11 December 2018

A-Z of Creative Commons Licensing

Managing Director, Naomi Korn, gives her views

With over 1.4 billion items now available online under Creative Commons licences, I wanted to synthesize key points about this revolution in licensing, via a handy A-Z (available, naturally, under a Creative Commons licence).

Attribution is a key requirement for Creative Commons licences (apart from CC0).

Before you use any content that you find which is licensed under a Creative Commons licence, make sure that you assess the authority of the person who has posted the content (i.e. that they have the rights to licence the content out under a Creative Commons licence). You will also need to ensure that you read and understand the specific terms of the Creative Commons licence under which you find the content.

Creative Commons Licences are available in 7 different flavours. These range from restricting the use of material to “Non Commercial” and “No Derivatives” to licences such as the CC0, which allow the user to use the licensed material unencumbered.

Deciding which flavour of Creative Commons licence you choose to release your material under will need to take into account how much control you want to retain over the material, how interoperable you intend your material to be with other Creative Commons licensed materials as well as any commercial drivers and business models in your organisation.

Embedding Creative Commons licences into documents, spreadsheets and presentations etc shows the potential users of these works what can (and cannot) be done with the works.

Flickr is amongst many websites, linked to from the Creative Commons website, for which Creative Commons licensed resources are displayed with their licensing terms, providing a source of content which can be used with less restrictions. Naomi Korn Associates provides access to its own resources under Creative Commons licences too (www.naomikorn.com/resources).

Government produced materials, such as Crown Copyright materials and also information from other public sector bodies if they choose to adopt it, can now be available under the terms of the Open Government Licence


This Licence is compatible with the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY) http://www.creativecommons.org for content, and also the Open Data Commons Attribution Licence, see: http://www.opendatacommons.org/licenses/by/1.0/. It covers a broad range of Information (classed as works in copyright, data, databases and source code etc). This licence forms part of the Government’s Open Licensing Framework.

Having the ability to select from a range of Creative Commons licences, provides flexibility whilst their standard format can be easily recognised and understood by users.

Irrevocability is a key feature of all Creative Commons licences. This means that the permissions granted in the specific Creative Commons licence access up to that point can not be revoked, although Creative Commons licensed material can be subsequently withdrawn.

 JISC has created a number of resources and briefing papers to help professionals working across the public sector understand the opportunities and issues associated with Creative Commons licences www.web2rights.com/SCAIPRModule

Knowledge of the benefits of Creative Commons licences is rapidly increasingly amongst resource creators as well as people wanting to use Creative Commons licensed resources. It is very probable that the greater the awareness of these licences and their terms of use, the less likely unauthorised uses of Creative Commons licensed materials.

Licence elements: All Creative Commons licences are comprised of a combination of the four high level licence elements. These are the core terms of the Creative Commons licences that may be combined with each other in order to produce the different Creative Commons licences. The Creative Commons licence elements are the following:

  • Attribution
  • Non-commercial
  • Share-Alike
  • No Derivatives

The licensor may choose a combination of the above in order to build the licence that suits most his/her needs.

Machine-readable information can be attached to the individual items licensed under Creative Commons licences. This means that this information is accessible to other services such as search engines, as well as ensuring that if a piece of content is separated from its host website, the licensing information will travel with it. This contrasts with the static licensing information found on a website, for example, which is not attached to actual items of content.

Noteworthy tools to help users of Creative Commons licensed content and those considering the release of their content under Creative Commons licences, understand the compatibility of different Creative Commons licences, have been created by the JISC funded OER IPR Support Project http://www.web2rights.com/creativecommons/

Open content licensing provides the rights holder (or those with permission from the rights holder) with the ability to grant a wide range of permission for use and re-use of their work via a non-transactional copyright licence.  This means that permission is pre-granted to the user, without requiring the user to request permission every time they wish to use the work.

Professionals working in library and information services will increasingly encounter both Creative Commons licensed materials, as well as discussions about releasing their digitised materials under Creative Commons licences.

Quality images, text files, audio-visual and other content incorporated into learning resources is being released regularly by publicy funded organisations across the world, such as museums, libraries, archives, universities and colleges under Creative Commons licences.

Risks associated with the release of Creative Commons licensed resources for which third party rights have not been sought (i.e. in the case of “Orphan Works” – works in copyright for which the rights holders are either unknown or cannot be traced)  can be understood better by the use of the risk management calculator


This tool, created by the JISC funded OER IPR Support Project can help to provide an indicative risk score associated with the potential use of these types of works, based on a number of criteria, such as the nature of the work and the openness of the Creative Commons licence.

Sharing resources amongst similar institutions by using Creative Commons licences makes sense financially and there are many policy reasons to do so.  Digital resources produced by publicly funded organisations are a valuable asset to the research and education community.  Many people in the sector believe that access to and use of these digital resources could be better and that the wider use of open content licences would help to improve the situation.

There are many advantages of using Creative Commons licences for the licensing of content including the ease of use of the licences and widespread adoption of the licences. Creative Commons licences are also available in human-readable and machine-readable forms – creating a direct link between the resource and its licence, whilst also using symbolic representations of the licences to communicate usage terms to the user.

Using Creative Commons licences to provide access to resources provides a tried and tested mechanism for users to easily understand how they can use your resources. It can also fulfil open access requirements such as those outlined by JISC in its funding agreements.

Version 4.0 of the Creative Commons Licences enable internationally recognised Creative Commons licences.

Wikimedia Commons provides a library of uploaded images which are tagged with Creative Commons licences

Xtra useful Creative Commons licensed content can be found on https://artuk.org/ and https://wellcomecollection.org/works  amongst the other 1.4 billion pieces of Creative Commons content online

You can find out more about Creative Commons licences by visiting the Creative Commons website www.creativecommons.org

(c) Naomi Korn Associates, 2018, Some Rights Reserved. The text of this blog is available for reuse under a Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike licence.

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