HTML image copyright license attribute initiative

A new attribute to make our lives easier

Have you ever tried to share a picture on the web? Of course you had and it was very easy. You probably went to instafacetwittergur and simply dragged and dropped your image into their platform and it was uploaded.

If you uploaded a picture that was copyrighted, the owner can file a complaint and it will be removed... eventually. That's the nature of these networks, you have very little control over what they decide to show on their platform.

There are pictures however that you can upload freely, as long as you give credit to the creator. This may be easy to do manually if you are uploading one or two at a time, but there are thousands of bots scraping images all over the web, and they can't to the best of their attempt decide if there are any copyright on the image they are grabbing.

google search image copyright notice

One person might save copyright info in the file meta data, another will display it as a watermark, and another will just mention (as recommended) somewhere on the page. This can be inconsistent since each of those are not standardized either.

There are no standards on the web. The best attempt I have seen is the W3C "recommendation". The web runs on HTML. Every browser renders HTML. Developer create fancy code that do many things, but at the end of the day, they produce HTML.

HTML is standardized. Well at least the W3C tries to and I have to say they do a very good job, even Internet Explorer tries to follow the standard nowadays.

Here is how you describe an image in HTML:

<img src="flyingcat.jpg" alt="flying cat" />

When a web crawler sees this tag, it knows where the image file is located and what the image is about. What it doesn't know is if this image is copyrighted. Well I suggest we fix that once and for all.

Introducing the copyright attribute

<img src="flyingcat.jpg" alt="Flying cat" copyright="cc-by The Cat" />

This is an optional attribute that will complement the image tag. It is not a replacement of stating the copyright info on the page, but it will be a good attempt to notify the browser and web crawlers of the copyright held by this picture.

The copyright attribute can take the values currently defined by the creative commons and then some.

Type CC Notation Copyright Attribute Notation
Attribution CC BY cc-by
Attribution-NoDerivs CC BY-ND cc-by-nd
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA cc-by-nc-sa
Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA cc-by-sa
Attribution-NonCommercial CC BY-NC cc-by-nc
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND cc-by-nc-nd
Public domain CC 0 cc-0
Non Creative Commons © c

The attribute can also include the year, and additional information. Here is an image correctly tagged with the appropriate copyrights:


CC BY Ibrahim Diallo 2015

And the html code looks like this:

<img copyright="cc-by 2015 Ibrahim Diallo" src="" alt="Ants" />

This is an attempt to create a new attribute that will make it much easier to determine the copyright grounds of an image programmatically. If successful, the attribute can be used by other tags including but not limited to audio and video.

This initiative is not to fight piracy, or create a weird behavior on the browser to prevent copying. I find it very hard to determine the license on images on certain sites and the owners never reply to email. So this can extend the work the Creative Commons has already done and get everyone on the same page.

Under the img tag definition on, we can add a new section to properly define the attribute. The content and functionality of the attribute are in no way final. I am open to suggestions visit the github repo to contribute.

Oh and I am not affiliated with the W3C.


Fuol :

Why not call the attribute "credits" instead of "copyright", because it related to the © symbol ?

Ibrahim :

That's actually a pretty good idea @Fuol. The content can stay the same just the attribute will be updated.

Let's hear your thoughts

For my eyes only