Creative Commons Part 1: What does “Creative Commons” mean?

Creative Commons

CMLE Guest Blogger: Carli Spina If you have any questions, let me know in the comments or contact me on Twitter where I’m @CarliSpina.

Creative Commons Part 1: What does “Creative Commons” mean?

Copyright is an important but often intimidating topic. As library staff, we may know that copyright protections exist, but knowing their exact parameters or how to get permission to use a copyrighted work can be complex and time consuming.

Recognizing this problem, a group of experts developed the concept of the Creative Commons (often abbreviated CC) and the associated licenses to make sharing, reusing, and remixing works easier for everyone. Using this approach, the creator of an item offers the item under a license (or legal agreement) that explicitly provides for the types of use that are permitted free of charge.

Because legal agreements are complicated for non-experts to interpret, the Creative Commons nonprofit has created six simple form licenses that creators can choose from and these agreements cannot be altered. The six licenses are designed to be summed up in a quick abbreviation and are as follows (in order from least to most restrictive):

  • Attribution – Abbreviated as CC BY, this is the most open of the Creative Commons licenses. It allows anyone to reuse or even alter and add to the licensed item as long as clear attribution to the original creator is included. These uses can be for any purpose, including commercial uses.
  • Attribution-ShareAlike – Abbreviated as CC BY-SA, this license has the same characteristics as the CC BY license, but if you are using an item licensed using Attribution-ShareAlike, you must also share your own resulting item (meaning anything that makes use of all or any part of the original) under an Attribution-ShareAlike license. This license is often used by those who want to promote the continued growth of the Creative Commons universe.
  • Attribution-NoDerivs – Abbreviated as CC BY-ND, this license allows for reuse for any purpose, including commercial purposes, as long as the item is unchanged and it is attributed to the original creator.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial – Abbreviated as CC BY-NC, this license allows for reuse and alteration for any noncommercial purpose as long as it is attributed to the original creator. However the item may never be used for commercial purposes.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike – Abbreviated as CC BY-NC-SA, this license combines elements of the CC BY-NC license and the CC BY-SA license, which means you may not use the item commercially and must offer your resulting work to others under a CC BY-NC-SA license.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs – Abbreviated as CC BY-NC-ND, this is the most restrictive Creative Commons license. It does not allow alteration of the original or commercial use and you must provide attribution to the creator

As you can see, attribution is a core component of all six of the Creative Commons licenses, which fits nicely with the work that many libraries do to promote proper attribution and to discourage plagiarism and copyright violations. However, Creative Commons does offer a final option for those who want to offer their work without requiring attribution. It is called Creative Commons 0 or CC0 and is often likened to dedicating a work to the Public Domain. Works offered in this manner can be used for any purpose and do not require attribution back to the creator.

With all of these options, it is clear that Creative Commons has something for virtually every creator and everyone looking for content to use in their own creations.

While Creative Commons licenses are great for a wide variety of users in virtually any field, they are a particularly perfect fit for libraries for two reasons: 1) the concept of Creative Commons fits with our ideals of sharing information and resources and 2) Creative Commons-licensed resources can be a great cost-saving resource for library staff and patrons alike.

Hopefully this overview will help you to feel comfortable not only making use of Creative Commons-licensed works in your own creations, but also in helping patrons to understand what Creative Commons offers them. Perhaps your library could even consider offering its works under Creative Commons licenses, as many other libraries of all sorts have started to do with their research guides, images, web content, and more.

If you’re interested in learning more about tools and resources you might use to integrate Creative Commons content into your work, watch for my follow up post which will offers some top resources to help you get started.