Creative Commons can be used by anyone to license reuse of their own work and is free of charge.
Creative Commons offers a simple DIY method for licensing the reuse of most copyright-protected works. The Creative Commons website offers a choice of predefined licences using concise symbols that can be combined in different ways.
These are the basic CC components:
Basic CC Licence
|Attribution. The author must be credited correctly and the licence cited.
|This is the simplest and least restrictive CC Licence.
Optional extras which impose further restrictions
|You cannot use the work to make money or for commercial advantage. For commercial reuses, you must contact the copyright holder for permission.
|You may reuse the work but not make any adaptations, e.g. adaptations of a book for the screen, translation into another language, remix of resources etc. To create adaptations, you must contact the copyright holder for permission.
|If you make a derivative version available, it must be offered under the same licence as the original work. For example, if the original was licensed under "CC BY-SA" then the derivative version must also be "CC BY-SA".
The symbols are combined in CC Licences as follows:
|You can reuse the work in any context including for commercial purposes, such as reproducing it in a commercial publication or placing it behind a pay wall. You can produce a derivative version, such as a mash-up of multiple images, an animated version of a novel or a translation into another language.
|Like CC BY with the additional restriction that the work cannot be reused for commercial purposes.
|Like CC BY with the additional restriction that you cannot make derivative works available. It can only be reused in its original form, so for example no mash-ups, translations, simplified versions or adaptations for a different medium.
|The addition of "SA" means that if you make a derivative version available, it must be published under exactly the same licence as the original, and without placing any additional restrictions.
|Permits derivative versions but they can only be made available under the CC BY-NC-SA licence. NC means that the licence does not allow any commercial reuse.
|Attribution- Non-commercial - No derivatives. This is the most restrictive CC licence. It does not permit commercial reuse or the making available of derivative versions.
Alternative to the Creative Commons licences
An alternative to the Creative Commons licences, which is often appropriate for research data sets:
|CC0 - No rights reserved
CC0 goes one step further than the Creative Commons licences in making your work available for others to reuse. CC0 enables you to waive any claim you might have to copyright protection in the work. It follows that others will be free to reuse your work in any way they choose without seeking permission, without acknowledging you as the author and with no other formalities. If the CC licences are equivalent to “some rights reserved,” CC0 is equivalent to “no rights reserved.”
By applying CC0, you are placing your work in the public domain to the fullest possible extent. CC0 can be especially appropriate for research data sets as it maximises the opportunities for other researchers to test and reuse your data.
It is still good practice to acknowledge the source of data sets which you use in an academic or research context but CC0 removes any constraints arising from copyright. Further information on CC0 can be found on the Creative Commons website.
Finding material which you can reuse
If you choose to reuse some content which is CC licensed you must take care to follow the terms of the licence as they are legally binding on you. The search page of the Creative Commons website enables you to search for CC licensed material on a number of popular websites such as Flickr and YouTube. It also covers sites that offer CC licensed music. Flickr and YouTube also enable you to search for CC licensed material when you visit their sites. The UCL Copyright resources reading list also includes information on websites which offer licensed material.
Just a note of caution: Sometimes an item of content may be posted on a website with a CC licence attached although, in reality, the person responsible does not own the rights and the posting infringes copyright. In that case you should avoid reusing the content. An example would be part of a recent feature film posted on YouTube by someone with no obvious connection to the relevant film production company.
Licensing your own work
What are the advantages?
CC licences provide an easy method of licensing your work by attaching a readily understood symbol. It is a way of licensing reuse of your work without needing to deal with individual requests. A common feature of the various CC licences is that people are obliged to credit the author, so anyone who reuses your work is also spreading awareness of your name as the author. If you wish to prevent commercial reuse or adaptations of your work, you can choose a CC licence which includes those restrictions.
Licensing requirements by funders
Research funders have certain requirements when it comes to licensing your research publications. For example, UKRI require that research articles be shared under a CC BY licence. For more information, see the Open Access website. See also our guidance on licensing research data and code.
When not to apply a CC Licence
If your work has commercial potential then a Creative commons licence may not be ideal as, essentially, you are making it available to everyone free of charge. Once granted, a CC licence cannot be withdrawn from someone who is already reusing your work under the licence. It follows that you need to think carefully before attaching a CC licence to your work.