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Use Creative Commons Licenses

What are Creative Commons (CC) licenses?

CC Licenses are:

  • Legal tools that can be applied to in-copyright creative works which describe the permitted uses beyond those already allowed by copyright
  • Non-exclusive - creators and users can enter into other agreements
  • Non-revocable - once assigned they cannot be revoked until the copyright term expires, at which point the CC license no longer applies

How do Creative Commons licenses work with copyright?

  • All CC licenses are built on top of copyright (i.e. the licensor retains copyright) 
  • CC licenses only apply as long as the work is in copyright – once the copyright expires, the work will be in the public domain and CC licenses are no longer applicable
  • CC license terms do not reduce, limit, or restrict any rights under exceptions and limitations to copyright such as those under fair dealing / fair use

What are the three layers of Creative Commons licenses?

Layer 1. Machine Readable, layer 2. Human Readable, and layer 3 Legal Code

  1. Machine readable code - metadata describing the license terms. This allows CC licensed materials to be found by search engines and other software
  2. Human readable commons deed - a plain language explanation along with standardized icons that describes the permitted uses of the license
  3. Lawyer readable legal code – the legally enforceable terms and conditions of the license

What are the four elements of Creatve Commons licenses?

Icon for the Attribution element - a stick person Attribution (BY): Attribution (credit) must be given to the copyright holder of the work

Icon for Noncommercial (NC) element - a dollar sign with a slash through it. Noncommerical (NC): The work cannot be used for financial gain. 

Icon for the No Derivatives element - an equal sign. No Derivatives (ND): The work cannot be adapted and shared.

Icon for the Share Alike (SA) element - a circular arrow. Share Alike (SA): if the work is adapted, it must be shared under the same license​.

What are the different Creative Commons licenses?

The 4 elements in combination make up the 6 CC Licenses.

CC BY

Icon for the CC Public Dedication Tool - aka CC Zero. Includes the words "Public Domain" and  a zero with a slash through it.

  • Attribution must be given.
  • This is the license with the least restrictions.

Note: All CC licenses require that attributiont be given, so they all start at CC BY.

CC BY-SA

Icon for CC BY license. Includes CC logo, Attribution icon and Share Alike icon.

  • Attribution must be given.
  • Adaptations must be shared under the same terms.

CC BY-NC

Icon for CC BY license. Includes CC logo, Attribution icon, and Noncommercial icon.

  • Attribution must be given.
  • The work cannot be used for financial gain.

CC BY-ND

Icon for CC BY license. Includes CC logo, and Attribution and No Derivatives icons.

  • Attribution must be given.
  • No derivatives can be shared. 

CC BY-NC-SA

Icon for CC BY license. Includes CC logo, Attribution, Noncommercial, and Share Alike icons.

  • Attribution must be given.
  • Commercial uses are not permitted.
  • Any derivatives must be shared under the same license.

CC BY-NC-ND

Icon for CC BY license. Includes CC logo, Attribution, Noncommercial, and No Derivatives icons.

  • Attribution must be given.
  • Commercial uses are not permitted.
  • No derivatives can be shared.
  • This is the most restrictive license.

What about Creative Commons license and the public domain?

The Public Domain Label

Icon for the CC Public Domain Label. Includes the words "Public Domain" and a copyright symbol with a slash through it.

  • Works in the public domain cannot have CC Licenses applied (as the copyright has expired)
  • CC has created a Public Domain label that can be applied to works that are known to be free from copyright
  • Note this is a label, not a license

The Public Domain Dedication Tool

Icon for the CC Public Dedication Tool - aka CC Zero. Includes the words "Public Domain" and  a zero with a slash through it.

CC0 (CC Zero) is a public domain dedication tool that allows copyright holders to waive their copyright of a work and dedicate it to the public domain

  • CC0 has a legal code, a human readable deed and a machine-readable code
  • CC0 is a legal tool, not a license 

Note: In jurisdictions where this is not allowable by law, CC0 provides legal code that allows users to use the work in any way they like anywhere in the world. In addition, the tool includes a promise that the creator will not assert copyright over the work.

How do I choose a Creative Commons license?

Authors/creators who retain copyright of their work can choose to apply a CC License depending on the types of uses they want to allow. 

It is the combination of four elements, Attribution, Noncommercial, Share Alike and No Derivatives, that determines those uses. . 

Creative Commons Australia has a handy flow chart to help decide on which license meets your needs.

For a deeper dive into the consequences of choosing particular elements, see the license-specific restrictions and obligations section of A Practical Guide to Using Creative Commons Licenses.

If you are including a collection or adaptation or remix of CC-licensed resources, please see Creating collections and adaptations using Creative Commons (CC) licensed works.

Suggest an edit to this guide

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.