Attribution is providing acknowledgement to the source of the information (text, image, dataset, etc.) you are using. Regardless of whether the referenced source is in the public domain, it is valuable to include attribution, to give authority to your information as well as to offer a source path that allows the reader to learn more. If you must clear permission from the source owner to include the information in your work, often the source owner will provide you with specific language to copy and paste verbatim as your attribution. Every work with a Creative Commons license requires that attribution be provided. If no specific language is requested/required by the source owner, attribution should usually include the creator and title of the work, the date created, and where the work can be found.

Do not confuse attribution with citation–citation names the sources used within your work; attribution gives credit to the source holder for using their intellectual property.

  • Libraries’ citation tutorial
  • Purdue OWL citation style guide
  • Each citation style should individually have an in-depth resource guide or “publication manual” for formatting and reference citations, provided online or in print. Ensure you are referring to the most updated edition of the manual, as citation rules may have changed between editions.

The UNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center can provide aid about citations. Please consult with the Scholarly Communications Office for guidance on attribution, as this relates to copyright, permissions, and licensing.


There is an overlap between copyright and plagiarism in many cases, but it is possible for an action to be plagiarism without being a copyright violation and vice versa. For example, reproducing a public domain work and passing it off as your own might be plagiarism, but there would be no copyright infringement. A work might be properly attributed, and so there might be no plagiarism, but that reproduction still might be a copyright violation.