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Creative Commons

Creative Commons


(The landscape image was uploaded to Flickr by its creator, Rick Smit and the UFO clipart is from OpenClipArt.org)

What do the images above have in common? They are all free to be used, remixed, and shared because they are all licensed under Creative Commons. Creative Commons licenses helps content creators to share their work more freely than copyright allows. Because both the landscape and the UFO are Creative Commons images, it is absolutely acceptable to edit and remix them to create and share the third image above.

Copyright law protects a work the moment it is put into a fixed form (so the moment the words are written, the video is recorded, or a picture is snapped) and states that there are certain rights with regards to the work that only the creator holds. For example only the creator may reproduce the work. For a list of other rights the creator holds, visit Copyright Basics. According to the law, you cannot use a copyrighted work without express permission from the copyright holder (there are exceptions to this). Fortunately, some authors and creators are happy and willing to share their work more freely than U.S. copyright law currently allows. In order to make their wishes clear to both you and the law, they often license their work. A license details the terms and conditions the author has established with regards to using his or her works. There are many, many different types of licenses but some of the most common and useful in an academic setting are Creative Commons Licenses.

What do Creative Commons licenses do?

Creative Commons licenses are agreements that allow copyright holders to modify the copyrights for their works. Creative Commons licenses specifically address four aspects of use: attribution, the manner of sharing allowed, creation of derivative works, and commercial use.


Some Creative Commons works require attribution while others do not. This simply means that if you use a work, you make it clear who originally created it. This could be through a note, a citation, or even a link. If a Creative Commons licensed work requires attribution, the above image will be incorporated into the license.


The sharing of Works licensed under Creative Commons can be governed in a variety of ways. Creators can require that all works created using the original is then "shared alike" meaning that the new work must use the exact same Creative Commons license as the original. If this is what the creator wishes, you will see the above image within the license.

Derivative Works

Some creators may be comfortable with you sharing their work but would prefer that you do not change, remix, or otherwise build on it. In this case, they will utilize a "no derivatives" Creative Commons license. (Visit the FAQs for more information on how a derivative work is defined.) The above image is shown on the no derivatives license.

Commercial Use

Some works licensed under Creative Commons can be used for commercial purposes while others cannot. If a creator has decided to limit commercial use, the above image will appear as part of the license.

Visit CreativeCommons.org for a more comprehensive overview. If you're looking for in-depth information or have a specific question, visit the Creative Commons FAQ page.

When should I use Creative Commons licensed works?

Whenever you can! Using works that are licensed under Creative Commons simplifies your project by making the ways in which you may use a work very clear. It also eliminates the need to obtain explicit permission from an author every time you wish to use a work. Additionally, by using Creative Commons licensed works you help to support universal access to information and creative works. Visit our page on finding Creative Commons works and CreativeCommons.org for more information.