Creative Commons

Sameer Prasai
August 15, 2021

In our previous article, we talked about how copyright law protects the works of content creators and how copyrighted materials, upon expiry of the protection, move to the public domain and become accessible to everyone. But what if people want their work to be adapted and be built on by people during their lifetime without having to manually provide permission? After all, knowledge and creativity only grow when people share and build on them. 

Copyright protection can become a hindrance in this case for two reasons:

  • First, not everyone is willing to go through the trouble of getting permissions to build on somebody’s work.
  • And second, the original creator will have to waste time answering requests to grant permission.

Thus, one option for the creator is to forfeit ownership and keep their work in the public domain directly without claiming copyright so that everyone can access it as the public will be the owner. However, most people would like to get the credit for the work that they have done and might even want to exercise some control on how it is to be used. In that case, content creators license their work under one of the Creative Commons licenses so that anyone can use their content, yet they are the rightful owners of their work.

As Creative Commons’ balance between ownership — protected by copyright laws — and the benefit of the public — contributed by works in the public domain — provides the perfect licensing scheme for sharing content on the internet, many content creators choose to license their work under Creative Commons. Below is an excerpt from the Creative Commons website describing the different types of CC licenses. As the descriptions themselves are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, I can include them in the blog post without permission as long as I give the appropriate credits.

About CC Licenses

Creative Commons licenses give everyone from individual creators to large institutions a standardized way to grant the public permission to use their creative work under copyright law. From the reuser’s perspective, the presence of a Creative Commons license on a copyrighted work answers the question, “What can I do with this work?”

The Creative Commons License Options

There are six different license types, listed from most to least permissive here:

  • CC BY: This license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, so long as attribution is given to the creator. The license allows for commercial use.
  • CC BY-SA: This license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, so long as attribution is given to the creator. The license allows for commercial use. If you remix, adapt, or build upon the material, you must license the modified material under identical terms.
  • CC BY-NC: This license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator.
  • CC BY-NC-SA: This license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator. If you remix, adapt, or build upon the material, you must license the modified material under identical terms.
  • CC BY-ND: This license allows reusers to copy and distribute the material in any medium or format in unadapted form only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator. The license allows for commercial use.
  • CC BY-NC-ND: This license allows reusers to copy and distribute the material in any medium or format in unadapted form only, for noncommercial purposes only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator.

 

You can see that there are four key elements in the CC license:

The attribution element is common to all six licenses. This means that under no condition can you use a creative commons licensed resource without giving the original creator the due credit. Giving appropriate credit is always a good idea, even if it is not licensed.

To get a comprehensive overview of how you can properly attribute Creative Commons material, check out this informative PDF by Creative Commons Australia.

A common misconception is that crediting a material or disclaiming that you are not the original creator automatically grants the right to copy. This is false. Only for works licensed under CC BY is this applicable.

The next element of a CC license is the “Share Alike” or the SA element. If this element is present in the license, you can only use the licensed resources in a work you are going to share under the same license. For example, if I want to enhance an image that is shared under CC By-NC-SA, you will have to share the enhanced image also under CC BY-NC. You cannot add the Non-Derivative element, or make it available for commercial use.
Next, there is the Non-Commercial element. As its name suggests, resources having this element in their license can not be used for commercial purposes.
Then finally, there is the Non-Derivative element. Works under this license can only be shared but not modified.

Because creative commons licenses have restrictions on the licensed material used, it is important to be mindful of whether your digital content can host the licensed material or not. If you want to monetize your content, you can not use resources that have an NC license. If you do not want to license your work as creative commons, then you cannot use materials that have a SA license. You can not modify materials that are under an ND license. However, if you are not altering the original material in any way, say adding an image in a blog post, then you can incorporate it in your work. Regardless of the type, always remember to credit the original creator!

 

References:

About CC Licenses

The featured image is by Peter Leth, taken from flickr.com