How does an article's Creative Commons license affect content the author didn’t create, like images?

Modified on Tue, 05 Sep 2023 at 06:31 AM

A license is only legally effective to the extent that the person granting it has the right to do so. In other words, you can't give rights you don’t have. 

For instance, if an article includes an image that was used with permission, or as fair use, the CC license of the journal will only apply to the author's original content, not that image. The article can be distributed with the image in it, but if the image has a more or less restrictive CC license, or none at all, its original restrictions still govern its use outside the article. Captions can help clarify this for users, e.g. 

  • "This photo used with permission, Copyright 1996 Jane Smith, all rights reserved," or;
  • "This image copyright 2004 by Bill Jones, used under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial license." 

Creative Commons has more information on best practices for attribution.