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Creative Commons license

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 from concerns of 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 non-profit corporation founded in 2001.


  • Applicable works 1
  • Types of licenses 2
    • Seven regularly used licenses 2.1
  • Version 4.0 and international use 3
  • Rights 4
    • Attribution 4.1
    • Non-commercial licenses 4.2
    • Zero / public domain 4.3
    • Adaptation 4.4
  • Legal aspects 5
    • Dutch tabloid 5.1
    • Virgin Mobile 5.2
    • SGAE vs Fernández 5.3
    • GateHouse Media, Inc. vs. That's Great News, LLC 5.4
  • Works with a Creative Commons license 6
  • Retired licenses 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

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.[3] Furthermore, Creative Commons licenses are non-exclusive and non-revocable.[4] Any work or copies of the work obtained under a Creative Commons license may continue to be used under that license.[5]

In the case of works protected by multiple Creative Common licenses, the user may choose either.[6]

Types of licenses

Wanna Work Together? animation by Creative Commons
The second version of the Mayer and Bettle promotional animation explains what Creative Commons is.
Ordering of CC licenses from most to least open

The CC licenses all grant the "baseline rights", such as the right to distribute the copyrighted work worldwide for non-commercial purposes, and without modification.[7] The details of each of these licenses depends on the version, and comprises a selection out 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.

Source: [8]

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 WorldHeritage. For software, Creative Commons includes three free licenses created by other institutions: the BSD License, the GNU LGPL, and the GNU GPL.[9]

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.[10][11][12] This leaves six regularly used licenses:

Seven regularly used licenses

Icon Description Acronym Free/Libre
CC0 icon Freeing content globally without restrictions CC0 Yes
CC-BY icon Attribution alone BY Yes
CC-BY-SA icon Attribution + ShareAlike BY-SA Yes
CC-by-NC icon Attribution + Noncommercial BY-NC No
CC-BY-ND icon Attribution + NoDerivatives BY-ND No
CC-BY-NC-SA icon Attribution + Noncommercial + ShareAlike BY-NC-SA No
CC-BY-NC-ND icon Attribution + Noncommercial + NoDerivatives BY-NC-ND No

Sources: [12][13]

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.[14]

Version 4.0 and international use

The original non-localized Creative Commons licenses were written with the U.S. legal system in mind, so the wording could be incompatible within different local legislations and render the licenses unenforceable in various jurisdictions. To address this issue, Creative Commons asked its affiliates to translate the various licenses to reflect local laws in a process called "porting."[15] As of July 2011, Creative Commons licenses have been ported to over 50 jurisdictions worldwide.[16]

The latest version 4.0 of the Creative Commons licenses, released on November 25, 2013, are generic licenses that are applicable to most jurisdictions and do not usually require ports.[17][18][19][20] No new ports have been implemented in version 4.0 of the license.[21] Version 4.0 discourages using ported versions and instead acts as a single global license.[22]



Since 2004, all current licenses require attribution of the original author (the BY component).[11] The attribution must be given to "the best of [one's] ability using the information available".[23] 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,[24] as it is sometimes unclear what can be considered a non-commercial setting, and application, since its restrictions differ from the principles of open content promoted by other permissive licenses.[25] In 2014 Wikimedia published a guide to using Creative Commons licences as wiki pages for translations and as PDF.[26]

Zero / public domain

CC zero license logo.[27]

Besides licenses, Creative Commons also offers a way to release material into the public domain through CC0,[13] a legal tool for waiving as many rights as legally possible, worldwide. Development of CC0 began in 2007[28] and the tool was released in 2009.[29][30]

In 2010, Creative Commons announced its Public Domain Mark,[31] a tool for labeling works already in the public domain. Together, CC0 and the Public Domain Mark replace the Public Domain Dedication and Certification,[32] 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,[33] and currently recommends CC0 as the preferred method of releasing software into the public domain.[34]

In February 2012 CC0 was submitted to Open Source Initiative (OSI) for their approval[35] but, due to problems, it was rejected. The OSI FAQ[36] 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.[37]


A license compatibility chart for combining or mixing two CC licensed works

Rights in an adaptation can be expressed by a CC license that is compatible with the status or licensing of the original work or works on which the adaptation is based.[38]

Legal aspects

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.[39]

Some works licensed using Creative Commons licenses have been involved in several court cases.[40] Creative Commons itself was not a party to any of these cases; they only involved licensors or licensees of Creative Commons licenses. When the cases went as far as decisions by judges (that is, they were not dismissed for lack of jurisdiction or were not settled privately out of court), they have all validated the legal robustness of Creative Commons public licenses. Here are some notable cases:

Dutch tabloid

In early 2006, podcaster Adam Curry sued a Dutch tabloid who published photos from Curry's Flickr page without Curry's permission. The photos were licensed under the Creative Commons Non-Commercial license. While the verdict was in favor of Curry, the tabloid avoided having to pay restitution to him as long as they did not repeat the offense. Professor Bernt Hugenholtz, main creator of the Dutch CC license and director of the Institute for Information Law of the University of Amsterdam, commented, "The Dutch Court's decision is especially noteworthy because it confirms that the conditions of a Creative Commons license automatically apply to the content licensed under it, and bind users of such content even without expressly agreeing to, or having knowledge of, the conditions of the license."[41][42][43][44]

Virgin Mobile

In 2007, Virgin Mobile Australia launched an Australian bus stop ad campaign promoting their cellphone text messaging service using the work of amateur photographers who uploaded their work to Flickr using a Creative Commons-BY (Attribution) license. Users licensing their images this way freed their work for use by any other entity, as long as the original creator was attributed credit, without any other compensation required. Virgin upheld this single restriction by printing a URL leading to the photographer's Flickr page on each of their ads. However, one picture, depicting 15-year-old Alison Chang at a fund-raising carwash for her church,[45] caused some controversy when she sued Virgin Mobile. The photo was taken by Alison's church youth counselor, Justin Ho-Wee Wong, who uploaded the image to Flickr under the Creative Commons license.[45] In 2008, the case (concerning personality rights rather than copyright as such) was thrown out of a Texas court for lack of jurisdiction.[46][47]

SGAE vs Fernández

In the fall of 2006, collecting society Sociedad General de Autores y Editores (SGAE) in Spain sued Ricardo Andrés Utrera Fernández, owner of a disco bar located in Badajoz who played CC-licensed music. SGAE argued that Fernández should pay royalties from public performance of music during the period between November 2002 and August 2005. The Lower Court rejected the collecting society's claims because the owner of the bar proved that the music he was using was not managed by the society.[48]

GateHouse Media, Inc. vs. That's Great News, LLC

On June 30, 2010 GateHouse Media filed a lawsuit against That's Great News. GateHouse Media owns a number of local newspapers, including Rockford Register Star, which is based in Rockford, Illinois. That's Great News makes plaques out of newspaper articles and sells them to the people featured in the articles.[49] GateHouse sued That's Great News for copyright infringement and breach of contract. GateHouse claimed that TGN violated the non-commercial and no-derivative works restrictions on GateHouse Creative Commons licensed work when TGN published the material on its website. The case was settled on August 17, 2010, though the settlement was not made public.[49][50]

Works with a Creative Commons license

Number of Creative Commons licensed works as of 2014, per State of the Commons report

Creative Commons maintains a content directory

  • Official website
  • Full selection of licenses
  • Licenses. Overview of free licenses.

