Frequently Asked Questions
This is the full/extended version of the FAQ. It has a lot of information, and may be difficult to navigate. You may want to first take a look at the abbreviated FAQ, which answers a handful of the most common questions people have about Creative Commons.
Please Note: Creative Commons does not provide legal advice. This FAQ is designed to be helpful in raising awareness about the use of our licenses. It is not a substitute for legal advice. It may not cover important issues that affect you and you may wish to consult with a lawyer.
- 1 Questions for people thinking about applying a Creative Commons license to their work
- 1.1 How do I apply a Creative Commons® license to my work?
- 1.2 Can I apply a Creative Commons license to an offline work?
- 1.3 How does a Creative Commons license operate?
- 1.4 What things should I think about before I apply a Creative Commons license to my work?
- 1.5 Which Creative Commons license should I choose?
- 1.6 What if I change my mind?
- 1.7 Do I need to sign something or register to obtain a Creative Commons license?
- 1.8 What is the Commons Deed? What is the legal code? What does the html/metadata do?
- 1.9 I am in a band; can I use Creative Commons licenses but still collect statutory royalties such as under statutory licenses for public performances?
- 1.10 I am a member of a collecting society, can I use Creative Commons licenses?
- 1.11 Can I still make money from a work I make available under a Creative Commons licenses?
- 1.12 Do I need to register my copyright?
- 1.13 How do I register my copyright?
- 1.14 Is applying a Creative Commons license to my work the same or an alternative to registering the copyright to my work?
- 1.15 Do I need to register my copyright in order to use a Creative Commons license?
- 1.16 Do I need a copyright notice to protect my work?
- 1.17 Do Creative Commons licenses affect fair use, fair dealing or other exceptions to copyright?
- 1.18 Can I use a Creative Commons license for software?
- 1.19 Should I use Creative Commons licenses for software documentation?
- 1.20 What happens when a copyright owner says her work is governed by two different Creative Commons licenses?
- 1.21 Are Creative Commons licenses enforceable in a court of law?
- 1.22 Will Creative Commons help me enforce my license?
- 1.23 What happens if someone misuses my Creative Commons-licensed work?
- 1.24 I don’t like the way a person has used my work in a derivative work or included it in a collective work; what can I do?
- 1.25 What are moral rights, and how could I exercise them to prevent uses of my work that I don’t like?
- 1.26 Why are there different jurisdiction licenses?
- 1.27 Which jurisdiction license should I choose?
- 2 Questions for people thinking about using a Creative Commons-licensed work
- 2.1 Will Creative Commons give me permission to use a work?
- 2.2 Does Creative Commons determine what content is released under its licenses?
- 2.3 What are the terms of a Creative Commons license?
- 2.4 So “NonCommercial” means that the work cannot be used commercially?
- 2.5 What does the Creative Commons “Some Rights Reserved” button mean? What does a Creative Commons license do?
- 2.6 What happens if I want to make a different use of the work?
- 2.7 So I don’t have to pay to use Creative Commons-licensed works if I comply with the license terms?
- 2.8 How do I use a Creative Commons-licensed work?
- 2.9 When are publicity rights relevant?
- 2.10 Does using a Creative Commons-licensed work give me all the rights I need?
- 2.11 How do I properly attribute a Creative Commons licensed work?
- 2.12 What is a derivative work?
- 2.13 If I use a Creative Commons-licensed work with other works, do I have to Creative Commons license everything else as well?
- 2.14 Can I combine two different Creative Commons licensed works? Can I combine a Creative Commons licensed work with another non-CC licensed work?
- 2.15 If I use a Creative Commons-licensed work to create a new work (ie a derivative work or adaptation), which Creative Commons license can I use for my new work?
- 2.16 I’m collecting a number of different works together into one resource. Can I include Creative Commons-licensed material?
- 2.17 Can I change the terms of a CC license or waive some of its conditions?
- 3 Technical Questions
- 3.1 I want to give users of my site the option to choose Creative Commons licensing; how do I do that?
- 3.2 Why did Creative Commons choose to use the RDF format for its metadata?
- 3.3 How can I use Creative Commons metadata in my program?
- 3.4 I'd prefer to use a PNG image instead of a GIF image or vice versa. What should I do?
- 4 Questions about using Creative Commons’ logo
- 4.1 Where can I get a high resolution version of the Creative Commons logos?
- 4.2 I want to print out some t-shirts & stickers with Creative Commons logos; how do I go about doing this?
- 4.3 I want to incorporate the Creative Commons logos into my site or work, can I?
- 4.4 Can I change the Creative Commons logos so that they look better on my site or with my work?
- 5 About Creative Commons
- 5.1 Is Creative Commons against copyright?
- 5.2 Is Creative Commons building a database of licensed content?
- 5.3 Will works that use Creative Commons licenses be in the "public domain"?
- 5.4 What is Creative Commons?
- 5.5 Who started Creative Commons?
- 5.6 What problem does Creative Commons intend to solve?
- 5.7 Does it cost me anything to use the Creative Commons licenses & tools?
- 5.8 Who funds Creative Commons?
- 5.9 Whom does Creative Commons serve or represent?
- 5.10 Where is Creative Commons based?
- 5.11 Does Creative Commons host or own any content?
- 5.12 Is Creative Commons involved in digital rights management (DRM)?
- 5.13 What happens if someone tries to restrict a CC-licensed work with digital rights management (DRM) tools?
- 5.14 I love what Creative Commons does. How can I help?
Questions for people thinking about applying a Creative Commons license to their work
How do I apply a Creative Commons® license to my work?
