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Creative Commons Licenses: A Primer

by Hanna B. Jackson

Creative Commons Licenses: A Primer

There are times when, as the creator of a work of art, music or literature, you may want to protect some of your intellectual property rights, but not all. For example, maybe you’re fine with people using your photography or sampling some of your music as long as they give you credit. If so, you might be interested in using a Creative Commons license.

Unlike copyright law which attaches to original creative works by default and imposes “all rights reserved” protection — a legal one-size-fits-all — Creative Commons offers a set of licenses that creators can choose from based on the degree and kind of protection they want.

Background

Creative Commons is a nonprofit founded in 2001 by law professor Lawrence Lessig and others. Lessig and his co-founders considered copyright law outdated in the post-internet era and saw a need for a more flexible legal framework that better served the creative needs of the time. The Internet made it simple and fast to access, create and share information, and fostered a creative environment in which it often seemed both redundant and undesirable to require advance permission to use someone else’s work.

Creative Commons works alongside copyright law, with licenses that let creators modify their copyrights based on their specific wishes.

The first U.S. copyright law, enacted in 1790, mirrored the creative landscape of its time, protecting only limited types of works for short periods. Since then, copyright law has consistently extended both in terms of protection periods and works protected. Copyright now attaches automatically whenever an original work of authorship is created. Additionally, copyright gives the creator an exclusive right to reproduce, change, distribute, perform or display the protected work. By itself, copyright is essentially an all-or-nothing right.

Creative Commons works alongside copyright law, with licenses that let creators modify their copyrights based on their specific wishes.

Using Creative Commons Licenses

If you would like to start using Creative Commons licenses, the Creative Commons website will help you find the right one. Once you have made your pick, you simply include an HTML code for online material. For offline material, include a statement explaining that the work is licensed and attach an explanation of the license or information on where it can be found (for online material, the HTML code will generate that information automatically).

Creative Commons licenses are used today by some of the world’s most well-known companies and organizations including Wikipedia, Flickr, Google and Whitehouse.gov. The licenses are free, and designed to be enforceable in courts around the world.

Types of Creative Commons Licenses

The six Creative Commons (CC) licenses are:

Attribution (CC BY): This is the broadest of the CC licenses and allows others to distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon the licensed work, as long as the creator is credited.

Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND): The CC BY-ND allows others to redistribute the licensed work both commercially and non-commercially as long as the original creator is credited and the work is distributed unchanged and in its entirety.

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA): Enables others to change and build upon the licensed work non-commercially, as long as the creator is credited and the new work is licensed under the same terms as the original.

Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA): Same as the CC BY-NC-SA, but allows others to remix, tweak, and build upon the work for commercial purposes as well.

Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC): Just like the CC BY-NC-SA, the CC BY-NC lets others change and build upon the work for non-commercial purposes and requires that the creator is credited. However, under a CC BY-NC license, the new work does not have to be licensed under the same terms as the original.

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND):
The most restrictive of the CC licenses, the CC BY-NC-ND only allows other to download and share the licensed work as long as the creator is credited. It does not allow for others to change the licensed work in any way, or to use it commercially.

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If you’re looking for a way to share your creative work with the world while preserving ownership and control, Creative Commons licenses can be an excellent off-the-shelf solution.

 

Hanna B. Jackson is a licensed attorney in New York and Sweden with a background in journalism and writing. An “intrapreneur” with a passion for women’s empowerment, she works for American Express. Hanna loves sailing and taking pictures with her vintage Holga camera. Connect with Hanna on Twitter or LinkedIn.