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Copyright Fact Sheet for Grant Recipients

All funding organizations want their grantees to achieve the maximum possible impact and scale of their projects, and all grantees want to produce the most successful, impactful projects possible using those grant funds. Creative Commons public licenses are the global standard for accomplishing these shared objectives, by establishing the legal terms of reuse and sharing up front in an easy to understand, standardized way.

Grantees committing to the use of Creative Commons licenses and legal tools for content generated with grant funds should be aware of some copyright basics in order to ensure they have the rights they need to license the content generated using grant funds using CC. This Fact Sheet provides a summary of some of those basic considerations as well as general information designed to help grantees understand how to secure the rights they need to license their work under a CC license.

Some Copyright Basics

What is copyright? While different jurisdictions define the exclusive rights associated with copyright protection differently, at its most basic, copyright is a bundle of rights associated with creative works that can be used to stop others from copying, performing, selling, displaying, distributing, or otherwise communicating the work without permission.

What does copyright protect? Copyright protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, for example, novels, movies, poetry, songs, choreography, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way in which these things are expressed. In nearly every country, copyright protection is automatic – it arises at the time a work is created and reduced to a tangible medium, and exists in nearly all versions of the work.

Who holds copyright? As a general matter, copyright is owned by the author or creator of the work. Only the copyright owner can license or sell the exclusive rights to someone else.

Please note that while these copyright principles are generally applicable around the world, differences in copyright laws exist between countries. You should understand how copyright works and what it protects within your own jurisdiction.

Visit our FAQ for more general information about copyright.

Securing All the Rights Necessary

Once you have agreed to release outputs generated using grant funds under a Creative Commons license or other legal tool, you need to be sure you have all of the rights you need to do so legally.

Copyright: works created by others. If you are not the original creator of all content included in the work, then you should ensure that you own the copyright in any commissioned work (through an express assignment), that the work is already licensed in a way that allows you to use it and license it as you propose, or that you have an agreement with the author stating that the work may be released under the same license you will use (or a compatible license).

  • New works or contributions you commission: If you pay someone to create content or produce a work that you plan to use as part of your grant output (such as a photograph, video, or research) and that person is not your employee, you will need to either assume ownership of the work through a written assignment from the creator to you, or you should obtain written permission from the creator to use and release the work under the license you will appy to the final product (or a compatible license). Because laws different country to country, even if the person is your employee you may wish to have a written agreement in place that clearly assigns ownership of the work to you to avoid any doubt.
  • Existing works: Using content that someone else has already created is also possible, as long as you have permission to do so. For example, if you wish to use an image you find on Flickr it needs to be licensed under a CC license that allows you to use it in the way you intent. If it is not already licensed that way, you need to ask permission from the creator to use the work first.

Other rights. Beyond copyright, others may have rights that you will need to clear in order to use a work, whether you or someone else is the copyright holder. These are known as third party rights, and may include confidential information, trademarks, and rights of publicity/privacy. If you have obtained material that is confidential in nature from a third party, you should not include it in your grant output without written permission to do so. If you use a third party's trademarks, be sure your use is consistent with any trademark policies the company or person may have established, and ask permission if you are uncertain. For photographs, videos, voice recordings or other media, if a person or a person's likeness is identifiable (including voice), then whether you are the copyright owner or not you should make sure that person has signed a release form that allows you to use the photograph, video or voice recording in your CC-licensed work.

Additional Resources

More information about what you should know before licensing: Before Licensing

License compatibility: FAQ#Can_I_combine_two_different_Creative_Commons_licensed_works.3F_Can_I_combine_a_Creative_Commons_licensed_work_with_another_non-CC_licensed_work.3F

Third party rights (U.S. law only): Podcasting Legal Guide

Sample Forms

Creative Commons does not provide universal copyright assignment forms, work for hire agreements, or model release forms. However, a few sample agreements and other resources exist that may help you to better understands the sorts of agreements you may need to use to fulfill the terms of your commitment to licensing your grant work using CC. Creative Commons does not endorse any of these forms, nor may they be appropriate for your particular situation. Please consult your own lawyer if you have any questions or concerns.

Model Release Forms: [form], [primer] [iPhone App]

Copyright Assignment Forms: [primer] [form]

Work for Hire Agreement Forms: [form] [form] [form]


Please note that Creative Commons does not provide legal advice, and nothing in this Fact Sheet should be construed as giving legal advice, or creating an attorney-client relationship. The information and forms provided are for informational purposes only, and may not be appropriate for your circumstances or jurisdiction. If you have any questions about your rights and obligations, consult an attorney.