Copyright: How to Quote and Cite Sources

Reprinted and expanded upon with author’s permission from How to Blog Part 11: Copyright and Citations on Blog Your Passion.

There are two issues to cover as part of this ongoing How to Blog series: Copyright and Citation.


In “What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content,” I wrote:

Having been the target of copyright thieves, and working with writers, authors, and photographers on copyright protection and laws for over 25 years, I thought I’d talk a little about what to do when someone steals your content.

First, you noticed that I didn’t say “if” someone steals your content. That was on purpose. With the glut of information on the Internet, it’s now a matter of “when” not “if”.

The first step in learning about what you can do when someone steals your content is to know that it will happen, so the more prepared and informed you are, the better your chances of prevention and having a plan in place when they steal.

There are many reasons people take and use content that isn’t their own. The two most common reasons are “I didn’t know any better” and laziness.

The “didn’t know any better” excuse doesn’t work with me. If you went to school in the last few hundred years, you would have learned from elementary school on that copying someone else’s work is not just bad, it can get you punished by being kicked out of school, lose your degree, or even your job.

The Internet is no different than the real world.

Learn how to link and quote from published material to stay safe and on the right side of International Copyright Laws.


There will be many times when you will want to quote someone in order to make your point or promote something. Learn how to create these citations correctly to avoid copyright or plagiarism issues. If someone quoted you, you would want to be given fair credit, right?

Fair Use in Copyright law states that you may use a small portion of the original, with proper citation, as a reference, resource, or quote, as long as it does not infringe upon the copyright holder’s policies, licenses, rights, and abilities to generate income from the original.

What does that really mean on the web?

  1. You may use images or words as long as the copyright policy permits it for your usage.
  2. You may only use what is specified, and how it is specified, within that copyright policy.

My copyright policy regarding Fair Use, and a growing standard on the web, is 10% or 400 words with a link to the page quoted on my site and my site name and my name in the link or nearby text. I do not permit the usage of any of my images or photography without express permission (in writing).

As the owner of your words and images, you can set your own copyright terms, conditions, and license.

Many people choose a copyright license from because it feels too overwhelming to explain it yourself. They offer simple licenses for a variety of copyright terms.

Look around the site for their copyright policy. It should be linked to from their footer or found in their Policies Page or About Page, or possibly on their Contact Page.

A quote on a web page is not much different than a quoted citation in print. To quote a person or reference, you must have the following:

  1. An excerpt or the particular paragraph or phase referenced.
  2. A link to the original content.
  3. The author, title of the article, and optionally the title of the site in the link text.

Presentation of the quoted material is featured on a web page in two traditional formats, one within the content similar to traditional print media, and the other within an HTML tags designating the content as a quote, thus styling it distinctively from the rest of the content.

Within a paragraph: The quoted material is incorporated into the content, no different than you would find in a book. “What baffles me is that publications, ranging from major publications to small websites have failed to get more proactive on the issue,” said Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today in his article, “Journalists: It’s Time to Get In Front of Plagiarism.”

In a blockquote HTML tag: The <blockquote> HTML tag is often designed to feature quoted content visually, indicating clearly that the voice is not that of the author. While every web design treats these differently, in general the content is indented and in italic, and often features a quote symbol or a background colored box. I’ve presented an example above using the blockquote tag, introducing the source within the content, then putting the quote in the blockquote tag. Here is another method.

Between the anti-copyright sites carrying “all rights reserved” notices and copyright enforcers sharing infringing videos on Facebook, it can feel as if everyone has dabbled at least some in copyright hypocrisy, whether they admit it or not or even if they know it or not.

The truth is that, while some of these hypocrisies do truly come from people that are quick to sell out their stated morals, most don’t. They come from a complex and nuanced copyright reality that make holding onto simple ideals almost impossible.

Hypocrisy and Copyright by Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today

Using the <blockquote> HTML tag, I’ve also put the link in a <cite> HTML tag to properly structure the citation within the code. The link itself would work as well.

The WordPress Visual Editor on the Post or Page panel features a quote mark button. Select the text you wish to be in the blockquote and click the blockquote button.

Citing Image Sources

Water droplets on a sheet web over plants - photography copyright Brent VanFossen.

Raindrops on sheet web. Photo copyright Brent VanFossen.

To give credit to the designer or photographer of an image, the credit may be placed near the image in many ways.

In general, if the images are yours, you do not have to feature a copyright credit on or near the image. Your general copyright policy should cover the image without extra effort. The title, filename, and alternative description should feature your name as the artist or copyright holder, such as Red-legged frog under a leaf - photography by Brent VanFossen.jpg. You may also wish to add a watermark or visible text to a photograph or graphic with a copyright statement with a graphics program.