External links

  1. ^ "Creative Commons Legal Code".  
  2. ^ "Creative Commons FAQ: Can I use a Creative Commons license for software?". July 29, 2013. Retrieved September 20, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Do Creative Commons licenses affect exceptions and limitations to copyright, such as fair dealing and fair use?". Frequently Asked Questions - Creative Commons. Retrieved July 26, 2015. 
  4. ^ "What if I change my mind about using a CC license?". Frequently Asked Questions - Creative Commons. Retrieved July 26, 2015. 
  5. ^ "What happens if the author decides to revoke the CC license to material I am using?". Frequently Asked Questions - Creative Commons. Retrieved July 26, 2015. 
  6. ^ "How do CC licenses operate?". Frequently Asked Questions - Creative Commons. Retrieved July 26, 2015. 
  7. ^ "Baseline Rights".  
  8. ^ "What are Creative Commons licenses?". Frequently Asked Questions - Creative Commons. Retrieved July 26, 2015. 
  9. ^ "Creative Commons GNU LGPL". Archived from the original on June 22, 2009. Retrieved July 20, 2009. 
  10. ^ a b "Retired Legal Tools".  
  11. ^ a b "Announcing (and explaining) our new 2.0 licenses". May 25, 2004. Retrieved September 20, 2013. 
  12. ^ a b "About The Licenses - Creative Commons".  
  13. ^ a b "CC0".  
  14. ^ "Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 United States".  
  15. ^ Murray, Laura (2014). Putting intellectual property in its place : rights discourses, creative labor, and the everyday. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 25.  
  16. ^ "Worldwide". Creative Commons. Archived from the original on December 21, 2009. 
  17. ^ Peters, Diane (November 25, 2013). "CC’s Next Generation Licenses — Welcome Version 4.0!". Creative Commons. Retrieved November 26, 2013. 
  18. ^ "What's new in 4.0?". Creative Commons. 2013. Retrieved November 26, 2013. 
  19. ^ "CC 4.0, an end to porting Creative Commons licences?". TechnoLlama. September 25, 2011. Retrieved August 11, 2013. 
  20. ^ Doug Whitfield (August 5, 2013). "Music Manumit Lawcast with Jessica Coates of Creative Commons". YouTube. Retrieved August 11, 2013. 
  21. ^ "CC Affiliate Network".  
  22. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions: What if CC licenses have not been ported to my jurisdiction?". Creative Commons. Retrieved November 26, 2013. 
  23. ^ "Frequently Frequently Asked Questions".  
  24. ^ "Defining Noncommercial report published". Retrieved September 20, 2013. 
  25. ^ "The Case for Free Use: Reasons Not to Use a Creative Commons -NC License". August 26, 2013. Retrieved September 20, 2013. 
  26. ^ Till Kreutzer (2014). (PDF).  
  27. ^ [2]
  28. ^ "Creative Commons Launches CC0 and CC+ Programs" (Press release).  
  29. ^ Baker, Gavin (January 16, 2009). "Report from CC board meeting". Open Access News. Retrieved February 22, 2010. 
  30. ^ "Expanding the Public Domain: Part Zero". Retrieved September 20, 2013. 
  31. ^ "Marking and Tagging the Public Domain: An Invitation to Comment". August 10, 2010. Retrieved September 20, 2013. 
  32. ^ "Copyright-Only Dedication (based on United States law) or Public Domain Certification".  
  33. ^ "Using CC0 for public domain software".  
  34. ^ "Various Licenses and Comments about Them".  
  35. ^ Carl Boettiger (In the Open Source Initiative Licence review mailing list). "OSI recognition for Creative Commons Zero License?". Retrieved February 1, 2012. 
  36. ^ The Open Source Initiative FAQ. "What about the Creative Commons "CC0" ("CC Zero") public domain dedication? Is that Open Source?". Retrieved May 25, 2013. 
  37. ^ Christopher Allan Webber (In the Open Source Initiative Licence review mailing list). "CC withdrawl of CC0 from OSI process". Retrieved February 24, 2012. 
  38. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". CC Wiki. Retrieved March 25, 2014. 
  39. ^ Katz, Zachary (2005). "Pitfalls of Open Licensing: An Analysis of Creative Commons Licensing".  
  40. ^ "Creative Commons Case Law". Retrieved August 31, 2011. 
  41. ^ "Creative Commons license upheld by court". Retrieved December 24, 2012. 
  42. ^ Digital Copyright and the Consumer Revolution: Hands Off My Ipod - Matthew Rimmer - Google Böcker. Retrieved December 24, 2012. 
  43. ^ "Creative Commons License Upheld by Dutch Court".  
  44. ^ "Creative Commons Licenses Enforced in Dutch Court". Retrieved August 31, 2011. 
  45. ^ a b Cohen, Noam. "Use My Photo? Not Without Permission.". New York Times. Retrieved September 25, 2007. One moment, Alison Chang, a 15-year-old student from Dallas, is cheerfully goofing around at a local church-sponsored car wash, posing with a friend for a photo. Weeks later, that photo is posted online and catches the eye of an ad agency in Australia, and the altered image of Alison appears on a billboard in Adelaide as part of a  
  46. ^ Evan Brown (January 22, 2009). "No personal jurisdiction over Australian defendant in Flickr right of publicity case". Internet Cases, a blog about law and technology. Archived from the original on July 13, 2011. Retrieved September 25, 2010. 
  47. ^ "Lawsuit Against Virgin Mobile and Creative Commons – FAQ". Retrieved August 31, 2011. 
  48. ^ Mia Garlick (March 23, 2006). "Spanish Court Recognizes CC-Music". Creative Commons. Retrieved September 25, 2010. 
  49. ^ CMLP Staff (August 5, 2010). "GateHouse Media v. That's Great News". Citizen Media Law Project. Retrieved April 20, 2012. 
  50. ^ "Content Directories". Retrieved April 24, 2009. 
  51. ^ "Case Studies". Creative Commons. Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  52. ^  
  53. ^ "Developing Nations License".  
  54. ^ "Sampling 1.0".  
  55. ^ "Sampling Plus 1.0".  
  56. ^ "NonCommercial Sampling Plus 1.0".  


See also

  • 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.[54]
  • Sampling: parts of the work can be used for any purpose other than advertising, but the whole work cannot be copied or modified[55]
  • 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 purposes[56]
  • NonCommercial Sampling Plus: the whole work or parts of the work can be copied and modified for noncommercial purposes[57]

Due to either disuse or criticism, a number of previously offered Creative Commons licenses have since been retired,[10][53] 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:

Retired licenses

). CC licensed content directories CC licensed content can also be accessed through a number of content directories and search engines (see [52] On its website CC also provides case studies of projects using CC licenses across the world.[51]

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