Module 4: Creative Commons Licenses

Module 4: Creative Commons Licenses

In previous modules we had a chance to discuss the background of open licenses and what they are. We learned that Creative Commons (CC) is the most widely used open license for open educational resources. In this module, we will discuss CC licenses– what they are, to what they pertain, and how to mark our works with them.

In this module we’ll cover:

What are Creative Commons Licenses?

People often say “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Sometimes, a well-made video is worth a million words and then some. To understand Creative Commons Licenses, first watch this video that explains the basics behind Creative Commons licenses.
Creative Commons Kiwi by plccanz, CC-BY

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. Their free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — under conditions of your choice. CC licenses let you easily change your copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.” (Definition from

There are 4 Key license elements:

Icons License Guidelines
CC-BY logo BY Attribution: Others can copy, distribute, perform and remix your work if they credit your name as specified by you.
CC BY-ND logo ND No Derivatives Works: Others can only copy, distribute, or perform verbatim copies of your work.
CC BY-SA logo SA Share Alike: Others can distribute your work only under a license identical to the one you have chosen for your work.
CC BY-NC logo NC Non-commercial: Others can copy, distribute, display, perform or remix your work but for non-commercial purposes only.


CC licenses are combinations of these elements. There are 6 CC licenses:

Creative Commons Licenses

License icon Attribution License Elements
CC-BY logo Attribution: CC BY This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.
CC BY-ND logo Attribution-NoDerivs:
This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.
CC BY-NC-SA Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike:
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
CC BY-SA logo Attribution-ShareAlike:
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.
CC BY-NC logo Attribution-NonCommercial:
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
CC BY-NC-ND logo Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs:
This license is the most restrictive of the six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

The above text from “About the Licenses” by Creative Commons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

To learn more about license designs, rationale, and structure of Creative Commons licenses, please read About the licenses by Creative Commons.

How do I release my work with a Creative Commons license?

Please go to and use the license chooser tool. It will automatically generate the CC license icon and the notice based on your preference. For the specific instructions, please see the steps below:

1. Please go to or go to and click Choose a License.

Screenshot: Creative Commons page Choose a license circled.

2. You will be taken to the CC license chooser application. Your choice on the left panel will update the other panels on the page.

Screenshot: CC license chooser pointing out how radio button options update license with icon

3. If you click the question mark icon next to each choice a pop-up window will appear with a clear description.

Screenshot: showing details that popup when clicking on question mark icon

4. Copy the CC license icon and the notice and paste them to your work. Or insert this HTML code into your webpage so that your work is clearly marked. The key is to make the notice evident so that the users will know your work is CC licensed. The hyperlinks to the license deed must be intact in the statement.

Screenshot: CC licensing page circling embed code and final licensing information

5. This part is optional. If you wish, you can share more detailed information about your work and yourself such as the URL to the source work, the title of the work, or anything you might want to add to the attribution.

Screenshot: shows form fields for adding additional information to license

For further details regarding the marking of different media, visit

What conditions must I meet to release my work with a CC license?

Thus far, we have learned how to mark your work with a CC license. Choosing a CC license was a fast and easy process with a CC license chooser application. However, in order to release your work with a CC license your work should be cleared from all copyright issues. To do so, your work should be one or combination of the following types:

  1. your original work,
  2. built from open resources,
  3. built from works in the public domain,
  4. built from copyrighted work that you have obtained permission to use, or
  5. combination of the above.

Note: For any third party materials, whether openly licensed or copyrighted, those materials need to be attributed as not governed by the CC license you chose for your work, but under different terms and by different authors).

If you must use any items that are not openly licensed, please be sure to obtain permission letters from the authors. Please find a sample permission request email.

A sample letter to ask for permission to use the work

Hello Dr. Dumbledore,

I am a faculty member with the ____ project. The purpose of this project is to design openly licensed Science and Technology courses that can be taught face-to-face, hybrid and/or online. These courses will be freely available on the internet for anyone to copy, modify and use. One of the purposes of this project is to offer educational resources to regions where formal educational opportunities are scarce or expensive.

I am creating a course entitled “Advanced Potion” and I would like to use a post from your blog entitled “Why polyjuice potion?” from February 2005.

I am seeking your permission to distribute this material as part of our course. You will maintain your copyright but will be giving us permission to distribute this material for reuse as part of the teaching of this course. We will mostly likely copy the text of your post into a Google document and attribute you. A full citation for the work will accompany it, as will a statement of copyright ownership.

Please contact me at or by telephone at 253-xxx-xxxx with information about this request. Thank you for your time and attention.

Your name

Remember one last thing before licensing:

Creative Commons licenses are non-revocable. This means that you cannot stop someone who has obtained your work under a Creative Commons license from using the work according to that license. You can stop offering your work under a Creative Commons license at any time you wish; but this will not affect the rights associated with any copies of your work already in circulation under a Creative Commons license.

So you need to think carefully when choosing a Creative Commons license to make sure that you are comfortable with your work being used in ways that are consistent with the terms of the license. (text from Before Licensing by Creative Commons, CC BY).   This means that derivatives of your work created during the time the license was in effect may continue to circulate even after you have changed the terms of your copyright.

To learn more about basic conditions that you should think about before you apply a Creative Commons license to your work, please read Before Licensing by Creative Commons.

In Module 5, we will discuss how to find a Creative Commons licensed resource.



Last updated: 03 07 2016