Choosing a Creative Commons License

Unless otherwise indicated, anything found on New Media Rights’ website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. At first glance, deciphering what that means may seem intimidating, but in fact, it all comes down to the simple question of how you’d you’re your work to be used. Remember, offering your work under a Creative Commons license does not mean giving up your copyright. It means offering some of your rights to any member of the public, but only on certain conditions. In this article we’ll break down the various conditions you can require in your CC license or need to understand when reusing CC works.

Conditions You May Require In Your CC License:

Attribution

You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work — and derivative works based upon it — but only if they give proper attribution to you, the author, or the title of the original work. If you wish to remain anonymous you can, just use the word “anonymous” in place of your name.

Example: Christy publishes her photograph with an Attribution license, because she wants the world to use her photographs, as long as they give her credit. Ben finds her photograph online and wants to display it on the front page of his website. Ben puts Christy’s picture on his site, and clearly indicates Christy’s authorship.

What NMR says about it:

Note that ALL Creative Commons licenses require attribution, unless the creator has waived that requirement, not supplied a name, or asked that her name be removed. The license itself tells the user to include the name of the original author, the title of the work, and a link to the legal code in the license. CC licenses also require that users “keep intact all copyright notices,” so when publishing your work under a CC license, make sure to clearly indicate the name you’d like to be credited as. You can also add suggestions on how you would like to be attributed, but these suggestions are not enforceable parts of the license.

For example, here is what the NewMediaRights.org creative commons license says about attribution when using our content.

“Attribution. Where you reuse our work YOU MUST, 1. Attribute the work to "New Media Rights" (but not in any way that suggests that New Media Rights endorses you or your use of the work), 2. State the original title of the work, and 3. link to the text of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License which can be found here.

  • We also request that you provide a direct link to the original content on newmediarights.org (if appropriate in the medium you are using the work).

Note that the sub-point is just something we request but it isn’t mandatory.

We have more information about how to properly attribute someone’s CC licensed work later in our “Best Practices” section of the guide, if you’d like to jump ahead!

Noncommercial

You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work — and make derivative works based upon it — but for noncommercial purposes only

Examples: Jamie publishes his photograph on his website with a Noncommercial license. Julie prints Jamie’s photograph. Julie is not allowed to sell the print photograph without Jamie’s permission.

What NMR says about it:

If you don't want people to be able to make money off of your work without your explicit permission, then you likely want to require uses to be noncommercial on your Creative Commons license.

This is an effective way for artists and creators (especially those that are new or emerging) to get their creative work to a larger audience, because the creative work can be redistributed non-commercially on noncommercial blogs, podcasts, social media websites, and elsewhere. Your photograph, song, story, or other creative work can gain the attention of the public, but it can't be used for an advertisement, sold by a record label, or turned into a television sitcom without your permission and compensation.

Of course, the question can and does come up of whether or not a use is commercial. Consider, for example, Shauna, who licenses her photographs under a CC-Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike license. Francesca, an independent blogger, uses her photograph in an article on her personal blog (that is not ad supported), attributes Shauna correctly, and licenses that webpage under the same exact CC license. Unfortunately, Francesca also has a “tip jar”, a button which lets users “tip” her online to support the website. This injection of commercialism can complicate the question of whether she is violating the terms of Shauna’s CC Noncommercial license. To be safe, in these borderline cases best practices dictate that Francesca should try to get in touch with Shauna to see if her use would be permitted.

No Derivative Works

You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work, not derivative works based upon your work.

Example: Lionel licenses a recording of his song with a No Derivative Works license. Wendy would like to cut Lionel’s track and mix it with her own to produce an entirely new song. Wendy cannot do this without Lionel’s permission (unless her song amounts to fair use).

What NMR says about it:

Derivative works are creative works that build upon previous works. If you do not allow derivative works, then, as stated above, the only thing that can be distributed, copied, displayed, or performed is your exact original work (except for users' fair use rights).

This is a condition to carefully consider. For instance, imagine that Gus, an independent musician hoping to have his work heard, licenses his songs under a CC Attribution Non-Derivative license. Jenny, a filmmaker, wants to include the song during an exciting car chase scene in her upcoming film, but doesn’t want to play the entire six minute song. Unfortunately, because Gus elected to not allow derivative works to be made from his work, Jenny would be unable to include the song in her film without Gus’s permission. Not that this is a necessarily a bad thing. Jenny could still contact Gus and negotiate their own license.

It’s important to keep in mind that allowing derivative works does not mean anyone can necessarily profit off the work without your explicit permission. Even if you allow others to create a derivative work, say recording and distributing their own version of your song, they cannot exploit the song commercially if you have chosen to require uses to be “noncommercial,” as discussed above.