For online works, you apply a Creative Commons license to a work by selecting the license that suits your preferences. Once you have selected your license, and if you are applying it to an online work, follow the instructions to include the html code in your work. This code will automatically generate a license button and a statement that your work is licensed under a Creative Commons license, or a CC0 or public domain button if you choose to dedicate your work to the public domain or certify that a work is in the public domain via one of our public domain tools. These buttons are designed to act as a notice to people who come in contact with your work that your work is licensed under the applicable Creative Commons license. The html code will also be include the metadata that enables your work to found via Creative Commons-enabled search engines.
Can I apply a Creative Commons license to an offline work?
Yes. For offline works, you should identify which Creative Commons license you wish to apply to your work and then mark your work either: (a) with a statement such as “This work is licensed under the Creative Commons [insert description] License. To view a copy of this license, visit [insert url]; or, (b) send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 2nd Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.” or insert the applicable license buttons with the same statement and URL link.
The only difference between applying a Creative Commons license to an offline work and applying it to an online work is that offline works will not include the metadata and, consequently, will not be identified via Creative Commons-customized search engines.
How does a Creative Commons license operate?
A Creative Commons license is based on copyright. So they apply to all works that are protected by copyright law. The kinds of works that are protected by copyright law are books, websites, blogs, photographs, films, videos, songs and other audio & visual recordings, for example. Software programs are also protected by copyright but, as explained below, we do not recommend that you apply a Creative Commons license to software code.
Creative Commons licenses give you the ability to dictate how others may exercise your copyright rights—such as the right of others to copy your work, make derivative works or adaptations of your work, to distribute your work and/or make money from your work. They do not give you the ability to restrict anything that is otherwise permitted by exceptions or limitations to copyright—including, importantly, fair use or fair dealing—nor do they give you the ability to control anything that is not protected by copyright law, such as facts and ideas.
Creative Commons licenses attach to the work and authorize everyone who comes in contact with the work to use it consistent with the license. This means that if Bob has a copy of your Creative Commons-licensed work, Bob can give a copy to Carol and Carol will be authorized to use the work consistent with the Creative Commons license. You then have a license agreement separately with both Bob and Carol.
You should be aware that Creative Commons licenses only affect your rights under copyright. You are not licensing your trademark or patent rights, if any, when you apply a CC license to your work.
Creative Commons licenses are expressed in three different formats: the Commons Deed (human-readable code), the Legal Code (lawyer-readable code); and the metadata (machine readable code). You don’t need to sign anything to get a Creative Commons license—just select your license at our ‘Choose License’ page.
One final thing you should understand about Creative Commons licenses is that they are all non-exclusive. This means that you can permit the general public to use your work under a Creative Commons license and then enter into a separate and different non-exclusive license with someone else, for example, in exchange for money.
What things should I think about before I apply a Creative Commons license to my work?
We have set out some things that you should think about before you apply a Creative Commons license to your work here.
Which Creative Commons license should I choose?
You should choose the license that meets your preferences. The license is a statement as to what others may do with your work, so you should select a license that matches what you are happy for others to do with your work. You can find an overview of the Creative Commons licenses here.
You can also participate in our email discussion lists and/or review the discussion archives to see if our community is able to respond to your questions and concerns and/or has already addressed them.
Finally, you can also consult with a lawyer to obtain advice on the best license for your needs. For information about how you may be able to locate a suitably qualified lawyer, please refer to this question and answer.
What if I change my mind?
Creative Commons licenses are non-revocable. This means that you cannot stop someone, who has obtained your work under a Creative Commons license, from using the work according to that license. You can stop distributing your work under a Creative Commons license at any time you wish; but this will not withdraw any copies of your work that already exist under a Creative Commons license from circulation, be they verbatim copies, copies included in collective works and/or adaptations of your work. So you need to think carefully when choosing a Creative Commons license to make sure that you are happy for people to be using your work consistent with the terms of the license, even if you later stop distributing your work.
Do I need to sign something or register to obtain a Creative Commons license?
No. Creative Commons licenses are designed to be applied to your work and to be binding upon people who use your work based on their notice of the Creative Commons “Some Rights Reserved” (or “No Rights Reserved” in the case of works dedicated to or certified to be in the public domain with one of our public domain tools) button and the statement that the work is Creative Commons-licensed.
We do not keep track of or a register of which creative works have been licensed under a Creative Commons license. We make the licenses, code and tools available for you to use or not as you wish.
What is the Commons Deed? What is the legal code? What does the html/metadata do?
Creative Commons licenses are expressed in three different formats: the Commons Deed (human-readable code), the Legal Code (lawyer-readable code); and the metadata (machine readable code).
The Commons Deed is a summary of the key terms of the actual license (which is the Legal Code)—basically, what others can and cannot do with the work. Think of it as the user-friendly interface to the Legal Code beneath. This Deed itself has no legal value, and its contents do not appear in the actual license.
The Legal Code is the actual license; a document designed to be enforced in a court of law.
The metadata describes the key license elements that apply to a piece of content to enable discovery through CC-enabled search engines.
I am in a band; can I use Creative Commons licenses but still collect statutory royalties such as under statutory licenses for public performances?
Yes, so long as you choose a “NonCommercial” license option (ie. Attribution-NonCommercial, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike or Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives) because under these licenses you reserve the right to collect royalties under statutory or compulsory licenses for commercial use of your work. Whether, as a practical matter, you can collect these royalties, depends on which country you are in (check out the answer to the next question).
Under the Creative Commons licenses that permit other people to make commercial use of your work (ie. Attribution, Attribution-ShareAlike, Attribution-NoDerivatives), the licensor waives the right to collect these royalties.
I am a member of a collecting society, can I use Creative Commons licenses?
