What Is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons generally refers to several CC licenses that define the default rights of anyone using a copyrighted digital work. These licenses enable creators and owners of copyrighted works to communicate with their users on what rights they reserve and what they give up for the benefit of both parties. It’s a more flexible “some rights reserved” IP model using a more simplified licensing scheme. 

CC licenses are offered free of charge to the public and generally permit the duplication and distribution of copyrighted works under a number of conditions that define the terms of your rights in the license.  CC licenses do not confer unrestricted rights to the use of an original work.  Theses licenses range from liberal duplication, redistribution and modification of an original work to more restrictive redistribution-only licensing. 

Creative Commons, a non-profit American company established in 2001 and based ion Mountain View, California, released the first licenses in December 16, 2002. As an alternative to copyright laws used to protect original works, Creative Common licenses have been written in the context of the US legal systems.  Hence, its wordings may not be compatible with or applicable to local legislations in other countries that would make it unenforceable.  To overcome this, Creative Commons licenses have been ported over various jurisdictions globally.  As of July, 2011, there are more than 50 jurisdictions to which these licenses have been ported.  There are still no new ports started in preparations for the release of it new version 4.0 licenses.

Why use CC License

The general objective of Creative Commons is to fully realize the internet as a universal access point to research, education and culture by providing a more reasoned alterative way to protect original works in digital format without unduly restricting its spread over a medium that did not exist when copyright laws were first enacted.  Creative Commons is largely perceived as enriching  public domain content by adding materials that has “some rights reserved’ instead of an exclusive “all rights reserved” marking.  

CC licensing does not, however, replace current copyrights, but applies copyright law under its own licensing scheme in a more liberal and suitable fashion to support a better balance in meeting user needs and copyright owners on the internet.  The main difference is that CC licensing does not provide for exclusivity or revocability as standard copyright licenses do.  In addition, CC license does not modify the rights allowed under the fair use principle or add restrictions that run against copyright exceptions.

Types of CC Licenses

CC licenses consist of four original sets of licenses that grant "baseline rights" which cover the right to copy or distribute a copyrighted digital work worldwide without charges and without alterations.  Each license carry details that depend on the license version, but in general, they are as follows:
 Attribution (by)    Licensee may freely copy, distribute, display and perform the digital work and make derivatives thereof provided the owner or licensor is acknowledged or credited in the use of these works.
 Non Commercial (nc)   Licensee may freely copy, distribute, display and perform the digital work and make derivatives thereof only for non-commercial purposes.  That means licensee does not enjoy pecuniary benefit from their use.
 No Derivative Works (nd)   Licensee may freely copy, distribute, display and perform the digital works as they are,  but cannot exercise these rights on any derivative based on the work.
 Share Alike (sa)   Licensee may freely distribute derivatives of the digital works only under a license identical to the license that governs the original work. This is generally referred to as copyleft which requires the extension of copyright restrictions or licensing agreements on adaptations, copies and derivatives of an original digital work.

These four basic CC license rights are used in combination with each other with 16 possible mixes.  Five are not valid and from the reaming 11, six are most commonly used.  These six CC licenses are as follows:

  • Attribution (by)
  • Attribution with Share Alike (by-sa)
  • Attribution with No Derivatives (by-nd)
  • Attribution with Non-Commercial (by-nc)
  • Attribution with Non-Commercial and Share Alike (by-nc-sa)
  • Attribution with Non-Commercial and No Derivatives (by-nc-nd)

The current versions of all CC licenses allow the "core right" to copy and redistribute a copyrighted digital work for non-commercial purposes without modification. The NC and ND options bring higher restrictions to the core rights.  Since 2004, all current licenses require attribution of the creator or author which should be based on available information.  When displaying, copying or distributing a work under a CC license, this can take the form of any of the following:

  • Include the copyright notice if the work contains any that was placed on the image by the copyright holder. 
  • Cite the creator’s name, user ID or screen name.  It is recommended that the name of creator or author cited be linked to his or her profile page or site if any exists online.
  • Cite the original work from where the CC licensed image is lifted.  It is recommended that the name of the work cited be linked to the site containing the ordinal work if applicable.
  • Cite the CC license of the work to the license on the CC site.
  • Indicate if the work is an adaptation or a derivative of an original CC licensed work.  This may apply more in translations of foreign literary works or a B&W conversion of a full color image.

Public Domain CC0

Creative Commons provides a means to grant previously CC licensed images into the public domain.  Released only in 2009, this is CC0, or a “no rights reserved” appellation for works where CC license owners give up as many rights as possible from standard CC licenses.  The following year, Creative Commons issued its Public Domain Mark, a complementary tool that labeled modern works already granted in the public domain.  While Creative Commons does not apply to computer software, the Free Software Foundation adapted CC0 for its free software licensing initiative to make CC0 labeling as the preferred way to identify software in the public domain.