This page identifies some of the improvements to the Creative Commons license suite from the publication of the first licenses in December, 2002, through the current version 3.0, and highlights important similarities among the major license versions released to date. For more information on using CC tools or works offered under Creative Commons licenses, consult the Frequently Asked Questions page. For a further historical perspective, you may also review defunct CC legal tools at the retired legal tools page.
- 1 License blog posts
- 2 International License Development Process
- 3 License Suite Versions
- 4 Nomenclature (for unported licenses)
- 5 Technical Measures by Licensees Prohibited
- 6 Attribution required
- 7 Credit to others contemplated
- 8 Requests for removal of attribution contemplated
- 9 Collecting societies regimes addressed
- 10 Representations and warranties by licensor included
- 11 "No endorsement" clause included
- 12 Moral rights clause included
- 13 Adaptations (if allowed) must be marked as such
- 14 Definition of "NonCommercial" unchanged (same in all versions)
- 15 Use of licenses for copyrightable compilations of data anticipated
- 16 Compatible licenses may be used for adaptations of works originally offered under CC ShareAlike licenses
- 17 Sui generis rights in databases are waived for uses that do not implicate copyright
License blog posts
The chart below presents the major license versions, their launch dates, and blog posts announcing public comment periods, the launch of a license suite, and changes to the new licenses. It does not reference the unfinished version 3.x (3.01, 3.5) licenses, which are not in active discussion and are not expected to be published. Version 3.0 is the recommended and most recently-published Creative Commons license suite; the 3.x license discussions address further potential upgrades and changes that may (or may not) be considered when CC commences discussion on the next version 4.0 license. The Legalcode Errata page, to which you should feel free to contribute, catalogs minor bugs in the licenses such as typographical errors.
|License version*||Release date||Call for public comment||Launch announcement||Explanation of changes from prior version|
|1.0||2002 Dec 16||Creative Commons Unveils Machine-Readable Copyright Licenses|
|2.0||2004 May 25||Versioning -- Public Review Begins||Announcing (and explaining) our new 2.0 licenses||Announcing (and explaining) our new 2.0 licenses|
|2.5||2005 June||Tweaking CC's Standard Attribution Language -- An Invitation to Comment||Comments Period Drawing to a close for Draft License Version 2.5|
|3.0||2007 Feb 23||Version 3.0 -- Public Discussion Launched||Version 3.0 Launched||Creative Commons Version 3.0 Licenses -- A Brief Explanation|
- Note that CC also released a version 2.1 suite for jurisdictions like Spain, Australia and Japan, whose localized ports of the 2.0 suite contained errors.
International License Development Process
Creative Commons develops, releases and updates its public copyright licenses (and other legal tools) via an open and inclusive process of engagement with Creative Commons’ global network of attorneys and affiliates, as well as varied communities and constituents, that includes the publication of drafts, formal comment periods and transparent decision-making. This process culminates in the publication of the preferred, most up-to-date set of CC licenses for use around the world. Creative Commons released its latest version of the licenses in February 2007. Those licenses are known as the 3.0 international (also called the 3.0 “unported” and formerly referred to under version 2.0 as the “generic”) license suite.
While each set of licenses produced by CC is drafted to conform with copyright law, many of the improvements to the version 3.0 license suite brought the licenses further into line with international copyright law. Once a suite of licenses is released, Creative Commons grants permission to legal experts around the world under formal agreement to adapt (or “port”) the licenses where necessary to more fully align the text with the laws of different legal jurisdictions and translate the licenses to the local language(s). See our international page for more information or access the jurisdiction database to compare the international (unported) licenses and the ported licenses of various jurisdictions.
In each instance, the resulting ported licenses are intended to have the same legal meaning and effect as the international (unported) licenses and the ported licenses of other jurisdictions at the same license version. Porting follows the same open and inclusive processes used to produce the international licenses: publication of drafts, comment periods, engagement with communities and constituents who use the licenses, and transparent decision-making processes. It also involves close oversight and review by CC staff.
License Suite Versions
The chart below and linked explanations that follow detail some of the improvements and important similarities among Creative Commons license versions. Some of the explanations contain links to further information on the topic.
Nomenclature (for unported licenses)
Before the launch of the version 3.0 licenses, the international (unported) licenses were called the “generic” licenses. The generic licenses were drafted to conform with U.S. law and conventions. Starting with version 3.0, Creative Commons drafted its core suite of licenses to conform to relevant international treaties and drafting conventions. In this sense, the version 3.0 international (unported) license suite is jurisdiction-agnostic: it does not mention nor is it drafted against any particular jurisdiction's laws or statutes, but rather it is intended to function without adjustment in all jurisdictions around the world. You may access the jurisdiction database and compare the international (unported) license to the ported licenses of various jurisdictions.
