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Research Data Management: Creative Commons License

What is a Creative Commons (CC) License

Creative Commons or CC licenses are the most widely used open licenses. As the name suggests, a CC license makes it possible for the creator of a work (that is in copyright) to share their work with others and give permission to others about the re-use of that work under copyright law. CC licenses give everyone - from individual creators to large companies and institutions - a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work.

CC licenses are copyright licenses, and depend on the existence of copyright to work. CC licenses are legal tools that creators and other rights holders can use to offer certain usage rights to the public, while reserving other rights. Those who want to make their work available to the public for limited kinds of uses while preserving their copyright may want to consider using CC licenses. Others who want to reserve all of their rights under copyright law should not use CC licenses.

Creative Commons supports a culture of sharing. Using CC licenses can be an effective way of encouraging sharing and reuse within an online community. CC licenses thus enable collaboration, growth, and generosity in a variety of formats / media.

Creative Commons licenses exist within a framework of copyright and they form part of a spectrum of rights outlined below:

Source: Making sense of The Spectrum Of Rights.

Types of CC Licenses

Here see outlined the different types of CC licenses. Each license will require certain terms and conditions. These terms are noted in the infographic.

Example: If you apply the most permissive CC license to a work - CC BY - this will mean that other researchers using it must do the following:

  1. They can copy and publish the work
  2. They must provide attribution of the work i.e. cite it
  3. They can use it commercially
  4. They are free to modify and adapt it (edits & changes)
  5. They can also change the type of license for any adaptions they have made to of the work. Note they cannot change the license type which you applied to the original work, only to the edits, adaptations which they have subsequently made to it when they select a CC option for the work.

This work is licensed under CC BY SA 3.0 by Fotor. Source here.


Creative Commons License Explained

CC License - Most Restrictive or Least Restrictive Options?

For many researchers unfamiliar with CC licenses, the choice may appear bewildering. All those letters, symbols and rules attached to each license! Do you fully understand what is meant by the terms and conditions attached to each license type? If not, fear not. The below table provides a very useful summary of the different CC licenses, starting with the most permissive to the least permissive. Permissive, in this case, meaning that more things can be done with the work e.g. copied, communicated, adapted, changed, tweaked, used perhaps commercially. 

  • CC licenses with the fewest letters (CC BY) will be the most permissive and least restrictive option.
  • The CC licenses with the most letters (CC BY-NC-ND) will be the most restrictive and least permissive option.
  • As you add further letters to your CC license, you are increasing the restrictions on the license.
  • Make sure you choose the right license for your work! How accommodating or restrictive do you wish to be?

This infographic below provides the terms of use for each of the CC licenses, indicating what you can and can't do if you use a CC licensed work:

This work is licensed under CC BY SA 3.0 by Fotor. Source here.

Creative Commons Activities

Here are some very useful and engaging resources, if you wish to further test your knowledge of CC licenses! These resources were created at Cambridge University.

Introduction to Creative Commons licenses. This is an interactive resource focused on CC licenses. The resource will cover what Creative Commons is, the elements that make up CC licenses and how they can be applied to your work. The resource will finish with a short quiz, which will involve matching resources with the most suitable license to test your knowledge. 

Play the Creative Commons Card GameThis simple card game allows you to introduce the concept of building a Creative Commons license to learners. It also offers them a chance to think about what the different components mean and how they can be used to create a bespoke license.

Both resources (created and amended by Claire Sewell & Amy Theobald) have been issued with CC licenses. See above URLs for further information.