How to Use Creative Commons Licenses and Creative Commons-Licensed Content

Creative Commons is an organization dedicated to expanding the body of creative works available to build upon and share. They are most well-known for providing free, easy-to-use copyright licenses that give creators a simple and standardized way to give the public permission to share and use their work under conditions chosen by the creator. Before using Creative Commons-licensed work or distributing your own work under a Creative Commons license, however, it’s important that you understand some of the issues that make them unique.

What You Need to Know About Using Creative Commons-Licensed Content

An enormous library of photos, videos, writing, music, and other content is freely available under Creative Commons licenses for legal use, repurposing, and remixing. Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re considering using Creative Commons-licensed content in your own work:

  • Does the license allow commercial use? One of the key distinctions between different types of Creative Commons licensing is whether or not the creator allows the work to be used commercially. If you intend to use the material in a way that is “primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or monetary compensation,” you may not use any work shared under Creative Commons’ “NonCommercial” license.
  • Don’t forget to attribute the work. All six Creative Commons licenses require that you give appropriate credit to the licensor, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. Fortunately, there is some flexibility in how you attribute Creative Commons works.
  • When you use Creative Commons-licensed material, you may not place additional terms and conditions on the reuse of the work. All Creative Commons licenses prohibit you from applying effective technological measures, such as DRM, or imposing legal terms that would prevent others from doing what the license permits.
  • A Creative Commons license may not give you all of the permissions you need for your intended use. For example. your use of the material may also be limited by other rights such as publicity, privacy, or moral rights. If you think there may be third party rights in the material, make sure to clear those rights as well.

What You Need to Know About Using Creative Commons Licenses on Your Own Work

Many creators also use Creative Commons licenses to share their own creative content. Before you decide whether to release your work to the public under a Creative Commons license, consider these issues:

  • Think carefully about which license you want to use. Consider what you want to achieve by sharing your work, and make sure the license allows it. For example, if you want people to be able to sell products that use your material, don’t select a “NonCommercial” license. Also consider whether you have other obligations which might limit what licenses are available to you, such as licensing requirements from a funding source or limitations imposed by your membership in a collecting society like ASCAP or BMI.
  • Remember the license may not be revoked. Once you apply a Creative Commons license to your work, anyone who receives it may rely on that license for as long as the material is subject to copyright protection unless they breach the terms of the license. This is true even if you later stop distributing it.
  • Make sure the content is suitable for a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons licenses are appropriate for nearly any kind of content, but they are not recommended for software and hardware. You should also not apply Creative Commons licenses to works that are in the public domain.
  • Specify exactly what it is you are licensing. It’s very possible your work is a mix of many different creative elements, such as photos, audio, and text. Make sure to clearly indicate which elements are covered by your Creative Commons license.
  • Make sure you have the right to license the material. If you created the material as a work-made-for-hire or in the scope of your employment for someone else, you may not be the rights holder. Likewise, if your work contains materials produced by others, you’ll need permission to sublicense those rights under a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons licenses are a great way to find affordable raw materials for your work, or to share your own work with other creators. If you want to know more about licensing your work or licensing work from others, we can tell you about it. Just call or email to schedule a time for us to talk, or, if you find yourself asking questions like this on a regular basis, check out the Creators’ Legal Program for an actionable, accessible, and affordable way to get answers.