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Open Educational Resources: Creative Commons

Creative Commons: Introduction and Reference

The Layers of Creative Commons

The 3 layers of a creative commons license infographic. The three layers outlined are: the machine readable layer, the commons deeds layer, and the legal code layer.

Exceptions & Limitations

The Creative Commons licenses are great tools to communicate the level of freedom users may have when interacting with your published materials. However, it's important to note that there are limitations to when Creative Commons licenses can be applied.

When considering a license, it's important to keep the following points in mind:

  1. Creative Commons licenses do not have any effects on rights beyond copyright and Similar Rights. Other rights such as Privacy Rights, Trademarks, and others are managed separately.
  2. Make sure that there are no other rights attached to your work that may prevent the reuse of the work as you intend. Consider all of the elements involved in your final document: from images, to content, to layout, and mode of publication.

It's important to reiterate that Creative Commons licenses ONLY apply to Copyright.

Other rights that could apply to your item need to be managed separately. Examples of these other rights include:

One other important difference about the scope of Creative Commons licenses is that they also cover other rights closely related to copyright. Defined as "Similar Rights" in the Creative Commons legal code, these include related and neighboring rights and sui generis database rights.

Just as with copyright, the Creative Commons license conditions only come into play when Similar Rights otherwise apply to the work and to the particular reuse made by someone using the CC licensed work.

Examples of Similar Rights include:

  • Performance rights
  • Broadcast rights
  • Sound Recording rights

Public Domain

Creative Commons Licenses only apply in situations when Copyright applies. In this case, Creative Commons licenses do not apply to items in the public domain.

For creators who are interested in immediately publishing their work to the Public Domain, or to give up any copyright rights entirely, some additional labels are available.

(Note: This second label means "No Known Copyright")

Four Core Elements of Creative Commons Licenses

There are four core elements that create the bones of all six available Creative Commons Licenses.

To better understand which license works best for you, it's helpful to understand what each of the components and their functional use as you consider sharing your work with a broader community.

CC BY: represents the attribution requirement of all creative commons licenses.

  • The BY symbol is present in all six CC Licenses.

CC NC: "non commercial" means that the original work is only available for non-commerical use

  • Non-Commercial applies to the USE of the licensed work, not the NATURE of the individual or group using it.
  • As you think about your use of an NC licensed item, is there any monetary gain from using this work in your own? If so, then you could be in violation.

CC SA: "Share alike" means that adaptations based on the original work must be licensed under the same license.

  • If the licensed work uses a particular Copyright or Creative Commons license, then if you use this work, you must release it under the EXACT SAME license. 

CC ND: "No Derivatives" means that re-users cannot share adaptations of the work

  • The definition of an adaptation can be a little murky when it comes to copyright. But to provide some help, here are some basic guidelines:
    • Converting the format of the original work (like digital to physical, or PPT to PDF), minor spelling or punctuation edits, gathering works into a single collection, and adding an image to a ND licensed work DOES NOT count as an adaptation
    • Syncing music to a moving image is considered an adaptation

These four elements, together, form the core of the six Creative Commons Licenses.

The Six Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons is a global non-profit organization that enables sharing and reuse of creativity and knowledge through the provision of free legal tools. Creative Commons licenses convey the basic permissions associated with material offered under CC license.

CC BY allows people to use the work for any purpose as long as they give attribution to the creator

BY-SA allows you to use the work for any purpose, you must give attribution to the creator, and adaptations must be shared under the same license

BY-NC: you must use the work for non-commercial purpose only and give attribution to the creator

BY-NC-SA: you must use the work for non-commerical use only, give attribution to the creator, and adaptations of the work must be shared under the same license

BY-ND: You can only use the unadapted work and must give attribution to the creator

BY-NC-ND: Can only use the unadapted work, must give attribution to the creator, and adaptations must be shared under the same license

The Creative Commons Introduction and Reference LibGuide by Christine Elliott is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.