Understanding copyright, licensing and attribution for photos and images

Dan KempBlog, Creative Arts

Finding good quality images to use in your Book Creator books is not always easy. Even if you find the right image, you have to be sure you’ve understood the licensing and attribution, or you could be breaking copyright law.

If you’re someone who thought it was ok just to do a Google search and take the first good image you find – well, this article is for you. In schools especially, we need to educate students (and teachers!) to be aware of proper methods to find images.

This article will help you understand why it’s important to source images from the right places. Our next article will look at some of the best methods for finding images that are safe to use in the classroom, and work well in an iPad-only environment too.

Choosing a photo in the comics template

Understanding the terminology


Anyone who takes a photo or creates their own original artwork, and posts it online, has the right to be acknowledged as the creator of that image. They automatically own the copyright for that photo, which means that legally, they have the right to decide where and how that image can be used.

So if you use an image that is copyrighted, you’re breaking the law. You need to get the author’s permission first.

Public Domain

Copyright does not necessarily last forever. Generally, the copyright for an image will last for the lifetime of the author, plus 70 years after their death. After that, if the copyright is not renewed, the image can become part of the ‘public domain’, and the copyright no longer applies.

Public domain images can be used freely in your books.

Creative Commons

The copyright holder of an image can choose to make their work available using a variety of Creative Commons (CC) licenses. Essentially, these allow photos to be re-used without handing over the full copyright.

But the author does get to decide how they want their work to be re-used – e.g. Can the photo be changed? Can it be used for commercial gain (for example in an advertising campaign)? Does the author need to be credited?

There are 6 types of CC license, which you can read more about on the Creative Commons website. The other type of license is the Public Domain one above (also known as CC0), where the author has waived their right to copyright.

It’s really important that you understand how Creative Commons licenses work if you want to source images from the web.

In researching this article, Josie Fraser pointed me towards the excellent Open Educational Resources Guide for Schools. The chapter on ‘Understanding Open Licensing’ is required reading!

And for the record, here’s how they want people to attribute that resource:

CC by 4.0OER Guidance for Schools (2014), by Björn Haßler, Helen Neo and Josie Fraser. Published by Leicester City Council, available under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0.

Credit / Attribution

Whenever you use an image that has a Creative Commons license, you have to credit the author. This is a “moral right” even outside copyright law. If you don’t want to credit the original creator of the image, you have to get permission from them first.

On the web, it’s usual to credit the photo and give a link back to the original, or to the author’s website. If the attribution includes a Creative Commons license requirement, you should link to that license too (each license has it’s own URL).

Fair use

Sometimes referred to as “fair dealing”, this relates to using an image in such a way to illustrate a point. For fair use to apply, it must be used for non-profit or educational purposes. It’s still right to credit the author if you can, though.

As an example, look at the photos used on Wikipedia – most are listed as “fair use” (although it may not always be the case).

Stock photography

Stock photography refers to photographs that are published online with the purpose of being shared and used. There are hundreds (probably thousands) of stock photography websites online – it’s a very competitive business. These photos are often taken by professionals and can be purchased and used.

They range from expensive sites such as Getty Images, iStock, and Shutterstock, to sites where images can be used at no cost (these are the ones we’re going to investigate in our next article).


Royalty-free does not mean the photo will necessarily be free. But you can purchase a license to use the photo as you wish (there may be some restrictions). You’ll normally be allowed to use that photo unlimited times without having to pay again.

So, bearing all that in mind – how should you go about sourcing images for your books?

First solution – take your own photos!

One of the great things about the iPad is it has an excellent camera! What’s more, you can edit photos using the in-built iPad software, or use numerous photo-editing apps to get the result you want (hmm… that’s another idea for a blog post).

You can even take photos from within Book Creator, and they will instantly appear in your book. Otherwise, photos get saved to your iPad’s Photo Library, and can be accessed easily in Book Creator.

Handily, photos taken in portrait or landscape will automatically fill a portrait or landscape page in Book Creator accordingly (the dimensions are the same).

Second solution – source your photos online

And to help you with that, why not check out the next blog post:
Our top 5 sites for sourcing great images and photos on your iPad.

10 Comments on “Understanding copyright, licensing and attribution for photos and images”

  1. Quick question – I understand the various issues around copyright and images, but what about the copyright to the original textual content the students create in their books? By using Bookcreator as their medium to publish the works, are they transferring their copyright to the company, or do they retain copyright and just license the right of publication to Bookcreator under the CC licensing structure?

    Many thanks.


    1. Hi Chad, great question!
      You can find the answer in our Terms of service (section 6), but in summary – copyright remains with the user but you grant Book Creator a perpetual, non-exclusive, royalty free, worldwide licence so that we can provide the app to you. This is non-exclusive so you can add your own Creative Commons requirements in addition if you wish.

  2. Hey Dan

    Great post, very informative.

    I’ve got a question on stock images that I pay for. I use 123rf for stock images, just because they seem to have really cheap credits, and you can get small images (400 to 500 pixel wide) for 2 credits.

    But with these, they say I still have to give attribution if using them in a blog.
    I want to use images without having outbound links under them. Basically I don’t want to give attribution.

    What kind of license must I buy (if there is one) with stock photos, that doesn’t require attribution if using them in a blog? Or is it a site-specific problem, so maybe if I use another stock photo provider can i avoid attribution requirements?


    1. Hi Adam – I admit I don’t know the answer to this. I think even when you’ve paid for a license for an image, in most cases you need to attribute the image – that’s standard practice. Only images that are labelled for ‘Commercial use’ and ‘No attribution’ don’t require this. On a site like Pixabay, all images are labelled Creative Commons CC0 Public Domain, which means you don’t need to attribute them.

  3. I really enjoyed from reading the article above, You have explained everything in detail about copyright licensing attribution. Useful information for me. Thanks!

  4. Can I use lego or playmobil products to take photos for a bookcreator book?
    Could I publish the book and sell it?

    1. Hi Jackie – not sure about that to be honest, I think it would be best to check with Lego/Playmobil in that case.

  5. What about rights of publicity and using a person whose image rights are controlled by a talent agency or estate? If a drawing is made of such an entity what is the threshold by which image resulting image is then an original work?

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