Technical Measures by Licensees Prohibited
All CC license versions prohibit licensees (as opposed to licensors) from using effective technological measures such as “digital rights management” software to restrict the ability of those who receive a CC licensed work from a licensee to exercise rights granted under the license. To be clear, 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 does not violate the prohibition on technological measures because the recipient is not prevented from exercising all rights granted by the license (including rights of further redistribution).
This treatment was re-evaluated during the public process leading to release of the version 3.0 license suite. CC considered arguments in favor of such measures, coupled with an obligation of parallel distribution. However, those arguments were ultimately rejected.
The version 1.0 suite is unique because it contains some CC licenses that do not require attribution. All subsequent license suites make attribution a standard requirement unless the licensor specifies otherwise. The required mode of attribution differs slightly among the versions, and is progressively more flexible with each subsequent version.
Credit to others contemplated
Prior to the version 2.5 suite, CC licenses contemplated crediting the author only. Versions 2.5 and 3.0 allow licensors to identify another party or organization for attribution, called the “Attribution Party.” This feature was introduced in part to alleviate burdensome or difficult attribution situations, such as may be the case when many people contribute to a wiki article or other multi-author, collaborative effort. In versions 2.5 and 3.0, licensors may designate another party for attribution purposes -- such as a sponsor institute, publishing entity or journal -- in addition to or instead of the author. You may review some of the concerns raised when CC proposed this change.
Requests for removal of attribution contemplated
All license versions after version 1.0 require attribution. However, legislation in many countries gives authors the right to control the use of their name in association with their works. Therefore, CC licenses require licensees to remove (otherwise required) attribution to the creator from collections or adaptations to the extent practicable at the creator’s request.
Collecting societies regimes addressed
Many users of Creative Commons licenses are also members of collective rights societies like ASCAP and BMI, which manage copyright on behalf of owners. Every version from the 2.0 suite onward contains clauses that account for the existence of those arrangements. They provide, for instance, that for works offered under a NonCommercial license, the licensor retains the right to collect royalties for commercial uses of the work. The structure of the provisions in the 2.x licenses (2.0, 2.1 and 2.5) differs from that in the version 3.0 licenses. The 2.x licenses specifically regulate music, sound recordings and webcasting. As those licenses were ported to different jurisdictions, those provisions were adjusted to conform to the local collecting society situation. The version 3.0 licenses employ a broad, harmonized strategy to collective rights societies. This strategy still allows jurisdictions to adopt an approach that best aligns with local law and society structure, but also ensures that the approach is implemented consistently across jurisdictions. In the international (unported) license, as regards compulsory royalty collection, the licensor reserves the right to collect those royalties in jurisdictions in which collection cannot be waived. In those jurisdictions in which compulsory royalty collection can be waived, the right to collect royalties is waived completely for those licenses that permit commercial use and reserved for commercial uses in those licenses that permit NonCommercial use only. For voluntary royalty schema, the licensor reserves the right to collect royalties for commercial uses in those licenses that permit NonCommercial use only, and completely waives the right to collect such royalties for licenses permitting commercial use. This clause covers both individual royalty collection and, in the event that the licensor is a member of a collecting society that collects such royalties, collection via such societies. Some affiliates porting the version 3.0 licenses to interface with local collective rights regimes have chosen to include only those clauses which address the particular situation in the jurisdiction. Others have adopted all the language from the international (unported) license in hopes of international harmonization, or out of concern that their jurisdiction’s regime may change. You may compare how different jurisdictions implemented this section of the license.
Representations and warranties by licensor included
In the 1.0 license suite, the licensor extends warranties, for instance that the work does not infringe the work of another. These warranties were eliminated in all subsequent license versions. All post-version 1.0 suites explicitly offer the work “AS IS” and disclaim all liabilities. Notwithstanding, some ports have included warranties where required under local law. You may compare how different jurisdictions implemented this section of the license.
"No endorsement" clause included
While attribution is required in all licenses post-version 1.0, a licensee may not provide credit in a way that suggests endorsement or sponsorship by the licensor. In some jurisdictions, wrongfully implying that an author, publisher or anyone else endorses a particular use of a work may be unlawful. While this has always been the case, the version 3.0 licenses for the first time explicitly prohibit endorsement or sponsorship without the consent of the licensor.