If you are the copyright holder of the image, simply add a citation credit in the alternative description of the image when uploading it to your site. You may also wish to add a caption with the citation and include a citation credit within the post content or at the bottom of the post similar to a footnote.

If the image is not on your site, the copyright holder’s policy may allow linking to the image by leaving it stored on their site.

The basic methods for creating citations to images that are not yours begins with checking the copyright policy for that site or artists and offering citations in accordance with their wishes. Their wishes might not align with your site’s design and style guidelines, but give it your best try to incorporate the spirit of their wishes.

In general, image citation formats include:

  • Caption: A caption with the image title (if available such as “The Mona Lisa”) and name of the author. The name of the author and their site may be linked.
  • Within the Content: You may give credit within the content such as “As seen in the image to the right by Sally Sparrow of Sparrow Photography…”
  • Credit at Bottom of Article: If the image is incidental, you may add a credit link at the bottom of the article, often showcased in italics such as Image Credit: The Eiffel Tower, photography by Sally Sparrow of Sparrow Photography.
  • Footnote: If you are featuring multiple images and wish the credits to be in the form of a bibliography or set of footnotes at the bottom of the article, you may use footnote jump links.
  • Image Used Throughout the Site: If the image is used throughout your site as a design elements, header art, or other artistic usage, give credit to the artist on your About at the very bottom of the Page, along with other credits. If you have many credits and citations, consider adding a Page called “Credits” as a subPage to About.

Hotlinking and Embedding From Off-Site

Linking to the original image source and location is called hotlinking. Image sites such as Flickr allow hotlinking to images and provide an embed code for such usage. The copyright citation is usually included in the embed code. Simply copy it and paste it into WordPress. Use the Text Editor if you find the embed code doesn’t work right in the Visual Editor. Note that alignment may still be used by editing the HTML of the linked image and adding class="alignright" or left or center within the code as shown in the examples in “How to Add Images in Your Post Content.”

If a site does not allow hotlinking, they may have set up a protective block. Therefore you may not use that image without their explicit permission. If you embed the image, it will either not show or a warning message may appear. There are ways around this, but that isn’t the point. These people are protecting their images.

For sites that do permit such links, here is the method to embed the image in WordPress.

WordPress example of how to link to an external image and add caption and link to original source.

  1. Click the Add Media button on the post or Page.
  2. Choose Insert from URL.
  3. Paste in the link to the image or video – the direct link, not the address of the page the image is featured on. The link usually ends in JPG, PNG, or a video extension.
  4. Fill in the information, including the optional Link to the original web page or website featuring the image or the copyright holder.
  5. Insert the image into the post.

Orangutan chews on finger. Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.

Orangutan – copyright Lorelle VanFossen [external link]

The image in the example here to the right features a photograph by Lorelle VanFossen from the site . The caption identifies and credits the copyright holder. Click the image and you will be taken to that site.

Be aware that sites and content changes over time. Linking to content off your site risks the image and links not working if the owner changes things or lets the site expire and close. Screenshots are an alternative. Use these judiciously and always cite their sources.

Information on Citation, Credits, and Copyrights

For more information on copyright and proper citation, see the following.

29 thoughts on “Copyright: How to Quote and Cite Sources

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  18. Hi Lorelle:
    Apologies for the long time in coming back to you. With regard to your article on Copyright, quoting and citing sources I agree on most if not all points. However, it is in many cases that the “source” normally a full time journalist can often in the main happen to be the “one that was read and then, the actual sources have however been expunged from their article. If one has time, you can identify the originating source and direct your readers there – so hopefully improving the quality of your item for both you and your audience.
    One of the main actions of good journalism (means simply writing to me) is that you can pass information across to the widest potential audience by making it both more easy to read – and that means making it as clear and simple as possible. You should avoid using “BIG” words if you are only showing off your own “wordsmithing” and remember to set your word processor to the correct language settings – especially for English – where there are various flavors oops flavours which can also impact on your seo as users spell words differently.
    Kind regards,
    Martin Maguire,

    • Third party links are called “hat tips” by bloggers, giving appreciation to the secondary source. However, you are right that few look beyond the first discovery to find the right source of the original material. I hate this kind of laziness, but welcome to the blog echo chamber philosophy.

      Good journalism is one thing, blogging is another. While related, blogging involves talking to your audience, not at them, below them, or above them. If the audience is scholars, write scholarly. If the audience is children, write accordingly. The idea of everyone writing at a 6th grade reading level as most newspapers continue to do was fine for them, not for today’s blogger and web publisher. Write to their audience, using their words, their styles, and their spellings.


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