Creative Commons Basics



What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that created a set of simple, easy-to-understand copyright licenses. These are legally enforceable licenses that allow creators to mark a work with permission to make a variety of uses, with the aim of expanding the range of things available for others to share, quote, adapt, and build upon. Creative Commons licenses do two things: They allow creators to share their work easily, and they allow everyone to find work that is free to use without permission. As long as you obey the terms of the license attached to the work, you can use Creative Commons licensed material without fear of accidentally infringing someone’s copyright. We encourage the use of Creative Commons licenses because they effectively help communicate information about copyright holdersholders’ intentions and thus help everyone know with clarity what may be used and how – and what requires permission. They help authors and creators manage their copyrights and share their creative work without losing control over it. Further, Creative Commons licenses facilitate creators’ rights by communicating clearly a contact for permission when appropriate.

It is easy to find Creative Commons licensed material through search engines like Google's Advanced Search and Creative Commons' own search engine

What do the Creative Commons licenses mean?

When you apply a Creative Commons license to your work, you are telling the world as the copyright holder what uses you are willing to permit – and which you aren’t. The licenses can be applied to any work that is covered by copyright law including books, scholarly articles, movies, musical arrangements, and artwork.

Some explanation: a work of authorship is protected by copyright from the moment of creation (fixation), and those rights are owned by the author of the work. So, the starting assumption - or the default status - for a work protected by copyright is "All Rights Reserved." Copyright is often referred to as a bundle of rights because copyright includes a whole range of rights including the right to authorize (or not) copying, performance, display, distribution of copies, or making derivatives; effectively anything other than just viewing the original copy. There are some exceptions like fair use, but these are applicable only in certain circumstances. Unless you as the copyright holder indicate otherwise, you are assumed to control all of the rights in that bundle. This means that anyone who wants to make any use of a work needs to get permission from you. You can license some, all, or none of those rights depending on your goals - that's where Creative Commons licenses can help both copyright holders and people who want to use copyrighted materials.

What are the types of licenses?

There are six core Creative Commons licenses to choose from; these vary in the amount of freedom users have with respect to a work. The licenses can be applied to any work that is covered by copyright law including books, scholarly articles, movies, musical arrangements, and artwork. However, please note that Creative Commons licenses are not to be used with computer software.

The six core Creative Commons licenses of vary in openness/restrictiveness. They are (in order of increasing restrictiveness):

Attribution - "CC BY"

This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon a work, even commercially, as long as they credit the original author for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered, in terms of what others can do with a work licensed under Attribution.

 Attribution ShareAlike - "CC BY-SA"

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon a work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit the original author and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. All new works based on a work licensed this way will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.

 Attribution-NonCommercial - "CC BY-NC"

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon a 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 a work non-commercially, as long as they credit the original author and license their new creations under the identical terms. Others can download and redistribute this work just like the by-nc-nd license, but they can also translate, make remixes, and produce new stories based on the work. All new work based on the original will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also be non-commercial in nature.

 Attribution NoDerivatives - "CC BY-ND"

This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to the original author.

 Attribution NonCommercial NoDerivatives - "CC BY-NC-ND"

This license is the most restrictive of the six main licenses, allowing redistribution. This license is often called the “free advertising” license because it allows others to download works and share them with others as long as they mention the original author and link back to them, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

How do I give proper attribution for Creative Commons licensed material?

If you use a work licensed under one of the six Creative Commons licenses, the proper way to provide credit when you are making a verbatim use is (unless the licensor indicates otherwise):

To keep intact any copyright notices for the Work;
Credit the author, licensor and/or other parties (such as a wiki or journal) in the manner they specify; and state the title of the Work; the URL for the work if provided; and The URL for the specific license the work is provided under.

An example if you were giving attribution to a photo from Greg Grossmeier:

"Copyright Camp" by Greg Grossmeier from http://www.flickr.com/photos/grggrssmr/4846187035/, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

Note: It is fine to use hyperlinks instead of writing out the full URL if space is a concern.

Additionally, if you are making a derivative of a work you need to include a statement indicating that your work is a derivative and you are not the author of the original work.

All Creative Commons licenses require attribution, so be sure to make a note of the author name, a URL where you found the work, and also the specific license that the work is licensed under in all cases.

Example attribution methods for various media types.

For all of the below examples it is best to use the standard attribution form as outlined above.