On the other hand, allowing derivative works can often mean  helping to provide a great building block for grassroots culture. Projects like Wikimedia, Flickr, and even YouTube at least have options to use CC licenses for submitted works, and as a result, creators today have access to a wealth of freely available material to remix, reuse and build upon. With that in mind, unless you want to restrict any adaptations of the work and only allow distribution of identical copies, you might consider allowing derivative works in your CC license.

Share Alike

You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs your work.  Note: A license cannot feature both the Share Alike and No Derivative Works options. The Share Alike requirement applies only to derivative works.

Example: Joe’s photo is online and licensed under the Noncommercial and Share Alike terms. Julie is an amateur collage artist, and she takes Gus’s photo and puts it into one of her collages. This Share Alike language requires Camille to make her collage available on a Noncommercial Share Alike license. It makes her offer her work back to the world on the same terms Gus gave her.

What NMR says about it:

This condition requires that any use of your creative work carry the same licensing terms as you chose for your work. This can ensure that others use your content with the same spirit of sharing that you embraced. The “share alike” requirement does, however, place some additional restrictions on the user of the content, because they have no choice in the licensing scheme for a work that incorporates your work.

For example, let's return to Gus, our struggling musician. Imagine Gus composes and records a song, then shares it under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. This license does not restrict commercial use of Gus’s song, so anyone can use his song commercially so long as they give him attribution. Now let's say Jenny is making a film, hears Gus’s song, and wants to include it in her film. To use the song, Jenny has no choice but to make her entire film available under the same CC Attribution-ShareAlike conditions, which allow anyone to commercially exploit her film so long as they give her attribution. Jenny, as a result, chooses a different song to include in her film.  If Gus did not choose the “sharealike” condition, Jenny could have used the song in her film, respect Gus’ wishes by attributing the work to him, and then offering the film under any conditions she chose, for instance a Creative Commons license requiring noncommercial use only.

One important note for reusing and remixing “share alike” content: Remember, even if your website uses a creative license, when you reuse or remix other creative commons material that has the “share alike” requirement, you want to clearly label the Creative Commons licensed content you are using with exactly the same license that was specified by the copyright owner. This is because your site might not have the same license as the content you are using. For instance, you may allow people to use your content with attribution as the only condition, where as the content you are using may require attribution, noncommercial use, and have the “sharealike” requirement. In that case you should label the license terms for the content clearly.

Types of Creative Commons Licenses:

(The following list was originally published on About The Licenses by Creative Commons under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License and has been edited for clarity by New Media Rights )

Attribution
CC BY

This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.

Attribution-ShareAlike 
CC BY-SA

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. All new works based on the original will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

Attribution-NoDerivs
CC BY-ND

This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along whole and unchanged, with credit to the original author. Any licensee using the work may not, however, alter, transform, or build upon the original.

Attribution-NonCommercial
CC BY-NC

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon the work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge the original author and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
CC BY-NC-SA

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs
CC BY-NC-ND

This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you. Licensees may not use the work for commercial purposes, and can not alter, transform or build upon the original.

 

Using the Creative Commons License Chooser:

As you can see, although CC licenses can seem intimidating at first, in reality it all comes down to what license works best for you. Hopefully the information above helped provide a clear answer, but if not, Creative Commons has created a simple web app that can be used to help walk you through choosing a creative commons license. Simply answer the questions by selecting the buttons that most accurately describe how you would like your work to be used, and the app does the rest, providing you with a proper license and HTML code that can be included wherever your content is published.

 

Public Domain Tools:

Creative Commons also offers two other creative licensing choices. Only CC0 is still an actively supported license but since The Public Domain Mark is very prevalent online we also cover it below. 

CC0-

A universal tool for copyright holders to waive their interest in their own copyrighted work to the greatest extent allowed by law. This is a particularly good license to use if you would like to freely share your work without requiring attribution.

The Public Domain Mark-

The Public Domain Mark (PDM) is a mark used exclusively to identify, or label, a work that is completely free of known copyright restrictions around the world, and is already in the public domain (typically only very old works). Critically, the PDM should not be used as a license, or by a copyright owner or author seeking to change a work’s current status under copyright law. The PDM is not a legal instrument like CC0 or other CC licenses.

As such, if you, a creator, want to completely relinquish your copyright in your work, you would identify the work as CC0, not a Public Domain Mark. Also if you are using works that have been marked as public domain, you should do your own research to ensure those works are actually in the public domain. We have seen a large number of false positive public domain marks. The confusion surrounding the Public Domain Mark has led to it being retired in recent years, and in fact use of the PDM is no longer recommended. Creative Commons now encourages artists to use the CC0 license in its place.

Open Source Software specific licenses:

The Open Source movements have long embraced the spirit of sharing at the heart of Creative Commons, but as a rule of thumb, software should not be licensed under CC. There are a wide variety of open source software licenses which you can read more about in our guide here.

 

Now that we’ve gone through the different elements of CC licenses, and have walked you through selecting your own license, in the next section of our guide we’ll cover the best practices for using someone else’s CC licensed work!

 

 

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