Creative Commons license

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This video explains how Creative Commons licenses can be used in conjunction with commercial licensing arrangements.
Creative Commons licenses are explained in many languages and used around the world, such as pictured here in Cambodia.

A Creative Commons (CC) license is one of several public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted work. A CC license is used when an author wants to give people the right to share, use and build upon a work that they have created. CC provides an author flexibility (for example, they might choose to allow only non-commercial uses of their own work) and protects the people who use or redistribute an author's work, so they don’t have to worry about copyright infringement, as long as they abide by the conditions that are specified in the license by which the author distributes the work.

There are several types of CC licenses. The licenses differ by several combinations that condition the terms of distribution. They were initially released on December 16, 2002 by Creative Commons, a U.S. non-profit corporation founded in 2001.

Applicable works

Work licensed under a Creative Commons license is governed by applicable copyright law.1 This allows Creative Commons licenses to be applied to all work falling under copyright, including: books, plays, movies, music, articles, photographs, blogs, and websites. Creative Commons does not recommend the use of Creative Commons licenses for software.2

However, application of a Creative Commons license may not modify the rights allowed by fair use or fair dealing or exert restrictions which violate copyright exceptions. Furthermore, Creative Commons licenses are non-exclusive and non-revocable. Any work or copies of the work obtained under a Creative Commons license may continue to be used under that license.

In the case of works protected by multiple Creative Common licenses, the user may choose either.

Types of licenses

The CC licenses all grant the "baseline rights", such as the right to distribute the copyrighted work worldwide, without changes, at no charge.3 The details of each of these licenses depends on the version, and comprises a selection of four conditions:

Icon Right Description
Attribution Attribution (BY) Licensees may copy, distribute, display and perform the work and make derivative works based on it only if they give the author or licensor the credits in the manner specified by these.
Share-alike Share-alike (SA) Licensees may distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs the original work. (See also copyleft.)
Non-commercial Non-commercial (NC) Licensees may copy, distribute, display, and perform the work and make derivative works based on it only for noncommercial purposes.
Non-derivative No Derivative Works (ND) Licensees may copy, distribute, display and perform only verbatim copies of the work, not derivative works based on it.

The last two clauses are not free content licenses, according to definitions such as DFSG or the Free Software Foundation's standards, and cannot be used in contexts that require these freedoms, such as Wikipedia.

Mixing and matching these conditions produces sixteen possible combinations, of which eleven are valid Creative Commons licenses and five are not. Of the five invalid combinations, four include both the "nd" and "sa" clauses, which are mutually exclusive; and one includes none of the clauses. Of the eleven valid combinations, the five that lack the "by" clause have been retired because 98% of licensors requested attribution, though they do remain available for reference on the website.456 This leaves six regularly used licenses:

Icon Description Acronym
CC-by icon Attribution alone BY
CC-by-ND icon Attribution + NoDerivatives BY-ND
CC-by-SA icon Attribution + ShareAlike BY-SA
CC-by-NC icon Attribution + Noncommercial BY-NC
CC-by-NC-ND icon Attribution + Noncommercial + NoDerivatives BY-NC-ND
CC-by-NC-SA icon Attribution + Noncommercial + ShareAlike BY-NC-SA

For example, the Creative Commons Attribution (BY) license allows one to share and remix (create derivative works), even for commercial use, so long as attribution is given.7


As of July 2011, Creative Commons licenses have been "ported" to over 50 different jurisdictions worldwide. No new ports have been implemented in version 4.0 of the license,8 which was released on 25 November 2013.9 Version 4.0 discourages using ported versions and instead acts as a single global license10 which can be used without porting.11



Since 2004, all current licenses require attribution of the original author (the BY component).5 The attribution must be given to "the best of [one's] ability using the information available".12 Generally this implies the following:

  • Include any copyright notices (if applicable). If the work itself contains any copyright notices placed there by the copyright holder, those notices must be left intact, or reproduced in a way that is reasonable to the medium in which the work is being re-published.
  • Cite the author's name, screen name, or user ID, etc. If the work is being published on the Internet, it is nice to link that name to the person's profile page, if such a page exists.
  • Cite the work's title or name (if applicable), if such a thing exists. If the work is being published on the Internet, it is nice to link the name or title directly to the original work.
  • Cite the specific CC license the work is under. If the work is being published on the Internet, it is nice if the license citation links to the license on the CC website.
  • Mention if the work is a derivative work or adaptation, in addition to the above, one needs to identify that their work is a derivative work, e.g., “This is a Finnish translation of [original work] by [author].” or “Screenplay based on [original work] by [author].”

Non-commercial licenses

The "non-commercial" option included in some Creative Commons licenses is controversial in definition,13 as it's sometimes unclear what can be considered a noncommercial setting, and application, since its restrictions differ from the principles of open content promoted by other permissive licenses.14

Zero / Public domain

Besides licenses, Creative Commons also offers a way to release material into the public domain through CC0,15 a legal tool for waiving as many rights as legally possible, worldwide. Development of CC0 began in 200716 and the tool was released in 2009.1718

In 2010, Creative Commons announced its Public Domain Mark,19 a tool for labeling works already in the public domain. Together, CC0 and the Public Domain Mark replace the Public Domain Dedication and Certification,20 which took a U.S.-centric approach and co-mingled distinct operations.

