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Copyright

What is a Creative Commons License?

A Creative Commons license is a human- and machine-readable copyright license that clearly indicates what rights the copyright owner retains and what rights the copyright owner offers to other users.

  • CC licenses are built on copyright law. They apply only when the work falls within the scope of copyright law. In other words, CC licenses work on top of copyright law provisions, not instead of the copyright law.
  • CC licenses do not apply in cases where copyright does not apply. This includes other rights, such as patents, trademarks, privacy and publicity rights.
  • CC licenses do not apply in cases where the use of a work falls under one of the other exceptions or limitations to copyright protection, such as fair use. If the use of a work is permitted by an exception to copyright law, then the use is outside the regulation of a copyright license like a CC license.
  • You can’t attach a CC license to a work unless you own its copyright.
  • No takebacks! Once you license, you can’t un-license (in other words, a CC license is non-revocable).

Elements of a CC License

Creative Commons Licenses consist of some combination of four (4) basic elements. These elements combine to form six (6) CC license options.

Creative Commons Attribution icon

Attribution or BY. All licenses include this element.

Creative Commons Non Commercial icon

Non-commercial or NC. This designates that the work can only be used for non-commercial purposes (uses not intended for “commercial advantage or monetary gain”).

Creative Commons Share Alike icon

Share Alike or SA. This indicates that adaptations based on the work must be licensed under the same or compatible license.

Creative Commons No Derivatives icon

No Derivatives or ND. This means that users cannot share adaptations of the work. (Users may make adaptations for private use but users may not distribute those adaptations.)

The Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons Attribution button CC BY or Attribution License. Others may use the work for any purpose with attribution given to the creator.
Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike button CC BY-SA or Attribution-ShareAlike License. Others may use the work for any purpose with attribution given to the creator; the adaptation must be licensed under the same or compatible license.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial button CC BY-NC or Attribution-NonCommercial License. Others may use the work for non-commercial uses only with attribution given to the creator.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike button CC BY-NC-SA or Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. Others may use the work for non-commercial uses only with attribution given to the creator; the adaptation must be licensed under the same or compatible license.
Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives button CC BY-ND or Attribution-NoDerivatives License. Others may use the unmodified work for any purpose with attribution given to the creator.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial No Derivatives button CC BY-NC-ND or Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License. Others may use the unmodified work for noncommercial uses only with attribution given to the creator.

Openness of Creative Commons Licenses

Copyright and CC licenses provide a range of “openness” to users. Licensors can choose how open or permissive a license to apply, from All Rights Reserved to Some Rights Reserved to No Rights Reserved (material dedicated to the Public Domain).

Creative Commons License Spectrum

Creative Commons License Spectrum, by Shaddim. CC BY 4.0

CC License Compatibility

Users can combine material under different CC licenses, but with some caveats:

  • If the combination is not an adaptation, then you can combine any CC-licensed content with proper attribution and compliance with any non-commercial restrictions.
  • If the combination is an adaptation, there are limitations on how SA materials can be reused. Use the chart above to determine how CC licensed materials can be combined.
  • Note: ND licenses do not permit remixing except for private use.
  • See the Creative Commons FAQ re: Combining Material under Different Licenses.
Creative Commons Compatibility Chart

CC License Compatibility Chart / CC BY 4.0

Attribution

All Creative Commons licenses require that attribution be given to the creator of the content. Proper attribution allows the public to access the original work, identify the original creators, and know what license terms apply to specific content. The best practice for attribution is to follow the TASL approach:

  • Title (not required, but recommended, under the CC 4.0 licenses)
  • Author
  • Source
  • License

An ideal attribution will follow the format:

  • “Title of Work” by Creator/Author is licensed under Specific CC license.
  • Each element – title, author, CC license – will link to the source.