Creative Commons Licenses – How to use them & why you need to

Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that was started to grow the body of creative works that people can legally use and share. Creative Commons has created an easy-to-use set of licenses that creators can use to communicate which rights they reserve, and which rights they waive, so that other users may legally use their works.

The basic copyright law which applies to all creative works when they are created is “All Rights Reserved”, which means that the copyright holder retains all the rights to copy, display, distribute, perform or modify the work themselves. Creative Commons builds upon this copyright, and creates an easy way for creators (or licensors) to tell their users (or licensees) how they are allowed to use their creative works, by expanding this license to only “Some Rights Reserved”.

Each license has three layers: Legal Code, which is written with lawyers in mind, so that there is official and legally binding writing to accompany each code, incase some sort of suit or action needs to occur. Human Readable text, which is written with the average person in mind, so that licensors and licensees can easily read and understand the license they are using. And Machine Readable, which is written with computers in mind, so that software programs and computers can easily read and analyze which rights are associated with a given creative work.

Rights

Each of the Creative Commons licenses is a different combination of rights that licensors can choose from when licensing their work. These basic rights are:
Attribution (BY) Licensees can copy, display, distribute, and perform the work only if they give credit in the way the license specifies.
Share alike (SA) Licensees can only distribute derivative works if they are going to use the same license as the original author did.
Non Commercial (NC) Licensees can copy, display, distribute, and perform the work only for non-commerical purposes (meaning they don’t make money from it).
No Derivative Works (ND) Licensees can copy, display, distribute, and perform the work only in the exact form of the original, they can’t change it in any way.

Licenses

Combining these rights in different ways creates 11 possible licenses, six of which are commonly used and accepted as official Creative Commons Licenses. These licenses are named by the combinations of the rights they include:

Attribution
CC BY

This license allows others to copy, display, distribute, perform, and modify the work, both commercially and non commercially, as long as they give the licensor credit for the original creation.
ie: You edit an image and use it on your blog and provide a caption with the authors name and a link back to where you found it.

Attribution-Share Alike
CC BY-SA

This license allows others to copy, display, distribute, perform and modify the work, both commercially and non commercially, as long as they give the licensor credit for the original creation and use the exact same license as the original creator did.
ie: You edit an image and use it on your blog and provide a caption with the authors name and a link back to where you found it, and tell people to do the same if they are going to use your new version of image.

Attribution-NoDerivs
CC BY-ND

This license allows others to copy, display, distribute, and perform the work, both commercially and non commercially, as long as they give the licensor credit for the original creation and use the work unchanged and whole.
ie: You use an image on your blog and provide a caption with the authors name and a link back to where you found it – but you cannot change, add to, or crop the image in any way.

Attribution-NonCommercial
CC BY-NC

This license allows others to copy, display, distribute, perform and modify the work, only non commercially, as long as they give the licensor credit for the original creation.
ie: You edit an image and use it on your blog and provide a caption with the authors name and a link back to where you found it, but you can not make money from the image.

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
CC BY-NC-SA

This license allows others to copy, display, distribute, perform and modify the work, only non commercially, as long as they give the licensor credit for the original creation, and use the exact same license as the original creator did.
ie: You edit an image and use it on your blog and provide a caption with the authors name and a link back to where you found it, and tell people to do the same if they are going to use your new version of image, but you can not make money from the image.

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs
CC BY-NC-ND

This license allows others to copy, display, distribute, and perform the work, only non commercially, as long as they give the licensor credit for the original creation, and use the work unchanged and whole.
ie: You use an image on your blog and provide a caption with the authors name and a link back to where you found it, but you can not make money from the image, and you can not change, add to, or crop the image in any way.

Creative Commons Zero
CC0

There is one more ‘license’ that isn’t included in the typical list of creative commons licenses. This is because, rather than licensing your work, it releases your work into the public domain. This means that, unlike any other licenses, users don’t even need to give attribution. This means that they can copy, display, distribute, perform, and modify the work, both commercially and non commercially, without giving credit. Essentially, it means users can do whatever they want – except claim the work as their own.
ie: You can use any of the photos listed on the sites here for free, without giving attribution, because these creators have released their photos into the public domain under Creative Commons Zero.

Here is a handy guide to remembering all the licenses and what they mean.

Creative Commons Licenses

Why do you need to use them

If you’re a creative – then you need to know about these licenses both when creating your own works and when using the work of others. If you publish works online without any mention of a creative commons license, people could use the works in ways that you don’t want them to. If you publish works with restrictions in your own words, then people could misunderstand or misinterpret your restrictions. The best and most straightforward way to tell people how you want you work to be used is to use a Creative Commons license. That way they can look up the license to have a clear and direct reference, and easy to understand guidelines on how they can use your work. Likewise, if you are using someone else’s work and you can’t understand or find their license, it could get you in a lot of trouble.

How to use a Creative Commons License

To license your blog and its content under Creative Commons license, first you have to decide which license you want to use. There is a handy Creative Commons License selector tool that helps you decide which one is for you, and will even generate a button for you to place on your site. Then you just need to display it on your site. If you don’t want to use the button you could write something in your footer, announcing a general license over all the material on the site, or you could display a different license on a per-post basis.

I’m sure you’ve seen “All Rights Reserved” written at the bottom of a site before, so in the same way you could write “The content of this site is licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 License”. This lets people know that they can use things on your site, as long as they are always linking back to you and that they can’t use it commercially or change it at all. This is the license I would recommend – so people know they can share your content and use it in things like roundups, as long as they link back to your site and don’t edit your content. This is great for your traffic and exposure – while retaining your ownership rights.

What to do if someone violates your license

When someone violates the use of your work, their rights are automatically revoked, meaning they should immediately stop using your work. However, most of the time when someone violates a license, they do so without even knowing. The best way to resolve a copyright issue would be to contact them and simply ask them to fix the situation – most people will be happy to do so once they realize they have done something wrong. If this doesn’t work, then you could contact a lawyer and sue for copyright infringement. You also need to think about this in the opposite direction – someone could take this action against you if you are misusing their work against the license they have selected – so make sure you always know what rights a work has before using it.

Creative Commons was put into place to help creatives and grow the creative works that are averrable for use on the web. If you know what you’re doing and understand the licenses, it can open you up to a vast resource of creative materials, and help you protect your own.

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