In 2011, the Free Software Foundation added CC0 to its free software licenses, making CC0 a recommended way of dedicating software to the public domain.21

In February 2012 CC0 was submitted to Open Source Initiative (OSI) for their approval22 but, due to problems, it was rejected. The OSI FAQ23 concludes "At this time, we do not recommend releasing software using the CC0 public domain dedication" because of the reservations of being able to waiver copyright (aka "public domain") from a legal standpoint in all jurisdictions. The OSI FAQ further explains that "CC0 was not explicitly rejected, but the License Review Committee was unable to reach consensus that it should be approved, and Creative Commons eventually withdrew the application". In the withdrawal message the Creative Commons representative explained that CC0 was initially developed for the needs of the scientific data community in order to help sharing data freely.24


Rights in an adaptation can be expressed by a CC license that is compatible with the status or licensing of the original work.25

Retired licenses

Due to either disuse or criticism, a number of previously offered Creative Commons licenses have since been retired,426 and are no longer recommended for new works. The retired licenses include all licenses lacking the Attribution element other than CC0, as well as the following four licenses:

  • Developing Nations License: a license which only applies to developing countries deemed to be "non-high-income economies" by the World Bank. Full copyright restrictions apply to people in other countries.27
  • Sampling: parts of the work can be used for any purpose other than advertising, but the whole work cannot be copied or modified28
  • Sampling Plus: parts of the work can be copied and modified for any purpose other than advertising, and the entire work can be copied for noncommercial purposes29
  • NonCommercial Sampling Plus: the whole work or parts of the work can be copied and modified for noncommercial purposes30

Legal review

The legal implications of large numbers of works having Creative Commons licensing is difficult to predict, and there is speculation that media creators often lack insight to be able to choose the license which best meets their intent in applying it.31

Use of Creative Commons licenses

See also


  1. ^ "Creative Commons Legal Code". Creative Commons. January 9, 2008. Retrieved February 22, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Creative Commons FAQ: Can I use a Creative Commons license for software?". 2013-07-29. Retrieved 2013-09-20. 
  3. ^ "Baseline Rights". Creative Commons. June 12, 2008. Retrieved February 22, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b "Retired Legal Tools". Creative Commons. Retrieved May 31, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b "Announcing (and explaining) our new 2.0 licenses". 2004-05-25. Retrieved 2013-09-20. 
  6. ^ "Creative Commons Licenses". Creative Commons. Retrieved February 22, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 United States". Creative Commons. November 16, 2009. Retrieved February 22, 2010. 
  8. ^ "CC Affiliate Network". Creative Commons. Retrieved July 8, 2011. 
  9. ^ Peters, Diane (25 November 2013). "CC’s Next Generation Licenses — Welcome Version 4.0!". Creative Commons. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  10. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions: What if CC licenses have not been ported to my jurisdiction?". Creative Commons. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  11. ^ "What’s New in 4.0". Creative Commons. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  12. ^ "Frequently Frequently Asked Questions". Creative Commons. February 2, 2010. Retrieved February 22, 2010. 
  13. ^ "Defining Noncommercial report published". Retrieved 2013-09-20. 
  14. ^ "The Case for Free Use: Reasons Not to Use a Creative Commons -NC License". 2013-08-26. Retrieved 2013-09-20. 
  15. ^ "CC0". Creative Commons. Retrieved February 22, 2010. 
  16. ^ "Creative Commons Launches CC0 and CC+ Programs" (Press release). Creative Commons. December 17, 2007. Retrieved February 22, 2010. 
  17. ^ Baker, Gavin (January 16, 2009). "Report from CC board meeting". Open Access News. Retrieved February 22, 2010. 
  18. ^ "Expanding the Public Domain: Part Zero". Retrieved 2013-09-20. 
  19. ^ "Marking and Tagging the Public Domain: An Invitation to Comment". 2010-08-10. Retrieved 2013-09-20. 
  20. ^ "Copyright-Only Dedication (based on United States law) or Public Domain Certification". Creative Commons. August 20, 2009. Retrieved February 22, 2010. 
  21. ^ "Using CC0 for public domain software". Creative Commons. April 15, 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2011. 
  22. ^ Carl Boettiger (In the Open Source Initiative Licence review mailing list). "OSI recognition for Creative Commons Zero License?". Retrieved 2012-02-01. 
  23. ^ The Open Source Initiative FAQ. "What about the Creative Commons "CC0" ("CC Zero") public domain dedication? Is that Open Source?". Retrieved 2013-05-25. 
  24. ^ Christopher Allan Webber (In the Open Source Initiative Licence review mailing list). "CC withdrawl of CC0 from OSI process". Retrieved 2012-02-24. 
  25. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". CC Wiki. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  26. ^ Lessig, Lawrence (June 4, 2007). "Retiring standalone DevNations and one Sampling license". Creative Commons. Retrieved July 5, 2007. 
  27. ^ "Developing Nations License". Creative Commons. Retrieved 9 April 2012. 
  28. ^ "Sampling 1.0". Creative Commons. Retrieved 9 April 2012. 
  29. ^ "Sampling Plus 1.0". Creative Commons. November 13, 2009. Retrieved 9 April 2012. 
  30. ^ "NonCommercial Sampling Plus 1.0". Creative Commons. November 13, 2009. Retrieved 9 April 2012. 
  31. ^ Katz, Zachary (2005-6). "Pitfalls of Open Licensing: An Analysis of Creative Commons Licensing". IDEA: The Intellectual Property Law Review 46 (3): 391. 

External links

Creative Commons License