You need to check with your society. Currently, many of the collecting societies in Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Taiwan and the Netherlands take an assignment of rights (or in France what is called a “mandate” of rights that nonetheless has the same effect practically as an assignment) from you in present and future works (so that they effectively become the owner of these rights) and manage them for you. So if you are already a member of a collecting society in one of these jurisdictions, you may not be entitled to license your work yourself under a Creative Commons license because the necessary rights are not held by you but by the collecting society. Please also read the FAQ on the website of the Creative Commons project team for your jurisdiction for more information about this issue in your jurisdiction.
Creative Commons is reaching out to collecting societies in those jurisdictions where this problem arises to try to find a solution that enables creators to enjoy the benefits both systems offer.
If you encounter difficulties with using Creative Commons licenses because of your membership in a collecting society in your jurisdiction that is not listed above, please let either your country’s Creative Commons project team know or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, if you wish to discuss ways to try to deal with the situation in your country please contact your country’s Creative Commons project team.
If you are already a member of one of these collecting societies, feel free to encourage your collecting society to give you the option of Creative Commons licensing.
Can I still make money from a work I make available under a Creative Commons licenses?
Absolutely. Firstly, because our licenses are non-exclusive which means you are not tied down to only make a piece of your content available under a Creative Commons license; you can also enter into other revenue-generating licenses in relation to your work. One of our central goals is to encourage people to experiment with new ways to promote and market their work.
Secondly, the noncommercial license option is an inventive tool designed to allow people to maximize the distribution of their works while keeping control of the commercial aspects of their copyright. To make one thing clear that is sometimes misunderstood: the "noncommercial use" condition applies only to others who use your work, not to you (the licensor). So if you choose to license your work under a Creative Commons license that includes the “noncommercial use” option, you impose the ”noncommercial” condition on the users (licensees). However, you, the creator of the work and/or licensor, may at any time decide to use it commercially. People who want to copy or adapt your work, "primarily for monetary compensation or financial gain" must get your separate permission first.
One thing to note on the noncommercial provision: under current U.S. law, file-sharing or the trading of works online is considered a commercial use -- even if no money changes hands. Because we believe that file-sharing, used properly, is a powerful tool for distribution and education, all Creative Commons licenses contain a special exception for file-sharing. The trading of works online is not a commercial use, under our documents, provided it is not done for monetary gain.
Do I need to register my copyright?
In most jurisdictions, registration is not required. However, for creators in the United States registration can be obtained and is advisable so that you can enforce your copyright in court. For US-based creators, you should check out the U.S. Copyright Office’s ‘Copyright Basics’ page, which explains more about copyright registration.
How do I register my copyright?
If you are based in the US, to find out more about how to register your copyright, check out the U.S. Copyright Office’s ‘Copyright Basics’ page.
Is applying a Creative Commons license to my work the same or an alternative to registering the copyright to my work?
No. Applying a Creative Commons license to your work does not give you the same, similar or alternate protection to registering your copyright. Creative Commons licenses apply in addition to and on top of an existing copyright.
Do I need to register my copyright in order to use a Creative Commons license?
No. Creative Commons licenses apply to works that are copyrighted. As a general rule, in most jurisdictions, copyright protection is automatic for those works that satisfy the requirements of copyright law. Generally, copyright attaches to creative and expressive works once they are fixed in tangible form, ie. the minute you put pen to paper, brush to easel, hit the “save” button on your computer, the “send” button on your email or take a photo.
For U.S. based creators, registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office is advisable so that you can enforce your copyright in court. For US-based creators, you should check out the U.S. Copyright Office’s ‘Copyright Basics’ page which explains more about copyright registration.
Do I need a copyright notice to protect my work?
You do not need to apply a copyright notice to secure copyright protection. However, a copyright notice can be useful because it clearly signals to people that you believe you own copyright in your work and who to contact.
Do Creative Commons licenses affect fair use, fair dealing or other exceptions to copyright?
No. All jurisdictions allow some uses of copyrighted material without permission, such as quotation, current-affairs reporting, or parody, although these vary from country to country. These usage rights are independent from the license and are not affected or changed in any way. To make this clear, all of our licenses include this or similar language: “Nothing in this license is intended to reduce, limit, or restrict any rights arising from fair use, first sale or other limitations on the exclusive rights of the copyright owner under copyright law or other applicable laws.” Thus, regardless of the jurisdiction a user is in, our licenses do not affect a user’s right to use or allow use of content under copyright exceptions and limitations. Read more about Fair Use in the United States..
Can I use a Creative Commons license for software?
We do not recommend it. Creative Commons licenses should not be used for software. We strongly encourage you to use one of the very good software licenses which are already available. We recommend considering licenses made available by the Free Software Foundation or listed at the Open Source Initiative. Unlike our licenses, which do not make mention of source or object code, these existing licenses were designed specifically for use with software.
Creative Commons has “wrapped” some free software/open source licenses with a human-readable "Commons Deed" and machine-readable metadata. You may use these "wrapped" software licenses to take advantage of the Creative Commons human-readable document as well as the machine-readable metadata while still licensing your work under an established software license. It is important to note that CC has not altered these software licenses in any way, but has simply bundled human- and machine-readable explanations of the licenses along with the original license text. Examples: GNU GPL, GNU LGPL, BSD.
Updated: August, 7th 2008
Should I use Creative Commons licenses for software documentation?
Absolutely. Creative Commons licenses work well for all text materials.
What happens when a copyright owner says her work is governed by two different Creative Commons licenses?
As a user, you can choose to use the work under either license. Generally, a licensor that offers the same work under two different licenses gives the public a choice between them. If, for example, a photograph is governed by one license with a NonCommercial provision, plus a separate license with a NoDerivatives provision, it does not mean that both provisions apply together. If an owner wants both to apply together, she should be sure to choose a single license that contains both provisions.
