How to Never Lose Author Attributions for Images in WordPress

More than ten years ago, I accidentally removed the author attribution to a photo from an image platform that I used in one of my blog posts. This almost cost me a fine of €3,000 (around $3,250). That’s when I learned how unreliable WordPress is in displaying author attributions and how to do it properly. Author attributions tend to get lost The oldest article in my – still maintained – personal WordPress blog is from 2011. This was where I shared lessons from my early career as an entrepreneur and WordPress developer with the world, experimented with plugins, and tried out new SEO ideas. Like many other bloggers, I used popular image databases like Pixabay or Unsplash to get featured images. These platforms not only had a huge variety of images, but they also provided clear information on the authors and how to attribute them properly. This saved me from having to take pictures myself or having to negotiate arrangements with individual photographers. So when publishing a new article, I normally went to one of these platforms and downloaded a photo that matched my content best. Then I added the author attribution, as given by the platform to the image caption setting of the uploaded image. This caption was usually added below the image in the content. For featured images, I added them manually below the post. I unintentionally broke the law Then in the first years of my blogging career, one of the author attributions slipped my mind or was removed unintendedly. I don’t remember how this happened and only learned about it when the lawyer of the photographer reached out with a cease-and-desist order. Indeed, when checking the post with the image, there was no author attribution around anymore. So I unintentionally broke the law. This means that I had to remove the image and sign a paper to never do this again. In addition to that, I was supposed to pay the legal fee to that lawyer and a redemption fee to the image author. That summed up to almost 3,000 Euros. The problem with WordPress captions Remember, this was a decade ago. I already loved WordPress and thought it to be the solution for most websites. But only now did I learn about how WordPress handles captions for images. While I was waiting for my lawyer to review the case, I went through all the posts and images on my blog to see if there was another case of forgotten author attribution. And in fact, there were. There was a mixture of issues and what caused them. While I added author attributions to the post content for featured images – since there is no way WordPress doing that automatically – I sometimes forgot to update them after changing a featured image on short notice. WordPress captions are not updated! Most images though were displayed in the post content. My workflow was normally like this: Upload the image into the media library Fill in the title and alt attribute Add the author attribution in the caption Add the image to the post Checking now, all the information entered above was also visible in the post. Great! Well, only as long as I didn’t make a change. When reviewing my workflow and the images with diverting author attributions, I learned that the image information in the post content and the image information stored in the media library are not connected . WordPress takes the image meta information from the media library when adding an image to the post and writes them hard into the post content. Now, when I change the caption text or alt text in the media library, this change is not applied to the image in the post content. Needless to say, when you update the caption or other meta information of an image within a post content, it is not updated in the media library either. Since there is no way of reliably knowing which image is associated with which posts or pages, this information can easily get out of sync. In my case, this caused a two-year journey fighting the ridiculous high fine of the mentioned copyright infringement claim. How to display author attributions reliably As an aspiring WordPress backend developer and active blogger with a few sites growing, I decided to work on a solution that would prevent me from ever missing author attributions again. My goals were: Make sure that author attributions are the same, anywhere an image is used. Show them also for featured images. Have a dedicated page in the front end with all (external) images on the website. Warn me if I forgot to add an author’s attribution to an image. This eventually became my first public plugin called Image Source Control, which I am still maintaining a decade after its initial release. After uploading an image, I can fill in the fields for the author and an author link. I could also add license information or mark an image to use a general source given in the plugin settings. Whenever I change this information in the media library, they are updated automatically anywhere this image is used in the front end. Author attributions as overlay or lists Many users choose to display author attributions as an overlay above the image. This works even for images outside the main content, like featured images, and background images. I personally prefer a list of images and their authors at the end of a post, and a global image index list on a dedicated page, which I can then link in the page footer. Btw, I learned that in my case, the lawyer also actively looked for author information on a given page before filing my case. Still, many people believe it is safe to have author attributions near the image and in a central place. Over the years, I learned how to technically detect images in various positions, like a CSS background. Image Source Control now even supports Elementor background images, which could be hidden in an attached CSS file. Needless to say, the plugin also supports background images for groups as introduced in WordPress 6.4 and adds the author attribution into image lightboxes also available in WordPress core. Finding unused images [This is a teaser for the next article and could then be linked] One of the pain points I always experienced with WordPress images was that there is no way to find out where an image is used. So over time, unused images can take up more and more space. It eventually hit me that Image Source Control already had a lot of built-in functions to identify this, so the Unused Images feature made it into the plugin as well. Use by publishers and photographers Today, Image Source Control is used by different groups. Individual bloggers make sure they never forget an image attribution. Larger publishers integrated it into their workflow with dozens or more of individual authors on their sites. Among them are chapters of Wikimedia and Amnesty International. Even photographers use Image Source Control to inform potential customers about proper author attributions. Conclusion I am sure that most of you were not aware of the potential issues with external images and the challenges of properly attributing their authors in WordPress. With Image Source Control, you have a tool to help you manage and display these attributions according to your workflow and layout. It eventually “only” cost me €300 to pay my lawyer to reject the claims. Still, a multiple of a single license of Image Source Control. The other party eventually dismissed the case when they learned that my blog was solely personal and that they couldn’t charge their business fines. By then, Image Source Control was running on all of my sites.

This content was originally published here.