I would like to use this image of a Star Trek tricorder in my PhD thesis as cover art for an "Outlook" style chapter. It is listed as being under CC-BY-SA. I believe this is fine, but I wanted to confirm. As attribution, I have an acknowledgements section at the end of the chapter which says

"Chapter cover art from Bobbie Johnson, used under CC BY-SA"

Is this an acceptable use/attribution of this image? More generally, does using Creative Commons licensed material in my thesis pose problems for the licensing of the thesis itself? If I am reading it correctly I do not need to license the thesis under CC as long as I don't modify the image at all, is this correct?

3 Answers 3


License version

Note that the author licensed it under CC BY-SA 2.0 (that’s what it says on the Flickr page), while the blog post that made use of this image specifies CC BY-SA 4.0 instead. It’s allowed to license contributions to this image under a newer BY-SA license, but not the original work (only the author may choose to do this). So unless the blog post author got the permission from the image author, their attribution is not correct, and you should assume that the image is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.


Your attribution isn’t sufficient.

For CC BY-SA 2.0, a correct attribution (for using the original image) contains (if available):

  • name (or pseudonym) of the author
  • title of the work
  • URI of the work

and you must specify

  • the URI of the license (or include a copy of the license)

So it could look like this:

Chapter cover art: tricorderunbox4 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/bojo/4078685614) from Bobbie Johnson, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)

or like this if hyperlinks are possible:

Chapter cover art: tricorderunbox4 from Bobbie Johnson, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


The ShareAlike (SA) element of the license requires that derivative works have to be licensed under a compatible license, too.

Deciding whether or not a work becomes a derivative work isn’t always easy. And it’s not relevant if the image got modified:

  • A work could become a derivative even if the image is used unmodified.
  • If a work doesn’t become a derivative, you could still edit the image (it would only affect the license of that image, not your whole document).

In your case, I think that the thesis doesn’t become a derivative work, as the image doesn’t affect the rest of its content in any way. So it should be fine to not license your thesis, or to license it under a different license.

  • Thank you for the detailed reply. I will change the attribution accordingly.
    – KBriggs
    May 1, 2018 at 18:34

I am not a lawyer so take what I said with a pinch of salt. But I would venture to say yes, this is acceptable and you have not made any modifications to it and it is not for commercial purposes (if your thesis gets turned into a book for sale that may be a different story).

Next to be extra safe, just contact the author. I looked at the photo and it links to the author's page and he seems active and contactable on flickr. So I would say, just drop him an email and if possible get his clear consent to add it to your thesis.

  • Good suggestion, I will do that
    – KBriggs
    May 1, 2018 at 15:22
  • Glad I could help in a small way!
    – MHL
    May 1, 2018 at 15:23
  • The license does allow commercial use, so using the image for commerical purposes is fine.
    – unor
    May 1, 2018 at 16:08

My advice is to get permission for any image from the originator (don't depend on CCSA or other free licenses, don't depend on Wiki). The reason is these can be a little sketchy ("Flickr washing" and the like). The one thing that I would feel OK is US FEDERAL government (and not national labs!) where you verify the particulars. Or stuff that is obviously free domain (pre 1920s in the US).

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