The Ellen Clarke Bertrand Library

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Applying Creative Commons Licenses to Your Work

Construction of a CC License

The slides below explain how Creative Commons licenses are constructed, from the layers of each license (legal code, human-readable summary of terms, and machine-readable component) to the individual elements of each license, which can be combined to give specific permissions to re-users of works. See the gallery box at the bottom of this page to gain an understanding of the permissions that each of the six licenses provides.

three layers of Creative Commons licenses

three layers of Creative Commons licenses, layers 2 and 3

Four elements of Creative Commons licenses

Six Creative Commons licenses

 

"Three Layers" slides, "Four Elements," and "Six Licenses" were copied from "Sharing Your Work with Creative Commons Licenses" by Jill Hallam-Miller (2020) licensed CC BY 4.0, which is a derivative of the September 2019 Creative Commons Certificate Course by Creative Commons, licensed CC BY 4.0.

When Creative Commons Licenses Apply...and When They Don't

Creative Commons licenses can only be in force when applied to a work that is covered by copyright protection.

Therefore, you can apply a Creative Commons license to a work when:

  • You are the copyright holder and you want to grant permission to others to reuse the work
  • You create a work that is derived from another Creative Commons-licensed work (more about this in Module 3)

Creative Commons licenses:

  • Cannot be applied to works that are not copyrightable (e.g., a photocopy of a photograph, a recipe, a fact)
  • Do not apply when exceptions or limitations to copyright (such as Fair Use) apply (i.e., if you use a work under the Fair Use exception, you are not bound to the restrictions of any Creative Commons licenses applied to the work)
  • Cannot be applied to works in the public domain
  • Expire when the work is no longer subject to copyright protection

You should avoid applying a Creative Commons license to software that you create with the intention of making it open source. Creative Commons recommends that you instead use open licenses that are specifically intended for use with software. They suggest reviewing this FAQ for more information.

This section is a derivative of the September 2019 Creative Commons Certificate Course by Creative Commons, licensed CC BY 4.0. Jill Hallam-Miller adapted content from the Creative Commons Certificate Course Unit 3: Anatomy of a CC License, Section 2: License Scope.

What Should I Consider Before Using a CC License?

Before you make the decision to apply a CC license to your work, answer the following questions:

  • Do you own the copyright? Does anyone share copyright with you (co-author)?
  • Do you want to grant others permission to reuse the work you created?

Before you apply a license, consider the following:

  • Creative Commons licenses are irrevocable
  • You can take down an openly licensed version of your work, but that does not impact reuses of your CC-licensed work
  • You can release your work under less restrictive terms than the license you apply
  • Even if you apply a non-commercial license, as the copyright holder, you retain the right to use the work commercially

See additional considerations for licensors on the CC wiki.

This section is a derivative of the September 2019 Creative Commons Certificate Course by Creative Commons, licensed CC BY 4.0. Jill Hallam-Miller adapted content from the Creative Commons Certificate Course Unit 4: Using CC Licenses and CC Licensed Works.

Permissions Granted by the Licenses