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How to cite ArcGIS maps and data

From the first time you had to write an essay for school, you’ve probably been told that you need to cite your sources, or in other words, give credit to the people whose words or ideas you are including. But did you know that you also need to cite your sources for maps? 

We often receive questions from researchers about publishing maps they’ve created in ArcGIS: Am I allowed to include the imagery (World Imagery basemap)? Do I need to obtain permission to use a map or basemap? What information do I need to include about the map? The short answer to all those questions is: it depends on the context.

Content that is made public in ArcGIS Online can be viewed and used by anyone, but it may still be subject to copyright, just like any other content you find online. Breach of copyright can mean financial liability so you must have ensure you have permission to use any copyrighted materials. The creators of content in ArcGIS Online may have specified terms of use as well as who should be given credit when the content is used. For example, the terms of use for Esri basemaps and other content created by Esri state that they are licensed under the Esri Master License Agreement and will include a link to a summary document that explains what you can do with Esri-owned content and under what conditions. Other organizations or individuals that create content in ArcGIS Online may specify other terms of use for their content. Content created by the Esri Canada Education and Research Group is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC) license, which allows it to be shared and modified for non-commercial uses as long as appropriate credit is given to the original creators.

Items owned by Esri include a link to the Esri Master License Agreement and a summary of permitted uses under the Terms of Use.

Each item in ArcGIS Online may have specific terms of use. Use of Esri-owned items is restricted to the terms of the Esri Master License Agreement.

By using ArcGIS Online or any content stored in ArcGIS Online, you are automatically agreeing to the Online terms of use. You should always review the item details before adding any content to your map to ensure you are using it appropriately and should consider adding terms of use to any content that you make public so that others can use and credit your content appropriately.

Using Static Maps in Publications

You do not need to obtain permission from Esri to include static maps, whether screen capture or printed, in academic publications, for personal use, or in most use cases that do not involve direct resale or commercial monetization of the map. However, if you think your use of the map may fall outside the permitted uses for static maps, you can submit a copyright request to Esri.

When you do use a static map in a publication, you need to include three things:

  1. Attribution on or near the map of the sources for the basemap and any layers that are not your own content.
  2. An entry in your reference list, including the full URL for the item page, for the basemap and any layers that are not your own content.
  3. A statement acknowledging the use of ArcGIS software by Esri to create the map.

The Map Viewer, other web apps in ArcGIS Online, or web apps created with the ArcGIS API for JavaScript or most other ArcGIS client APIs will display the sources for the basemap and attribution information from any layers at the bottom of the map. They will also include “Powered by Esri” in the lower right corner. If you are creating a static map from a screen capture, the simplest way to satisfy #1 and #3 above is to include the text at the bottom of the map in the screen capture. If you are creating a map layout in ArcGIS Pro, you can add dynamic text to display the basemap sources and other attribution. Alternatively, you can include the information in the caption for the map.

A screen capture of the Community Map of Canada Vector Basemap and the Open Database of Healthcare Facilities layer with data sources listed at the bottom of the map. The screen capture also includes “Powered by Esri” in the bottom right corner of the map.

In this screen capture example, the sources for the basemap, layers in the Community Map of Canada, and an open data layer of healthcare facilities are displayed at the bottom of the map along with “Powered by Esri”.

The reference format you use will depend on the required format specified by the journal or other publication or by your department or institution. If no format is specified, you may follow the recommended reference format for an ArcGIS Online basemap:

Author. “Map title” [format]. Scale. “Title of the complete document or site”. Information date. URL – (The date viewed).

For example, if you are using the Community Map of Canada basemap, you might include the following in your reference list:

Esri Canada. “Topographic/Topographie” [Web Map]. Scale Not Given. “The Community Map of Canada Vector Basemap”. April 23, 2021. (September 29,2021).

Using Dynamic Maps in Publications

It is just as important to cite your sources for a dynamic map published online, whether it is embedded in a website, shared as a web app, or included in a story map, as it is to cite your sources for a static map. Unless you are building an app with an API that does not automatically include attribution, the data sources and “Powered by Esri” will be displayed at the bottom of the map. If you’ve created any of the data in your map and would like to give yourself credit, add the information to the Credits (Attribution) field in the item details for your data layer.

You should also include information about any layers in your map that are not your own so that people who view your map can find out more about the data you have used and how you used it. A few ways you might do so:

The most important thing to remember is that if you are using something created by someone else in your work, whether it is their words, ideas, data, maps, or images, they should be given credit for their creative work.

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

About the Author

Krista Amolins is a Higher Education Specialist with Esri Canada. Her career in GIS started when she came across the Geodesy and Geomatics Engineering program at the University of New Brunswick and thought it sounded interesting. She earned a PhD in Geomatics Engineering, focusing on lidar data classification, and now she supports teaching and learning with ArcGIS at colleges and universities across Canada. Krista particularly enjoys interacting with the students who receive an Esri Canada GIS Scholarship or apply for the Esri Young Scholars Award each year. She also enjoys playing with apps and doing a bit of coding when she has time.

Profile Photo of Krista Amolins