This guide covers the importance of both citations and copyright, especially as they pertain to using media on your COPLACDigital sites.

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COPLACDigital sites are, first and foremost, works of public scholarship. So, as with any academic work, your site must include full citations for all of your sources—including digital (online) and archival media.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • If you are using an image (or other piece of media) for aesthetic rather than analytical reasons, you still need to provide a citation for it.
  • If the media is in the public domain, or if the license does not require attribution, you still need to provide a citation for it.
  • If you have obtained permission from the media owner to use the media on your site, you still need to provide a citation for it.

Digital/Online Media

Providing sufficient information in media citations can be tricky, and not all citation styles address this issue well. Best practices for online media citations include providing information about the:

  • Author/Creator
  • Date published/created
  • Title of media
  • ID of media (if applicable—the ID is typically a string of letters and numbers included in the URL)
  • Type/Format of media (e.g., JPEG, MP3, YouTube video, etc.)
  • Link to the original source of the media
  • Copyright/license, including a link to this information
  • Modifications you have made to the piece of media (e.g., cropping an image)

The more information you can provide the better. Anyone should be able to look at the citation and find the original source of the media on their own. Additionally, they should be able to look at the citation and easily find the copyright/licensing information.

Archival Media

The above guidelines also hold true for archival media—it is not enough to say "Courtesy of X University Archives." While that may be an appropriate credit for the archival media, it is not an appropriate citation. Citations for archival media should, again, provide as much as information as possible so that anyone could go to the archive and find the source.

Archival media citations should include information about the:

  • Author/creator
  • Date published/created
  • Title of media
  • ID of media (typically given when the archive digitizes the media, or it could be an accession number—check with the archivist if you aren't sure how to find this information)
  • Physical type/format of media (e.g., black and white photograph, color photograph, etc.)
  • Collection and location information (box number, folder number, page number [if applicable], etc.)
  • Archive location information (e.g., Simpson Library, University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, VA)

Archival Media in a Digital Collection

Many archives have some of their collections available online now, and these digital collections are great resources for COPLACDigital projects. Citations for these media sources can be complex, due to the media having a physical and digital form. Combining the above guidelines (archival media and digital/online media) will provide a suitable citation.

For example, an acceptable citation for the below image would be:

“Faculty and Student Body State Normal School Fredericksburg Virginia April 27 1916,” Bulletin of the State Normal School for Women, Fredericksburg, VA: Sixth Annual Catalogue, June 1917, front matter, Special Collections and University Archives, Simpson Library, University of Mary Washington, (accessed March 29, 2016). Cropped from original. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

Photograph from June 1917 showing the faculty and students of the Fredericksburg State Normal School posed in front of a building.


The Bottom Line

Provide full, academic citations for ALL of your sources.

As you locate and cite media for your COPLACDigital projects, it's very important to keep copyright limitations and media usage in mind. Just because an image, video, etc. is available online does not mean that you are free to use it. Best practice for using online media in your projects is:

  1. Go to the original source of the media. (Google Images is not an original source.)
  2. Check the original source for copyright and licensing information. Where this information is will vary depending on the source.
    • Do not use:
      1. Media that is marked as "All rights reserved"
      2. Media lacking licensing information from a site with a designated copyright
    • Seek permissions from the media/site owner if copyright/licensing information is missing or unclear.
  3. Provide a citiation, regardless of attribution requirements or owner permissions.


Licenses that Allow Reuse

Some of the most common licenses you'll see on websites and media are those from Creative Commons. Creative Commons licenses allow almost anyone to share their work online while also protecting their ownership of the work and regulating how it can be used by others. Understanding the different conditions of Creative Commons licenses will help you determine how you can reuse CC-licensed media:

  • Attribution (BY) — You must give credit the way the owner/creator requests. For CC this typically means: you must give credit to the creator, you must link to the CC license, and you must indicate if you made any changes to it.
  • Share-Alike (SA) — You can modify the original work, but you must redistribute it under the same terms as the original work.
  • NonCommercial (NC) — You cannot use the work for commercial purposes.
  • NoDerivatives (ND) — You cannot modify the original work.

Note that all CC licenses require attribution, regardless of the other three conditions, so all CC-licensed works that you use must include a link to the license in the citation.

Creative Commons has a built-in search function that is very useful for finding online media that's available for use by others. Search the Creative Commons here.

Works in the Public Domain

There are several different reasons why a work may be in the public domain (expired copyright, created by a government agency, etc.), and these works can be great sources for your websites. However, even though a work is in the public domain and therefore free to use, you must still include a citation a for it. The citation should clearly indicate that the work is in the public domain.

Below, we'll cover a few common sources of online media and how you can check each of them for usage restrictions.