Are Creative Commons licenses enforceable in a court of law?
The Creative Commons Legal Code has been drafted with the intention that it will be enforceable in court. That said, we can not account for every last nuance in the world's various copyright laws and/or the circumstances within which our licenses are applied and Creative Commons-licensed content is used. Please note, however, that our licenses contain "severability" clauses -- meaning that, if a certain provision is found to be unenforeceable in a certain place, that provision and only that provision drops out of the license, leaving the rest of the agreement intact.
Will Creative Commons help me enforce my license?
No. We are not permitted to provide legal advice or legal services to assist anyone with enforcing Creative Commons licenses. We are not a law firm. We're much like a legal self-help site that offers free form-based legal documents for you to use however you see fit.
However, if you are based in the US, you may be able to find a suitably qualified volunteer lawyer in your area from Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. If you are based in Australia, the Arts Law Centre of Australia may be able to put you in touch with a volunteer lawyer.
What happens if someone misuses my Creative Commons-licensed work?
A Creative Commons license terminates automatically if someone uses your work contrary to the license terms. This means that, if a person uses your work under a Creative Commons license and they, for example, fail to attribute your work in the manner you specified, then they no longer have the right to continue to use your work. This only applies in relation to the person in breach of the license; it does not apply generally to the other people who use your work under a Creative Commons license and comply with its terms.
You have a number of options as to how you can enforce this; you can consider contacting the person and asking them to rectify the situation and/or you can consider consulting a lawyer to act on your behalf. For information about how you may be able to locate a suitably qualified lawyer, please refer to this question and answer.
I don’t like the way a person has used my work in a derivative work or included it in a collective work; what can I do?
If you do not like the way that a person has made a derivative work or incorporated your work into a collective work, under the Creative Commons licenses, you may request removal of your name from the derivative work or the collective work.
What are moral rights, and how could I exercise them to prevent uses of my work that I don’t like?
In addition to the right of licensors to request removal of their name from a work when used in a derivative or collective they don't like, copyright laws in most jurisdictions around the world (with the notable exception of the US except in very limited circumstances) grant creators “moral rights” which may provide some redress if a derivative work represents a “derogatory treatment” of the licensor's work. Moral rights give an original author the right to object to “derogatory treatment” of their work; “derogatory treatment” is typically defined as “distortion or mutilation” of the work or treatment that is “prejudicial to the honor, or reputation of the author.” Creative Commons licenses (with the exception of Canada) do not affect any moral rights licensors may have. This means that if you have moral rights as an original author of a work, you may be able to take action against a creator who is using your work in a way you find objectionable. Of course, not all derivative works you don’t like are necessarily “derogatory.”
Why are there different jurisdiction licenses?
One of the main goals of CC is to create a group of standardized licenses that have the same effect anywhere across the globe. However, creating a single license that will have the same legal effect in all jurisdictions can be difficult, particularly as each jurisdiction will usually have its own legal language, definitions and drafting rules. This is why the CC jurisdiction projects create jurisdiction-specific versions of each of their licenses. These licenses are designed to have the same effect anywhere in the world while at the same time following the legal conventions of particular jurisdictions, so that they can be more easily understood and used by the local community.
You can find out more about the licensing porting process at http://creativecommons.org/international
Which jurisdiction license should I choose?
That depends, because different licensors have different needs. Most creators choose the jurisdiction where they live because, among other things, the local license more clearly spells out rights they want to retain or do not want to retain. For example, most ported licenses in EU jurisdictions address the Database Directive and national implementations of the directive specifically. Other creators choose the license for the jurisdiction where they would most likely want to bring a legal enforcement action (eg the jurisdiction in which they are marketing their material). All of our licenses work internationally, however, so using a jurisdiction-specific license will not prevent you from enforcing your rights abroad. Instead, it will just make it easier for people to apply the license in the home jurisdiction. If your jurisdiction doesn't have a ported license, or the ported license isn't the version that you want to use, then consider using the unported license.
Questions for people thinking about using a Creative Commons-licensed work
Will Creative Commons give me permission to use a work?
The permission isn’t ours to give. Creative Commons simply makes available licenses and tools to enable creators and licensors to license their works on more flexible terms. By applying a Creative Commons license to a work, the creator or licensor has decided to clearly signal to members of the public, such as you, that you may use the work without having to ask for permission—provided that you use it consistent with the license terms.
Does Creative Commons determine what content is released under its licenses?
Creative Commons, as an organization, does not control how the licenses are used and does not check or verify whether a Creative Commons license has been correctly applied to a particular work. Creative Commons does not endorse or certify any use of its licenses.
Instead, Creative Commons provides the licenses as a tool that may be adopted (or not) by members of the creative community. Creative Commons does not determine whether the use of the licenses is appropriate for your situation or for a particular work.
What are the terms of a Creative Commons license?
The key terms of the core suite of Creative Commons licenses are: Attribution, NonCommercial, NoDerivatives and ShareAlike. These license elements are succinctly described as follows:
- Attribution. You let people copy, distribute, display, perform, and remix your copyrighted work, as long as they give you credit the way you request. All CC licenses contain this property.
- NonCommercial. You let people copy, distribute, display, perform, and remix your work for non-commercial purposes only. If they want to use your work for commercial purposes, they must contact you for permission.
- ShareAlike. You let people create remixes and derivative works based on your creative work, as long as they only distribute them under the same Creative Commons license that your original work was published under.
- NoDerivatives. You let people copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work — not make derivative works based on it. If they want to alter, transform, build upon, or remix your work, they must contact you for permission.
