In a research paper for a journal, which uses Science magazine publication style, I'm reproducing a diagram from a document, which has a Creative Commons (CC)-based open document license. The diagram (figure) itself doesn't contain any license references, as is typical for most CC-licensed figures, however the whole original document contains the following statement:

This work is made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License, creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/.

Question: What should be the content and style of the borrowed figure's caption, considering the journal style and the document license? In other words, should it just be (X is reference number)

Figure 1. The title of the figure. Reproduced from Reference X.


Figure 1. The title of the figure. Reproduced from Reference X (CC BY-NC 3.0).

or something else?

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    I wonder whether the non-commercial clause prohibits reproduction in a (probably) commercial journal?
    – silvado
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 10:01
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    @Silvado: This is a very good question, and is not agreed upon. There has been much discussion about that clause here: blog.creativecommons.org/2009/09/14/… and elsewhere. The general consensus is that a loose interpretation (erring on the side of permissiveness rather than defaulting to all rights reserved) is probably best, unless explicitly stated otherwise by the works' author. The journals themselves will look into this sort of thing before publishing anyways and will likely request formal permission. Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 15:47
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    @MekkiMacAulay, that is a dangerous path. Look at it this way, I offer X and allow A, B, and forbid C; you go and use X, making use of A and B, and go ahead and also do C "understanding loosely". I might agree and say "what the heck", or I could get mad and sue you. Both strictly within my rights. And if I stated unambiguosly "don't do C", there is nothing to "loosely" understand "you can do C". You can not interpret a legal document "loosely". If in doubt, ask.
    – vonbrand
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 19:01
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    Very good points - thank you for the comments. So, it seems that it is potentially "dangerous" to include the diagram in question as is. It is quite sad, as my boss (professor) likes it very much. Perhaps, I can request an official permission from the copyright holder. IMHO that would override the default license and I would be able to include the diagram, adding "Reproduced with permission" claim. The only problem is that we are short on time. Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 20:54
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    @MekkiMacAulay, each time I did publish something in a journal I had to fill out and sign a form telling them I had permission to use figures and such (even when there were no figures at all). They don't handle this for you.
    – vonbrand
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 22:18

1 Answer 1


Including the license terms in the figure caption isn't necessary. "Attribution" in CC licensing is usually interpreted as "provides name of author and/or source of original", which you do fine with just "Reference X".

EDIT from comments: As pointed out by @ff524, the CC guidelines suggest including license terms. It makes sense to include title, author name, source, license in the reference section. Not necessary for the image caption though.

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    According to this CC page, the ideal attribution includes title, source, author, and license.
    – ff524
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 3:17
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    I have never seen any reference style that includes license information, but if that's your answer, you should include it in your post. Have you ever seen such a reference style? Do you have an example?
    – ff524
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 3:23
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    Thank you for your answer - your point makes sense to me (+1). BTW, I was curious enough to visit your profile and LinkedIn page. I was glad to discover that we have a lot of interests in common :-). Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 3:36
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    @ff524, at least in standard BibTeX there is a "note" field in all (most?) entry types, you can add that there. In the worst case, there is a misc entry for, well, not easy to classify/special entries ;-)
    – vonbrand
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 19:05
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    Thank you for the update. However, the problem with @ff524's suggestion and your subsequent advice is that sometimes (or, perhaps, often) the content of an appropriate citation recommended by license and publication style differs and, sometimes, significantly (such as in my case). So, which side an author should align with? Or, in other words, which entity's guidelines override the other's? Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 3:32

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