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Creative Commons and Copyright

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This page is openly licensed.

Creative Commons Licenses © 2024 by Evangeline Reid is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0 

Creative Commons (CC) licenses are a way for creators to release rights to others. 

Without these licenses, copyright assumes "all rights reserved." CC licenses, in comparison, might be considered "some rights reserved." Which rights are reserved depends on the type of CC license applied.

All CC licenses require attribution when using the work.

A spectrum with full copyright (all rights reserved) on one end and public domain (no rights reserved) on the other end. Middle is Creative Commons 

"Creative Commons: a user guide" by Simone Aliprandi. CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported

The Four Elements of CC Licenses

BY

BY (Attribution)

This element is part of every CC license. It requires that any use of the material gives credit to the creator.

Noncommercial

NC (Noncommercial)

This element disallows commercial uses of a work.

Share Alike

SA (Share Alike)

This element requires that adaptations are shared under the same terms.

No Derivatives

ND (No Derivatives)

This element disallows adaptations or remixes of a work.

CC Licenses

The elements are combined into six different licenses. These licenses answer the question, "What can I do with this work?" They are listed here from most to least permissive. 

Remember, these licenses are legally binding agreements. Failing to respect a license may result in permissions being revoked. 

CC BY CC BY graphic

This license enables reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, so long as attribution is given to the creator. The license allows for commercial use. CC BY includes the following elements:

 BY: credit must be given to the creator.

CC BY-SA

CC BY SA graphicThis license enables reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, so long as attribution is given to the creator. The license allows for commercial use. If you remix, adapt, or build upon the material, you must license the modified material under identical terms. CC BY-SA includes the following elements:

 BY: credit must be given to the creator.
 SA: Adaptations must be shared under the same terms.

CC BY-NC

CC BY NC graphicThis license enables reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format for noncommercial purposes only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator. CC BY-NC includes the following elements:

 BY: credit must be given to the creator.
 NC: Only noncommercial uses of the work are permitted

CC BY-NC-SA

CC BY NC SA graphicsThis license enables reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format for noncommercial purposes only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator. If you remix, adapt, or build upon the material, you must license the modified material under identical terms. CC BY-NC-SA includes the following elements:

 BY: credit must be given to the creator.
 NC: Only noncommercial uses of the work are permitted.
 SA: Adaptations must be shared under the same terms.

CC BY-ND

CC BY ND graphicThis license enables reusers to copy and distribute the material in any medium or format in unadapted form only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator. The license allows for commercial use. CC BY-ND includes the following elements:

 BY: credit must be given to the creator.
 ND: No derivatives or adaptations of the work are permitted.

CC BY-NC-ND

CC BY NC ND graphicThis license enables reusers to copy and distribute the material in any medium or format in unadapted form only, for noncommercial purposes only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator. CC BY-NC-ND includes the following elements:

 BY: credit must be given to the creator.
 NC: Only noncommercial uses of the work are permitted.
 ND: No derivatives or adaptations of the work are permitted.

Note: The most current version of these licenses is 4.0. You may encounter previous versions. These are still applicable and enforceable but not recommended for new works. 

The descriptions of licenses are from "About CC Licenses" (https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/cclicenses/) by Creative Commons which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. Icons by Font Awesome.

CC License Layers

Three stacked pages labeled Machine Readable, Human Readable, and Legal CodeThis page focuses on the human-readable layer of CC licenses. The icons and common deeds help everyday people easily communicate usage permissions.

There are two other important layers that make these licenses work.

The legal code fully explains each license and also makes them enforceable. It also helps bridge gaps to make these licenses internationally applicable. For example, check out the detailed legal code behind CC BY 4.0.

The machine-readable version of the license makes it possible to search and filter for openly licensed material. This can be accomplished using CC Rights Expression Language (CC REL). Many online platforms have incorporated this into their coding, making it easy for users to select the appropriate license and automatically apply a machine-readable license, but if you are publishing CC licensed material on your own website consider how you can incorporate this layer to improve findability.

Other Tools

Creative Commons also offers two other tools to facilitate openly sharing materials. These are not licenses.

CC0CC0 graphic

CC Zero is a tool for creators to dedicate their work to the public domain, renouncing any copyright claim. CC0 enables others to distribute, remix, and adapt a work with no conditions. This is a "no rights reserved" approach, in contrast with the "some rights reserved" approach of the CC licenses listed above.

CC0 legal code has a license that enacts if renouncing rights is not valid in a certain country. It also has a promise that the creator will not pursue any legal action in conflict with their intention to release rights. This thoughtfulness makes it very protective for all involved no matter where they may be in the world.

Public Domain MarkPublic Domain graphic

This icon asserts a work has no copyright restrictions in any jurisdiction and is in the public domain. It does not release any rights, should they still exist.

CC Licenses Work with Copyright

CC licenses work with copyright, allowing rights holders to share their works on their own terms. That also means that all exceptions and limitations to copyright apply. For example, a small portion of CC BY-NC material can be used for commercial purposes under a Fair Use exception. When the copyright term expires on a CC licensed work, it enters the public domain just like any other work and no longer requires attribution or any other licensing elements.