For an overview of our licenses and links to the Commons Deed and Legal Code, check out this page.
So “NonCommercial” means that the work cannot be used commercially?
Not quite. The “NonCommercial” license option means that you do not receive the commercial rights via the Creative Commons license. You can always approach the licensor directly to see if they will separately license you the commercial rights.
A Creative Commons license is a signal to you that you can use the work without having to seek out the individual creator or licensor and ask for permission—provided you use the work in the manner permitted by the Creative Commons license. The Commons Deed sets out the key terms governing your use of the work.
What happens if I want to make a different use of the work?
If you want to use a Creative Commons-licensed work in a manner that is not permitted under the terms of the Creative Commons license, you need to contact the creator and/or licensor and ask for their permission. If you use a Creative-Commons licensed work contrary to the terms of the Creative Commons license, your right to use the work terminates and you could be sued for infringement of copyright.
So I don’t have to pay to use Creative Commons-licensed works if I comply with the license terms?
As a general rule yes—Creative Commons licenses are made available under royalty-free licenses. In the case of Creative Commons-licensed works that are licensed for NonCommercial use only, the creator or licensor reserves the right to collect statutory royalties or royalties under compulsory licenses for commercial uses such as those collected for public performances; so, you may still have to pay a collecting society for such uses of Creative Commons licensed works. However, these are indirect payments, not payments to the licensor.
How do I use a Creative Commons-licensed work?
If you come across a work that says it is made available under a Creative Commons license, you are authorized by the licensor to use it consistent with those license terms. You should satisfy yourself that the scope of the license covers your intended uses. Since there are a number of versions of the Creative Commons licenses, you should read the particular license carefully to ensure that the license meets your needs. All Creative Commons licenses require that you attribute the author, licensor and/or any other parties specified by the author/licensor. To correctly use a Creative Commons licensed work, you must provide proper attribution. This is explained in the answer below.
To get an understanding of the key terms of the license, check out the Commons Deed for the license and/or review this page, which has links to the Commons Deed and basic explanations of all of our licenses.
When are publicity rights relevant?
In the U.S., publicity rights allow individuals to control how their voice, image or likeness is used for commercial purposes in public. These rights are relevant to any work that contains human subjects, such as photographs, audio or video interviews, plays, songs, and other spoken or visual content. When transmitting this sort of content, including the voices or images of anyone other than yourself, you may need to get permission from those individuals if you are using their voice or images for commercial purposes. This is a distinct and separate obligation from obtaining the copyright license for the works itself, which only gives you a license from the author (or photographer) but not from the subjects. A Creative Commons license does not waive or otherwise affect the publicity rights of subjects.
Jurisdictions outside of the U.S. may have rights that are similar in effect to publicity and privacy rights. You may need to consider those other rights before using a CC licensed work that embodies a person's image, voice, or related spoken or visual content.
Our Podcasting Legal Guide has further discussion of publicity rights issues of general relevance.
Does using a Creative Commons-licensed work give me all the rights I need?
You should be aware that all of the licenses contain a disclaimer of warranties, so there is no assurance whatsoever that the licensor has all the necessary rights to permit reuse of the licensed work. The disclaimer means that the licensor is not guaranteeing anything about the work, including that she owns the copyright to it, or that she has cleared any uses of third-party content that her work may be based on or incorporate.
This is typical of so-called “open source” licenses, where works are made widely and freely available for reuse at no charge. The original version 1.0 of the Creative Commons licenses contained a warranty, but we ultimately concluded that, as with “open source” licenses, warranties and indemnities are best determined separately by private bargain, so that each licensor and licensee can determine the appropriate allocation of risk and reward for their unique situation. One option thus would be to use private contract to obtain a warranty and indemnification from the licensor, although it is likely that the licensor would charge for this benefit.
As a result of the warranty disclaimer, before using a Creative Commons licensed work, you should satisfy yourself that the person has all the necessary rights to make the work available under a Creative Commons license. You should know that if you are wrong, you could be liable for copyright infringement based on your use of the work.
You should learn about what rights need to be cleared and when a fair use or fair dealing defense may be available. It could be that the licensor is relying on the fair use or fair dealing doctrine, but depending on the circumstances, that legal defense may or may not actually protect her (or you). You should educate yourself about the various rights that may be implicated in a copyrighted work, because creative works often incorporate multiple elements such as, for example, underlying stories and characters, recorded sound and song lyrics. If the work contains recognizable third-party content, it may be advisable to independently verify that it has been authorized for reuse under a Creative Commons license. If the work contains images, voices, or likenesses of people, educate yourself about publicity rights.
Additionally, you should know that CC licenses do not give you permission to use any trademarks that may be associated with a CC licensed-work. You should ask the owner of a trademark for permission first.
The result of this is that you should always use your informed good judgment, and you may want to obtain legal advice.
How do I properly attribute a Creative Commons licensed work?
All current CC licenses require that you attribute the original author(s). If the copyright holder has not specified any particular way to attribute them, this does not mean that you do not have to give attribution. It simply means that you will have to give attribution to the best of your ability with the information you do have. Generally speaking, this implies five things:
- If the work itself contains any copyright notices placed there by the copyright holder, you must leave those notices in tact, or reproduce them in a way that is reasonable to the medium in which you are re-publishing the work.
- Cite the author's name, screen name, user identification, etc. If you are publishing on the Internet, it is nice to link that name to the person's profile page, if such a page exists.
- Cite the work's title or name, if such a thing exists. If you are publishing on the Internet, it is nice to link the name or title directly to the original work.
- Cite the specific CC license the work is under. If you are publishing on the Internet, it is nice if the license citation links to the license on the CC website.
