Making Creative Commons Easy with Open Attribute

The Hold Steady

By explicitly permitting the sharing, re-using, and re-mixing of content, Creative Commons licenses are an important part of open educational and research practices. We’ve covered Creative Commons before: “Where All the Purty Pictures Come From: Flickr + Creative Commons”; “Using Creative Commons-Licensed Material in Your Classroom”; “How To Find Free Online Content That You’re Allowed To Re-Use”; and, as an example of this, “Finding and Re-Sizing Images with Wylio”. And every single post on the blog has a creative-commons image at the top of it.

Open Attribute is a new tool that helps you identify and attribute Creative-Commons licensed content. And while it is still in active development, and even though at present it is only available for Firefox and Chrome (Opera and Safari are coming soon!), it is still a dead-simple, and pretty convenient, tool.

Open Attribute is a browser add-on, so to start using it, go to either the Firefox or Chrome page associated with the add-on. Once you’ve installed the add-on, any time you are on a page with Creative-Commons licensed content, you’ll see this symbol (circled in red) in the address bar:

CC icon

Clicking on the symbol invokes a dialog box that lets you choose to copy the attribution as plaintext or as html, or to see more information. Here’s what the “more information” button calls up for the above picture (click for larger image):

Open Attribute

Click for larger image

The underlined bit is what you can copy and paste into any other document. The above example generates this snippet of text:

IMG_0483 / Jason Jones ( / CC BY-NC 2.0 (

What’s nice about this is that it gives the title of the image, the name of the creator, and the specific license. But you can already see the problem: This attribution doesn’t provide a link to the picture. Instead, Open Attribute 0.92 points to a page about the visitor’s relationship to the creator of that picture. (It’s a problem in the HTML version, too.) Update at 11.20pm on 2/9/11: See comments! The Open Attribute team has already fixed this minor bug, and the excellent Alan Levine posted a complementary script. (Moral of this story: Report bugs!)

It’s worth saying that this seems to be a problem with Flickr’s metadata–Open Attribute works fine for Wikipedia and many other sites I’ve tried it on. There are other minor annoyances: If I’m logged in to my Flickr account, then Open Attribute can’t see the Creative Commons license for my photos, even though it’s easy to imagine scenarios when I would need such information.

If Flickr is your main resource for Creative Commons licensed materials, then Open Attribute is probably not quite ready for integration into your workflow (although it’s getting better with Flickr with each release). If, however, you have a wider appetite for such materials, then Open Attribute is worth installing immediately.

(Speaking of openness, one of my favorite parts of  Open Attribute is that it was conceived and developed as part of Mozilla’s Drumbeat Festival. Molly Kleinman has a great writeup of the development process. And since it’s open source, you can be involved, contributing to the improvement of this nifty tool!)

Image by me (@jbj) / Creative Commons licensed

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