and images across the network (which, after a suggestion by another user in its early weeks, unfortunately I forgot who) does add a visible link to the original source (if it's an image hoster, an HTML comment is used instead). It might not be fully CC-compliant but it's better than nothing ...)

FWIW, I've asked a feature request some time ago: Automatically add attribution when uploading an image from a link which might help a bit to reduce this problem, though there will always be users who download an image, perhaps modify it, and then upload it, and then the uploader can't know the original link.

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