- If you are making a derivative word or adaptation, in addition to the above, you need to identify that your work is a derivative work i.e., “This is a Finnish translation of the [original work] by [author].” or “Screenplay based on [original work] by [author].”
In the case where a copyright holder does choose to specify the manner of attribution, in addition to the requirement of leaving in tact existing copyright notices, they are only able to require certain things. Namely:
- They may require that you attribute the work to a certain name, pseudonym or even an organization of some sort.
- They may require you to associate/provide a certain URL (web address) for the work.
If you are interested to see what an actual license ("legalcode") has to say about attribution, you can use the CC Attribution 3.0 Unported license as an example. Please note that this is only an example, and you should always read the appropriate section of the specific license in question ... usually, but perhaps not always, section 4(b) or 4(c):
What is a derivative work?
A derivative work is a work that is based on another work but is not an exact, verbatim copy. What this means exactly and comprehensively is the subject of many law journal articles and much debate and pontification. In general, a translation from one language to another or a film version of a book are examples of derivative works. Under Creative Commons’ core licenses, synching music in timed-relation with a moving image is considered to be a derivative work.
It's important to note, however, that the Creative Commons licenses allow the user to exercise the rights permitted under the license in any format or media, even in the NoDerivatives licenses. This means that, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license, for example, you can copy the work from a digital file to a print file consistent with the terms of that license.
If I use a Creative Commons-licensed work with other works, do I have to Creative Commons license everything else as well?
With the exception of those of our licenses that contain the ShareAlike element, the Creative Commons licenses do not require everything else to be Creative Commons licensed as well. We specifically designed the Creative Commons licenses so that they would not turn all other works they were combined with into being Creative Commons-licensed. If you combine any work with a Creative Commons-licensed work that is licensed with a ShareAlike license provision, then, because of the way that the ShareAlike license element operates, the resultant work will need to be licensed under the same license as the original work.
If you include a Creative Commons licensed work in a “collective work” (ie. a collection of works in their exact original format, not adaptations), then you only need to continue to apply the Creative Commons license to that work (even if the work was licensed under a Creative Commons Share-Alike license provision). You do not need to apply it to the entire collection.
Can I combine two different Creative Commons licensed works? Can I combine a Creative Commons licensed work with another non-CC licensed work?
Generally yes; you can combine one Creative Commons licensed work with another Creative Commons licensed work or with another work.
The one big caveat is for Creative Commons licenses that contain the ShareAlike license element (ie. Attribution-ShareAlike, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike). These licenses require derivative works (ie. the result of two combined works) to be licensed under the same license elements. So, you cannot, for example, combine an Attribution-ShareAlike license with an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. If you are combining a work licensed under a ShareAlike license condition, you need to make sure that you are happy and able to license the resulting work under the same license conditions as the original work.
If I use a Creative Commons-licensed work to create a new work (ie a derivative work or adaptation), which Creative Commons license can I use for my new work?
The chart below should give you some assistance in figuring out which Creative Commons license you can use on your new work. Some of our licenses just do not, as practical matter, work together.
The green boxes indicate license compatibility. That is, you may use the license indicated in the top row for your derivative work or adaptation, or for a collective work. The blank rows for the by-nc-nd and by-nd licenses indicate that derivative works or adaptations are not permitted by the license of the original work, therefore you are never allowed to re-license them.
|Licenses that can be used for derivative work or adaptation|
Fair use note: CC Licenses do not change, alter, or modify fair use rights. You may still use fair use rights to incorporate CC works for any qualifying purpose.
This chart is not a substitute for obtaining your own legal advice, nor should it be relied upon or represented as legal advice.
I’m collecting a number of different works together into one resource. Can I include Creative Commons-licensed material?
All the Creative Commons licenses allow the original work to be included in collections such as anthologies, encyclopedias and broadcasts. However, you still have to follow the license the original material is under. For example, material under any of the Creative Commons Noncommercial licenses cannot be included in a collection that is going to be used commercially. The table below will help you work out whether you can include the Creative Commons-licensed material in your collection.
Note that when you include a Creative Commons licensed work in a collection, you must keep the work under the same license. This doesn’t mean the whole collection has to be put under the Creative Commons license – just the original work.
|Original Work||Commercial Collected Work||NonCommercial Collected Work|
This is a new FAQ question and answer: added August 13th 2008
Can I change the terms of a CC license or waive some of its conditions?
You can change any of our licenses, but if you do so you should know that your modified license is not likely to be compatible with CC’s licenses. Also, if you change our licenses then you cannot say that your work is licensed under a CC license. Read our policies for more information.
This doesn’t mean, however, that if a user of your work comes to you and asks permission to do (or not do) something the license says she must do (or not do), that you can’t agree to that. Our licenses anticipate that a licensor may want to waive compliance with a specific condition, such as attribution. Our 3.0 licenses specifically allow this to happen, so long as the waiver or consent is in writing and signed.
I want to give users of my site the option to choose Creative Commons licensing; how do I do that?
You can directly integrate the Creative Commons license selection engine into your site. This can be useful if you have an application or website that allows people to contribute content and you want to give them the option to apply Creative Commons licenses to their works. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to integrate our license selection engine with a website. We also have a web services API for integration with any application.
Why did Creative Commons choose to use the RDF format for its metadata?
Creative Commons looked for the best way to express the intent behind the licenses in machine-readable form. We feel that our system provides the best of all possible worlds: RDF, XML, and even plain text-based tools can easily process our metadata files because we provide them with a structured format. But just as XML tools make it easier to process the information than text-based ones, RDF ones make it even easier -- so we encourage all of our developers to use RDF tools where possible. We're also working with the community to provide CC sample code, in many different languages, that shows how easy it is to take advantage of the RDF information. We're also open to providing converters from RDF to other formats. If you have such a tool or would like one, please send information about it to our metadata list.
