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Open Educational Resources

Creative Commons Licenses

The internet has opened up the opportunity to access, share, and collaborate in ways that would have been impossible before.  Of course, all these files, images, webpages, etc. are governed by copyright. Creative Commons was created to ease the tension between the access and sharing made possible by the internet and the restrictions dictated by copyright laws that were not designed for today's technologies.

Creative Commons Licenses are built on copyright, but they do not replace it. Instead, they work along with copyright by giving more options to authors and creators who want to share their work. Consult our LibGuide on Copyright and Fair Use for more information on using copyrighted works in general.

License Structure - The 3 Layers

Legal Code – “The Legalese”  is the base layer for Creative Commons Licenses.  It provides the terms and conditions of the license in legally enforceable language.

Commons Deeds – “The Vernacular” – is the second layer of the CC License. It provides the terms and conditions in easily understood language. This layer does not provide legally binding information; only the Legal Code layer provides the terms and conditions in a form that is legally enforceable in court. When using an item that has a Creative Commons License, the license statement should link to the Commons Deed for that particular license. When you apply a Creative Commons License to work that you create or adapt, make sure the license statement links to the appropriate Commons Deed.

Machine Readable – “The Computerese” – is the final layer of a CC License.  It provides machine readable code (CC Rights Expression Language) that standardizes how Creative Commons Licenses are expressed.  The standardized construction of the terms and conditions (metadata) makes CC licensed material more easily searchable by web services and search engines.

The 6 Creative Commons Licenses

CC BY LicenseAttribution - BY The user must give credit to the original creator.  This is the most permissive of the Creative Commons Licenses.


BY SAAttribution - ShareAlike: BY-SA This license specifies that users of a work must credit the original creator and apply the same license terms as the original creator when adapting or otherwise applying changes to the work.


BY NDAttribution - NoDerivatives: BY-ND - The terms of this license allows users to share the original work, but they are prohibited from sharing any changes or adaptations of it. Like all CC Licenses, the user must credit the creator of the original work.


BY NCAttribution - NonCommercial: BY-NC - In addition to giving credit to the original creator, this license permits users to change and create adaptations of a work for non-commercial purposes. The resulting work does not have to be licensed under the same terms as the original.


BY NC SAAttribution - NonCommercial- ShareAlike: BY-NC-SA - In addition to properly attributing the original creator,  users may change and create adaptations of a work for non-commercial purposes.  The resulting work must be licensed under the same terms as the original.


BY NC NDAttribution - NonCommercial-NoDerivatives: BY-NC-ND - This is the most restrictive of the Creative Commons Licenses. It allows users to download and share works for non-commercial purposes. It prohibits creating adaptations and other derivative works.

Creative Commons Public Domain Tools

CC0Public Domain Dedication - CC0 - This tool is used when a creator wants to give up all their rights and release their work into the public domain. Users are free to copy, distribute, adapt, perform, etc. the work without attribution or seeking permission. Note that only the copyright holder may apply the Public Domain Dedication to a work.

Since waiving copyright protections is not permitted in all countries, the tool includes a “fall back” license that specifies that the work can be used by anyone unconditionally.

Furthermore, if both the abandonment of rights and the fallback license turn out to be unenforceable, the Public Domain Dedication includes a promise that those applying CC0 will not renege on their intention to give up all rights to their work.


PDPublic Domain Mark – PDM - This mark’s intended use is to indicate that a work is known to be in the public domain worldwide. Like the CC Licenses and the CC0 Tool, the Public Domain Mark does have a metadata-supported deed that makes works carrying the mark easier to locate. The PDM, however, does not carry any legal terms or conditions.

License Structure - The 4 Elements

AttributionAttribution - This icon represents the basic tenet that is common to all six of the Creative Commons Licenses - the licensor receives credit for their original work. The icon appears with BY in the graphical representation of CC Licenses.


ShareAlikeShareAlike - The ShareAlike element allows one to adapt, remix, and build upon a licensor’s work as long as one applies the same license terms to the resulting product.  The icon appears with SA in the graphical representation of CC Licenses.


NonCommercialNonCommercial - The NonCommercial element allows for adaptations and changes to the original work, but only for non-commercial purposes. The icon appears with NC in the graphical representation of CC Licenses.


NoDerivativesNo Derivatives - The NoDerivatives element prohibits sharing changes to the original work. The icon appears with ND in the graphical representation of CC Licenses.