Say I have images in my WordPress theme that I got from Unsplash or Pexels a year or so ago, when their license was more permissive (GPL compatible).

Fast forward to today: their licenses changed.

Do I need to update the license on my theme for these images, or do the old license for these images still apply (since I've downloaded them at the time where their license was, say CC0)?

I get that with certain OS libraries you can just use the version where their license was different (v1.0.0 was GPL, but v2.1.0 is MIT), but with images, it's a bit different since it's still the same image (no versioning aside the date of download).

Are license changes in this case retroactive?

  • 2
    It is possible to release the same software, image, and so on, under different licenses. Just because the version from 2017 and the 2018 are pixel for pixel identical, does not mean that the license is identical.
    – Brandin
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 10:35
  • When you downloaded the image (say, in 2017), did it come with any license statement to say "this is licensed under the following conditions..."?
    – Brandin
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 10:36
  • 1
    When I downloaded it the Unsplash licensed all its images as CC0, then they changed it to 'Unsplash' license later on. I don't think there was any explicit mentioning on the image itself. So if I understood you correctly, the licenses are not retroactive (in general case)
    – dingo_d
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 10:48
  • No I'm asking what proof you have that the file you downloaded was actually licensed under CC0. For example, if I download some GPL software, there is a file which says that it is licensed that way.
    – Brandin
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 13:24

1 Answer 1


While pixabay specifies CC0, both Unsplash and Pexels show less formal license information that allows any use as long as it isn't in direct competition.

All three sites use a license that is more permissive than the GPL, if any images were previously available under a different license, the current one would appear to be less restrictive.

If the current license terms conflict in some way with your usage, it will be a matter of "Can you prove that you got the images at an earlier time under different terms?" If you can't prove when you got the images and the terms you agreed to at the time, you are better off adjusting to the current terms, either by adjusting your credits or replacing the relevant images.

Your description sounds like you should have no issues with the current terms of either site. While neither site requires credit to be given, it is appreciated. Personally, I would update the credits to reflect the current terms.

  • I have the credits, and I have the svn history to prove when the image was first used, so I should be good either way.
    – dingo_d
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 7:52
  • 1
    @dingo_d: Do you also have evidence what the license terms were when you started using the images? That is also crucial in proving what terms apply to your use of the images. Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 16:15

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