How can I use Creative Commons metadata in my program?
You can use it in a variety of ways. A painting, writing, or drawing program could let its users know about their rights granted by the licensor of the file. File sharing software could highlight files with Creative Commons licenses and encourage users to download them. In fact, we see peer-to-peer file sharing software as an excellent distribution mechanism for Creative Commons works, especially large music, picture, and movie files that the authors might not have the bandwidth or tools necessary to distribute themselves. Search systems could allow users the choice of only searching for files with licenses that permit certain uses (such as searching for pictures of cats that you can include in your non-commercial collage). There are many ways to take advantage of this information and we hope the developer community will surprise us by coming up with others!
I'd prefer to use a PNG image instead of a GIF image or vice versa. What should I do?
Newer license buttons that include license property icons are only available in PNG format.
Questions about using Creative Commons’ logo
Where can I get a high resolution version of the Creative Commons logos?
You can get high resolution versions of the Creative Commons logos and license buttons here. Creative Commons only authorizes the use of our logos, name and license buttons in accordance with our policies.
I want to print out some t-shirts & stickers with Creative Commons logos; how do I go about doing this?
We’re glad you are excited about Creative Commons and want to spread the message. We only authorize use of our logo, name and license buttons in accordance with our policies, ie. to linkback to the Creative Commons website, a Creative Commons license and/or otherwise describe a Creative Commons license that applies to a work.
I want to incorporate the Creative Commons logos into my site or work, can I?
You are welcome to incorporate the Creative Commons logos into your site or work if you do so in accordance with our policies page. Basically, we only authorize use of the Creative Commons corporate logo (that is the name Creative Commons and the “CC” in a circle) to link back to our website; and our “Some Rights Reserved” and “No Rights Reserved” buttons as well as our license element buttons (ie. the Attribution license button, the NonCommercial license button etc.) to be used to link back to our respective licenses.
Can I change the Creative Commons logos so that they look better on my site or with my work?
Please don’t change our logo so that it works better with the look of your site or work. Our “Some Rights Reserved” and “No Rights Reserved” buttons need to be used consistently because they are our trademark and a core part of our licensing system. You can also use the license elements buttons that are in black and white to signal that your work or site is licensed under the relevant Creative Commons license; this is also explained at our policies page.
About Creative Commons
Is Creative Commons against copyright?
Not at all. Our licenses help you retain your copyright and manage your copyright in a more flexible, open way. In fact, our licenses rely upon copyright for their enforcement. The justification for intellectual property protection (under U.S. law, at least) is the "promot[ion of] the progress of science and the useful arts." We want to promote science and the useful arts, too, and believe that helping creators or licensors fine-tune the exercise of their rights to suit their preferences helps do just that.
Is Creative Commons building a database of licensed content?
Absolutely not. We believe in the Net, not an information bank controlled by a single organization. We are building tools so that the semantic web can identify and sort licensed works in a distributed, decentralized manner. We are not in the business of collecting content, or building databases of content.
Now, to give you an idea of the sorts of uses that can be made of our licenses and metadata, we've provided some examples on our site for text, audio, images, video and educational works. It's by no means a comprehensive catalog of everything being done with Creative Commons licenses today, nor is it the beginnings of a database. They are simply illustrations of some works, in a variety of media, that have been Creative Commons licensed so far.
Will works that use Creative Commons licenses be in the "public domain"?
No, because the licensor does not give up all rights to his or her work. The Creative Commons licenses are only copyright licenses that enable you to control how other people use your work.
If you want to put your work in the public domain -- the realm of creative material unfettered by copyright law – you can use our public domain waiver, CC0. By dedicating your work to the public domain, you are effectively relinquishing all copyright interests you may otherwise have in the work. See the CC0 FAQ for further details.
What is Creative Commons?
Structurally, Creative Commons is a Massachusetts, US, US charitable corporation . Also working to promote the idea of Creative Commons are volunteer project leads in each of the jurisdictions to which Creative Commons licenses have been ported. Creative Commons International and the volunteer project leads are independent and separate entities although both work in collaboration to promote the adoption of Creative Commons licenses and tools.
The idea underlying Creative Commons is that some people may not want to exercise all of the intellectual property rights the law affords them. We believe there is an unmet demand for an easy yet reliable way to tell the world “Some rights reserved” or even “No rights reserved.” Many people have long since concluded that all-out copyright doesn't help them gain the exposure and widespread distribution they want. Many entrepreneurs and artists have come to prefer relying on innovative business models rather than full-fledged copyright to secure a return on their creative investment. Still others get fulfillment from contributing to and participating in an intellectual commons. For whatever reasons, it is clear that many citizens of the Internet want to share their work -- and the power to reuse, modify, and distribute their work -- with others on generous terms. Creative Commons intends to help people express this preference for sharing by offering the world a set of licenses on our Website, at no charge.
Who started Creative Commons?
Cyberlaw and intellectual property experts James Boyle, Michael Carroll, and Lawrence Lessig, MIT computer science professor Hal Abelson, lawyer-turned-documentary filmmaker-turned-cyberlaw expert Eric Saltzman, and public domain Web publisher Eric Eldred founded Creative Commons in 2001. Fellows and students at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School helped get the project off the ground and, for the first couple of years of its existence, Creative Commons was housed at and received generous support from Stanford Law School and the Center for Internet & Society.
What problem does Creative Commons intend to solve?
