Choosing the right Creative Commons licence for your work

Creative Commons licencesWhy would you want a Creative Commons licence?

The Creative Commons copyright licenses give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work. As more people adopt this ever growing ‘digital commons’ they share a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law.

It is an opportunity for others to share your work with attribution and dependent on the licence you give it even build upon this work and re-share it with the wider community. There are a variety of different licences to choose from and this post aims to introduce those to you. Full information and guidance can be found on the Creative Commons website.

Image source:


Types of licences

These start with open public domain licences. By using CCO, you waive all copyright and related rights to a piece of work. The other end of the spectrum is the BY NC ND where others can share your work with attribution but nothing can be changed and it cannot be used for monetary gain. There are seven to choose from:

CCO CC0 Public Domain Declaration
By using CCO, you waive all copyright and related rights to a work to the extent possible under the law.

BY Attribution
This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.

BY SA Attribution-ShareAlike
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.

BY ND Attribution-NoDerivs
This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.

BY NC Attribution-NonCommercial
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

BY NA SA Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under identical terms.

BY NC ND Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs
This license is the most restrictive of our six licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

The latest version of the Creative Commons licenses is version 4.0. The website recommend that you should always use the latest version of the Creative Commons licenses in order to take advantage of the many improvements described on the license versions page. In particular, 4.0 is meant to be better suited to international use, and use in many different contexts, including sharing data.

This handy flowchart put together by Creative Commons Australia is a useful place to start. The PDF version is available here.

Creative Commons licence flowchart


Considerations for Licensors

FULL information can be found on the Creative Commons website, however I’d like to highlight a few key points taken from there to consider in the first instance.

  • Irrevocability


Once you apply a CC license to your material, anyone who receives it may rely on that license for as long as the material is protected by copyright and similar rights, even if you later stop distributing it.

  • Type of material


CC licenses are appropriate for all types of content you want to share publicly, except software and hardware.

You need to specify precisely what is is you are licensing. Any given work has multiple elements; e.g., text, images, music. Make sure to clearly mark or indicate in a notice which of those are covered by the license.

  • Nature and adequacy of rights


CC licenses are operative only where copyright, sui generis database rights, or other rights closely related to copyright come into play. They should not be applied to material in the public domain.

Be sure to clear rights needed to use the material. If the material includes rights held by others, make sure to get permission to sublicense those rights under the CC license. If you created the material in the scope of your employment or as a work-for-hire, you may not be the holder of the rights and may need to get permission before applying a CC license.

Indicate rights not covered by the licence. Prominently mark or indicate in a notice any rights held by third parties, such as publicity or trademark rights. This includes any content you used under exceptions or limitations to copyright, and any third party content used under another license (even if it is the same CC license as you applied).

  • Type of license


Consider what you hope to achieve by sharing your work when determining which of the six CC licenses to apply. For example, if you want it to appear in a Wikipedia article, it must be licensed using BY-SA or a compatible license.

Consider any obligations that may affect what type of licence you apply.

Think about any obligations you have, such as licensing requirements from a funding source, employment agreement, or limitations on your ability to use a CC license imposed by a collecting society, that dictate which (if any) of the six CC licenses you can apply.

Displaying a Creative Commons badge

If you would like to display a Creative Commons licence badge on your blog or website you can create one by going to  Here you will find an interactive template to complete. By completing the fields in the bottom right hand box (see below) it will allow you to create a customised icon. You can then use the embed code to add this to your blog or website. (To find out how to do this for your blog tool consult Help and embed code for instructions – for many blogs it is simply creating a text box and pasting in the code). Below is what the icon would look like. By also completing the title of the work and the URL in the template, this information can also be included.

Creative Commons License
This work by Sue Beckingham is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

And this is the template you need to complete which can be found here.

Creative Commons badge

Note: This information can be found in its entiriety on the Creative Commons website

About Sue Beckingham

A National Teaching Fellow, Educational Developer and Principal Lecturer in Computing with a research interest in the use of social media in higher education.
This entry was posted in Social Good and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Choosing the right Creative Commons licence for your work

  1. suereporter says:

    Timely post – we were discussing this in the office the other day! ________________________________

  2. Pingback: Extending your reach beyond the conference using SlideShare and Social Media | Social Media 4 Us

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s