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OER Authoring and Publishing: CC Licenses

Creative Common Licenses

How Do Creative Commons Licenses Work?

Creative Commons is a free licensing system that allows the author of a work to specify legal permissions for how the work may be used others, while retaining full copyright to it themselves. Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They sit on the shoulders of copyright law, and allow authors to easily modify copyright terms to encourage collaboration and sharing.

CC License Design

CC licenses have three layers. This design makes the licenses more robust and compatible with a larger range of uses: by legal courts, by the average person, and by computers. 

 1) The foundation layer for a CC license is its legal code layer. This layer contains the legal terms and conditions for the different licenses. It is the layer that links the CC license to copyright laws and makes the CC license legally enforceable worldwide.  

2) The second layer, referred to as the common deeds layer, breaks the licenses down into more easily understood terms and images, making the licenses more accessible to the people using them. 

3) The final layer is the machine readable version of the license, designed for use by computers. For example, this layer allows search engines to identify CC licenses in a website’s metadata.  

What are Creative Commons Licenses?

"What are Creative Commons Licenses?"  University of Guelph McLaughlin Library.

Public Domain and Copyright Exemptions

Public Domain Tools 

CC has created two tools for use with items within the public domain. 

The CCO icon indicates that the author has dedicated a work to the public domain.
The Public Domain icon is for informative use only. It indicates that a work is within the public domain.
However, it is not a legally enforceable designation.

CC Licenses Exemptions and Limitations

CC licenses work within copyright laws. They do not limit use beyond copyright. This means that anything that is within the public domain cannot be placed under a CC license. It also means that all fair use and other exceptions to copyright restrictions still apply. For example, CC licenses will not enable creators to restrict users from lending or reselling a work. Those are fair use exceptions under copyright law that also apply to CC licenses. 

CC License Application

CC License Application 

Application of CC licenses is a two-step process.  

Step 1: Review the four CC license elements  

CC licenses include four license elements that allow authors to grant or restrict permissions for use. For ease of use, they are represented by icons. 

Attribution (BY) - Users must give credit to the licenser/author.
NonCommercial (NC) - Users cannot use the work for commercial purposes.
No Derivative Works  (ND) - Users cannot share adaptations of the work.
Share Alike (SA) - Users must license adaptations of the work under the same CC license.

Step 2: Select a CC License 

The four license elements can be combined into six different Creative Commons Licenses. Select 

Attribution only.
Attribution - Non-Commercial
Attribution - No Derivatives
Attribution - Share Alike
Attribution - Non-Commercial - No Derivatives
Attribution - Non-Commercial - Share Alike

Creative Commons website: this page of the Creative Commons website lists license descriptions and links to their legal code

Creative Common License Chooser - this page of the Creative Commons websites leads you through selecting a CC License.



"CC Licenses" is a derivative of the September 2019 Creative Commons Certificate Course by Creative Commons, licensed CC BY 4.0. Jean Shumway adapted content .

 This work is licensed under CC By license.