Moral rights clause included
While the existence and extent of moral rights differ by jurisdiction, the most consistently present rights are those of attribution and integrity (the right to prevent or halt the prejudicial use of one’s work by another). The 1.0 and 2.x generic licenses were drafted to conform to U.S. law, and because U.S. law recognizes moral rights in only very limited circumstances, the generic versions of those licenses suites do not address moral rights of authors.
Reflecting the global, harmonized approach of the version 3.0 license suite, CC addressed the issue clearly in the international (unported) licenses. Since moral rights are not waivable in most jurisdictions, CC did not include a waiver of those rights in the international licenses. Instead, the licenses specifically instruct users that they “must not distort, mutilate, modify or take other derogatory action in relation to the Work which would be prejudicial to the Original Author's honor or reputation.” This mandate forbids licensees from making uses that would otherwise violate authors’ moral rights of integrity. The attribution requirement is intended to satisfy the right of attribution. In the porting process, some jurisdictions slightly adjust this provision with CC’s permission to specify that moral rights are waived to the extent necessary to effect the license to the degree a waiver is possible under applicable law. You may compare how different jurisdictions implemented this section of the license.
Adaptations (if allowed) must be marked as such
Beginning with the 3.0 license suite, licenses that permit the creation of adaptations require licensees to take reasonable steps to label the work as such. For instance, the adaptation could include a notice to the effect that, “The original work has been modified.”
Definition of "NonCommercial" unchanged (same in all versions)
While Creative Commons’ licenses have evolved over time, the scope of permitted uses under the NonCommercial (“NC”) licenses has remained unchanged across all license suites. The NonCommercial clause prohibits the exercise of rights granted under the NC license “in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation.” Creative Commons carried out a study on the NonCommerical clause and users’ understandings. However, the exact meaning of the clause is still debated.
Use of licenses for copyrightable compilations of data anticipated
Creative Commons licenses may be used with all copyrightable works (note that CC does not recommend its licenses for use with computer software). Such works include compilations of data that exhibit the requisite level of creativity for copyright protection under applicable national law. Thus, to the extent compilations of data are protected by copyright, Creative Commons licenses are suitable licenses for exercising that right. For the avoidance of doubt, version 3.0 licenses explicitly include such compilations in the definition of “work.”
Users of works licensed under CC’s ShareAlike licenses must make adaptations and collections of those works available under the same terms and conditions. The version 1.0 licenses require that the adaptations be distributed under exactly the same license as was applied to the original work. Starting with the release of the 2.x license suites, CC expanded compatibility by allowing adaptations to be licensed under the same or later version of the original license, including other ported versions of the same or later-version of the license. The 3.0 Attribution-ShareAlike goes one step further, by allowing adaptations of works licensed under its terms to be licensed under a “Creative Commons Compatible License,” defined to mean licenses approved by CC as essentially equivalent to the 3.0 Attribution-ShareAlike license. To date, CC has not approved any other licenses. You may also review CC’s statement of intent for ShareAlike licenses.
Sui generis rights in databases are waived for uses that do not implicate copyright
A few early (2.0, 2.5) European jurisdiction CC license ports licensed database rights along with copyright.
Although the generic and international (unported) license suites do not mention sui generis rights, starting with the version 3.0 licenses, CC established a policy for how those rights are addressed in ported licenses in those jurisdictions where sui generis rights exist. The policy provides that version 3.0 EU jurisdiction ports must license sui generis rights subject to the terms and conditions of the license just like copyrights and neighboring rights, but also must waive license requirements and prohibitions (attribution, share-alike, etc) for uses triggering database rights — so that if the use of a database published under a CC license implicated only database rights, but not copyright, the CC license requirements and prohibitions would not apply to that use. The license requirements and prohibitions, however, continue to apply to all uses triggering copyright. Other ports and the unported license are silent on database rights: databases and data are licensed (i.e., subject to restrictions detailed in the license) to the extent copyrightable, and if data in the database or the database itself are not copyrightable the license restrictions do not apply to those parts (though they still apply to the remainder). Thus, regardless of the CC 3.0 license at play (unported, an EU port, another port), uses which implicate only database rights will not trigger the license conditions, while uses which implicate copyright will. In addition, the policy precludes exportation of the sui generis rights to jurisdictions where such rights are not recognized through inclusion of a territoriality limitation, thereby avoiding the imposition of restrictions based on sui generis rights via contract where those rights are not enforceable or recognized. You may compare how different jurisdictions implemented this section of the license.