Text Document or Webpage

It is customary to put a works cited or bibliography at the end of a work. This is a fine location to put attributions when using textual work just like you would other citations.

If you are using an image within a document it is best to put the attribution information in the caption of the image.

Video

Many videos and movies include a credits section at the end and this is the logical location for a list of attribution notices for other works used such as audio or video clips.

Audio

If the audio file is something that would aesthetically allow an audio statement of the attributions at the end (such as a podcast) then simply reading aloud the suggested information from the Text Document example for each work is suggested.

If the audio file would be harmed from such an addition (such as a normal-length song) then making sure to include the attribution information in any description of when you post the file online is recommended.

Why should I use a Creative Commons license when sharing my work?

Creative Commons licenses help creators share their work easily and they help everyone find work that can be used without permission. As long as people follow the terms of the license attached to the work, they can use Creative Commons licensed material without fear of accidentally infringing copyright. We encourage the use of Creative Commons licenses because they effectively help communicate information about copyright holders intentions and thus help everyone know with clarity what may be used without permission and how – and what requires permission. These licenses help authors and creators manage their copyrights and share their creative work without losing control of their rights. Creative Commons licenses facilitate creators’ rights by communicating clearly a contact for permission when appropriate. Its easy to find Creative Commons licensed material especially through search engines like CCSearch and CCMixter. In the academic community, Creative Commons licenses can make it easier for people to find your work, legitimately build on your ideas, and increase citation to your work. (This is similar to the citation benefit of publishing a scholarly article in an open access journal. See "The effect of open access and downloads ('hits') on citation impact: a bibliography of studies."

Am I allowed to use a Creative Commons license on materials I've created as a U-M employee?

For works created by a member of the University of Michigan community, the copyright holder is defined by the University Copyright Policy in SPG 601.28. The Library Copyright Office has an overview of that policy. It is important to be sure you know who holds the copyright to a work before considering any licensing option. If you signed a contract or a license regarding your work, you need to know what the terms were in order to ensure you both hold the pertinent rights to the work and are making it available under a compatible license.  Generally we encourage the use of Creative Commons licenses on University work product and websites.  The University Libraries use a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license on all staff produced materials on their website (see the Library Copyright Statement). 

If you authored or created something with others jointly, each of you equally shares the resulting copyright in the absence of an agreement otherwise. Each of you can essentially do as you like with the work provided you share any earnings equally. That said, it is prudent legally and collegially to agree on how your work will be used including whether to use a Creative Commons license.

How do I apply a license to my work?

After you have chosen the specific Creative Commons license you wish to use, it is simple to apply the license to your work. The license options are the same for all media, but the way to express the license will vary by media and format. Here are some ways to handle different media.

Text Document

On the title page, copyright information page, or some other reasonable location (eg: a footer) place the following text (substituting for your case):

© YEAR, NAME. Licensed under the Creative Commons <SPECIFC LICENSE> <URL OF LICENSE>,

Example:

© 2010, Greg Grossmeier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Also, showing the license badges available from Creative Commons provides quick visual recognition. They can be found on the Creative Commons Downloads page.

Webpage/Website

If you use the license chooser from Creative Commons it provides you with HTML code to put into your webpage (usually within a template or other central location). In this case, the license will apply to the writings on the webpage such as blog entries.

Video

It is recommended to put a roughly 2 second bumper at the beginning or end of the video with the license information (the same as recommended for the Text Document, above) easily readable. The added benefit of using the Creative Commons badges is that they help provide users with quick visual recognition that transcend language differences.

If you are posting this video online it is also recommended to put the license information around the video as well. For example, in the video description field on YouTube.

Audio

If the audio file is something that would aesthetically allow a 3 second statement of the license at the end (such as a podcast) then simply reading aloud the suggested information from the Text Document example is suggested.

If the audio file would be harmed from such an addition (such as a normal-length song) then making sure to include the license information in any description of when you post the file online is recommended. Many audio sharing websites allow the user to select the specific Creative Commons license that the file is licensed under. If the website does not provide such a service, then adding that information in the description field is recommended.

More Information

If you have any questions regarding your choice of which Creative Commons license to use, or any other questions about the licenses, feel free to contact the Library Copyright Office at copyright@umich.edu.

NOTE:

Creative Commons license descriptions are slightly modified versions of what is found on the Creative Commons About Licenses page.

 

Page maintained by Melissa Levine
Last modified: 02/03/2014