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Creative Commons: CC Licenses

About CC Licenses

The Creative Commons organization has created legal tools to give creators flexibility in how they share their work. The most well-known and widely used are the Creative Commons suite of licenses. There are four elements: attribution, share alike, non-commercial, and non-derivative. These elements can be combined in different ways to make up the six licenses in the suite. Each license has three layers to make it as accessible and functional as possible:

  1. Legal Code: this foundational layer contains material that makes the licenses legally enforceable in court. 
  2. Common Deeds: this layer summarizes the legal code in a way that is easy for the average person to understand.
  3. Machine-Readable: this layer includes metadata that can be read by search engines, applications, etc. 

Remember, Creative Commons licensing functions within US Copyright Law. Therefore, Creative Commons licenses can only be applied to works that are eligible for copyright protection. Other rights (for example, patents or trademarks) are separate. As well, exceptions to copyright (for example, fair use) trumps the terms of a Creative Commons license. 

Lastly, the Creative Commons organization has created tools for working with the Public Domain. These are not the same as a Creative Commons license, but play an important role as well.

The Four Elements

Let's start with the four elements that are part of Creative Commons licenses. Becoming familiar with these elements will be helpful whether you are creating or using works with a Creative Commons license.

   BY or ATTRIBUTION. This symbol is included in all the Creative Commons licenses and requires users to pay attribution to the creator of the work.

  NC or NON-COMMERCIAL. This symbol restricts use of a work to non-commercial purposes only.

  SA or SHAREALIKE. Any licenses with this symbol indicate that adaptations of the work must be licensed under the same license. 

  ND or NO DERIVATIVES. This symbols means any adaptations of the work cannot be shared publicly.

Creative Commons Licenses

Here is a helpful guide which shows how the four elements can be combined to create the six Creative Commons licenses. 

Creative Commons Licenses Infographic” by ricardo56 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0‚Äč


Public Domain Tools

The Creative Commons organization has also created tools to help manage and give credit to works in the Public Domain. These tools are NOT the same as a Creative Commons license. Let's take a closer look.

  CC0 If a creator would like to dedicate one of their works to the Public Domain before copyright expires, they can use this mark to indicate they are waiving copyright. 

  Public Domain Mark is used to indicate works that are in the Public Domain. If you are using a work in the Public Domain, you can label it to inform users.


Creative Commons. (n.d.). Creative commons certificate for educators, academic librarians and GLAM.

CC License

"Creative Commons: CC Licenses" by Danielle Campbell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.