Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. Their free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice. Creative Commons licenses let you easily change your copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.” Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright and enable you to modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs. It is not recommended to apply Creative Commons licenses to software. These licenses do not make mention of source or object code, but there are other licenses designed specifically for use with software, like the GNU General Public License, the Apache License and the other ones listed at the Open Source Initiative (


Creative Commons was founded in 2001 with the generous support of the Center for the Public Domain. It is led by a Board of Directors that includes cyberlaw and intellectual property experts James Boyle, Michael Carroll, Molly Shaffer Van Houweling, and Lawrence Lessig, MIT computer science professor Hal Abelson, lawyer-turned-documentary filmmaker-turned-cyberlaw expert Eric Saltzman, renowned documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, noted Japanese entrepreneur Joi Ito, and public domain web publisher Eric Eldred.

Fellows and students at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School and Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society helped get the project off the ground. Creative Commons is now housed at offices in San Francisco. The Board oversees a small administrative staff and technical team, and is advised by a Technical Advisory Board. Creative Commons is sustained by the contributions of a growing group of supporters.

What’s the point of Creative Commons?

Share and share alike. We’ve all heard that expression. In fact, many artists want to see their work reach as wide an audience as possible, and have the most impact. But because copyright exists whether you register it or not, even if you want to share your work with other artists, that can be difficult. The only way you can share your work is to license it.

And because sharing (without consent) is so pervasive given that it’s so easily to just take and manipulate creative products work in the digital environment, licensing is an easier way than any other way to influence how people do that.

How do Creative Commons licenses operate?

Creative Commons licenses take effect and are operative only when applied to a work in which a copyright exists, and even then only when a particular use of the work is prohibited by copyright. This means that Creative Commons license terms and conditions are not triggered by a use permitted under any applicable exceptions and limitations to copyright, nor do license terms and conditions apply to elements of a licensed work that are in the public domain. This also means that Creative Commons licenses do not contractually impose restrictions on uses of a work where there is no underlying copyright. This feature (and others) distinguish Creative Commons licenses from some other open licenses like the ODbL and ODC-BY, both of which are intended to impose contractual conditions and restrictions on the reuse of databases in jurisdictions where there is no underlying copyright or sui generis database right.

All Creative Commons licenses are non-exclusive – creators and owners can enter into additional, different licensing arrangements for the same work at any time, a practice known as dual-licensing. Note, however, that once granted, Creative Commons licenses are not revocable in the absence of a breach, and even then the license is terminated only as to the particular licensee.

Four conditions + Six licenses

Creative Commons licenses are based on the following four conditions:

  • Attribution: If it’s your work, it means you let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work — and derivative works based upon it — but only if they give you credit.

If you want to use someone’s work: you have to clearly put their name and website address on it.

  • Noncommercial: If it’s your work, it means you let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work — and derivative works based upon it — but for noncommercial purposes only.

If you want to use someone’s work: if your work makes money in any way, you can’t. That means if you’re a blogger, and you sell any advertising on your site, you’re out.

  • No Derivative: If it’s your work, you let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work, but not derivative works based upon it.

If you want to use someone’s work: you can’t change their original work at all.

  • Share alike: You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs your work.

If you want to use someone’s work: you only can if your work is licensed the same way as theirs.

By combining in different ways these conditions we obtain the six different Creative Commons licenses.

  • Attribution:

  • Attribution–No Derivatives:

  • Attribution–Non-Commercial–No Derivatives:

  • Attribution–Non-Commercial:

  • Attribution–Non-Commercial–Share Alike:

  • Attribution–Share Alike:

All Creative Commons licenses have many important features in common. Every license helps creators — we call them licensors if they use our tools — retain copyright while allowing others to copy, distribute, and make some uses of their work — at least non-commercially. Every Creative Commons license also ensures licensors get the credit for their work they deserve. Every Creative Commons license works around the world and lasts as long as applicable copyright lasts (because they are built on copyright). These common features serve as the baseline, on top of which licensors can choose to grant additional permissions when deciding how they want their work to be used. You can easily choose the most appropriate license for your work here:

You can visit the Creative Commons website (, especially the Frequented Asked Questions section ( in order to find out more about these licenses.

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This article is a mixture of the author’s knowledge and the following two pages:

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