As one of the major open licensing options for copyright owners, Creative Commons (CC) is likely a familiar name to many of our readers. For those that are unfamiliar, CC is a nonprofit organization that offers a number of different copyright license options to copyright owners. A CC license allows a copyright owner to choose how they would like others to be able to use their work, and anybody may use the work for free, so long as they follow the terms of the license. Before using a CC licensed work or deciding to apply a CC license to your own work, you should have an understanding of the scope of the license you are working with. This blog will provide more information on some important points to keep in mind about CC licenses and provide an overview of the license options.
What Do You Need to Know About Creative Commons Licenses?
Whether you are applying a CC license to your own work or using a work covered by a CC license, here are some important things to keep in mind:
- Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright—a work must be copyrighted in order to be licensed under a CC license. Copyright owners have a bundle of rights that allow them exclusive control over how their work may be reproduced, adapted, distributed and publicly performed or displayed. A copyright owner may decide to transfer some or all of these rights to another or permit others to use the work through a licensing agreement. If a copyright owner chooses to license their work under a CC license, they are not giving up ownership of their work—they are permitting others to exercise one of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights under the terms and conditions listed in the language of the license.
- Creative Commons licenses do not limit or restrict any rights granted through statutory exceptions, including fair use. If your use of a copyright protected work would otherwise be allowed through a statutory exception (such as the face-to-face teaching exception, the TEACH Act, or fair use), you may still rely on those statutory exceptions.
- Only the copyright owner can place a CC license on the work or authorize another to do so. If third party material is being used in a new work under a statutory exception or limitation or through permission of the copyright owner, the author of the new work can only license the part of the work to which they claim ownership. In this type of situation, it is important for the author to mark third party content to let others know that the entire new work may not be available under the selected CC license. An author of a new work may avoid this situation by seeking permission from the copyright owner to make the third party material available under a CC license, allowing others to then use the entire work according to the license terms.
- Creative Commons licenses are non-exclusive and non-revocable. Anyone is free to use a CC licensed work so long as they abide by the terms of the license. A copyright owner is also free to continue to exercise their exclusive rights, meaning they may simultaneously enter into separate agreements for the use of their works. A copyright owner may decide to no longer distribute their work under a CC license, but because CC licenses are non-revocable, anybody who already has access to the work may continue to use the work under the original license terms.
What Are the License Options?
Creative Commons licenses provide copyright owners with a great degree of flexibility in how open they would like to make their work. The various license terms define the ways in which users may freely and legally share, modify, or build upon a copyrighted work.
All CC licenses require attribution. Beyond attribution, copyright owners may choose among a combination of licensing terms. Copyright owners may specify that their work not be used for the primary purpose of monetary compensation (NonCommercial) or that their work not be modified or adapted in any way (NoDerivs). Alternatively, a copyright owner may permit a user to modify, adapt, or build upon their work but specify that any new work created be made available under similar open licensing terms (ShareAlike). Creative Commons also provides a Public Domain Dedication (CC0) tool. This tool allows a copyright owner to dedicate their work to the public domain by waiving all of their copyright and related rights in a work, to the extent allowed under the law. While attribution is not required for CC0 works, it is recommended as a best practice in order to acknowledge the intellectual work of others and to avoid accusations of plagiarism.
Finally, if you are looking for CC works to use, a good place to start your search is with the search function on the Creative Commons website. You may also look through the Creative Commons content directories to view organizations and projects using CC licenses. Many services, including Flickr, SoundCloud, Google, Bing, and Vimeo, provide their own advanced search feature, making the search for CC licensed works quick and easy.
In conclusion, CC licenses are a great resource for copyright owners and users of copyrighted content. As with any license agreement, however, be sure you are clear about the scope and limitations of the license before using a protected work or making your own works available for use by others.
Interested in learning more about Creative Commons? Contact the Copyright Resources Center for answers to your questions or to schedule a Creative Commons workshop.
By Maria Scheid, Rights Management Specialist at the Copyright Resources Center, The Ohio State University Libraries