With the advent of the digital revolution and the Internet, it is suddenly possible to distribute works in a variety of formats of a high, often professional quality; to work collaboratively across contexts; and to create new, derivative or collective works—on a global level, in a decentralised manner, and at comparatively low cost.
This presents an opportunity for an enormous and unprecedented stimulation of creativity and production of knowledge. As more and more people are interconnected and communicating, it becomes easier to obtain exactly the content one needs or want and to complete tasks and solve problems by the cooperation this interconnection enables. The convergence of technologies and media also create multiple new possibilities for creating derivatives of existing works -- for example, remixes and mashups.
Another notable aspect is that globalization is not only happening on the corporate level, its effects can also be observed in the areas of science and education and in other sectors of society where new models of fruitful cooperation have appeared. The free encyclopedia Wikipedia and the free and open source software community are examples of these sociological and economic phenomena. The activities of many contributors to projects in these areas are not motivated by the desire to gain (immediate) financial benefit but by the desire to learn, to get recognition, and also to help others.
The downside of these exciting new developments and possibilities is that the new technologies can also be used to violate the rights of copyright owners as they are currently defined. In turn, major right holders have reacted to this by a fourfold strategy: (a) by trying to prevent the deployment of technologies that can be put to infringing uses; (b) by developing tools that enable them to manage their rights with an amount of precision hitherto unknown and unthinkable: digital rights management and technological protection measures against unauthorised copying; (c) by successfully lobbying for support of these technological measures through legal restrictions; and, (d) by starting huge publicity campaigns designed to teach young people that they must keep their hands off copyrighted material - or else.
These responses are understandable, if regrettable. Our concern is that their combined effect will be to stifle the opportunities for digital technologies to be used widely to encourage creativity and for the problem-solving and collaboration discussed above. If creators and licensors have to negotiate not only complicated legal rules, but also burdensome technical barriers, many will either ignore the rules or not create.
Our alternative is to provide creators and licensors with a simple way to say what freedoms they want their creative work to carry. This in turn makes it easy to share, or build upon creative work. It makes it possible for creators and licensors to reserve some rights while releasing others. This, at its core, is our mission. Copyright gives authors certain rights. We want to make it simpler for authors to exercise those rights in ways others can understand.
Does it cost me anything to use the Creative Commons licenses & tools?
Nope. They're free.
Who funds Creative Commons?
Creative Commons was built with and is sustained by the generous support of organizations including the Center for the Public Domain, Omidyar Network, The Rockefeller Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, as well as members of the public. We continue to seek donations from other sources, including foundations, individuals, and government grants. If you would like to support Creative Commons, feel free to do so at our support page.
Whom does Creative Commons serve or represent?
Creative Commons serves creators and users of creative works and the public interest that benefits from greater collaboration using creative materials. We help people who want to license their work on generous terms, people who want to make creative uses of those works, and people who benefit from this symbiosis. We hope that teachers, scholars, scientists, writers, photographers, filmmakers, musicians, graphic designers, Web hobbyists -- as well as listeners, readers, and viewers -- gain from the use of our tools.
Where is Creative Commons based?
Creative Commons Corporation is a Massachusetts corporation that draws on the work of geographically distributed staff and volunteers. Our main offices are in San Francisco and Boston in the United States and Berlin in Germany. See our contact page.
Does Creative Commons host or own any content?
Our primary mission is to help you license your work, offer you tools to more easily publish your works, and point to examples of CC-licensed content from our featured works. We also offer ways for users to find licensed works and easily understand their license terms.
We do, however, also host content on its ccMixter site.
Is Creative Commons involved in digital rights management (DRM)?
No. We are in the business of digital rights expression, not management. Our tools make it easy to say what rights an author is reserving. But we do not provide tools for enforcing the rights the author reserves. Digital rights management (or “DRM”) does. In addition to digitally expressing rights, a DRM system provides technology for enforcing those rights.
Why don’t we use technology to enforce rights? There are too many reasons to describe here. Perhaps the most familiar is the fact that technology cannot protect freedoms such as “fair use.” Put differently, “fair use” can’t be coded. But more importantly, we believe, technological enforcement burdens unplanned creative reuse of creative work. We want to encourage such use. And we, along with many others, are concerned that the ecology for creativity will be stifled by the pervasive use of technology to “manage” rights.
Copyrights should be respected, no doubt. But we prefer they be respected the old fashioned way — by people acting to respect the freedoms, and limits, chosen by the author and enforced by the law.
What happens if someone tries to restrict a CC-licensed work with digital rights management (DRM) tools?
If a person uses DRM tools to restrict any of the rights granted in the license, that person violates the license. All of our licenses prohibit licensees from "impos(ing) any effective technological measures on the Work that restrict the ability of a recipient of the Work from You to exercise the rights granted to that recipient under the terms of the License."
Encryption or an access limitation is not necessarily a technical protection measure prohibited by the licenses. For example, content sent via email and encrypted with the recipient's public key does not restrict use of the Work by the recipient. Likewise, limiting recipients to a set of users (e.g., with a username and password) does not restrict use of the Work by the recipients.
In the cases above, encryption or an access limitation is not incompatible with the prohibition on DRM because the recipient is not prevented from exercising all rights granted by the license (including rights of further redistribution). If, however, encryption is implemented in such as way as to prevent the recipient from exercising any right granted by the license, then that would constitute a violation of this provision.
I love what Creative Commons does. How can I help?
We would be very grateful for your help. You are welcome to support Creative Commons Corporation by making a donation at our Support page. In exchange for your donation, you'll receive a variety of items, depending on level. Donations and shipping addresses are handled by Paypal.
You can also give us feedback directly at email@example.com. Alternately, you can participate in our email discussion lists.