Creative Commons Licenses — All Explained

Posted on | 1180 words | ~6mins
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Everything that we create in our life is protected by intellectual rights. It means that if you create any kind of content and publish it on the Internet, by default no one have permission to change, share outside your website or earn money with your work. In a practical example, you cannot simply create a remix of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, a tribute to your favorite writer using his/her pictures or cut some pieces of a poem to share on Facebook without asking permission from the authors. You didn’t created Bad Romance (if you did, feel free to go), those pictures were not taken by you and you didn’t wrote that quote that you want to share in your timeline.

To solve this problem we have basically two ways (one of them is illegal, try to guess which one):

Discovering a way to reach the author and asking for permission

If you can contact Lady Gaga or her lawyers, you can simply ask for permission to do your remix and move on with your creation.

Simply doing it assuming the risk that you can be sued by the Mother Mons†er or her li††le lawyers

Yes, that is the illegal option. Some apps like LimeWire and artists like Gotye already had big problems by following this path.

Not all of us has access to recorders lawyers, so sometimes you will just give up from the idea since you don’t wanna get in trouble and find another thing to do.

Now let’s imagine the following situation: What if Lady Gaga wants to give permission to everyone to use her works for any purpose, as long as you give credits for her? Or a more likely than that, what if you can use her works for everything, as long as you don’t earn money with it? How can she let the world knows it? That is what Creative Commons does.

What is Creative Commons?

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Creative Commons is a non-profit organization. Their goal is to expand the number of creative works available in the world. To do this, they have created different copyright licenses, named as Creative Commons Licenses. Those licenses describes to everyone which rights the author has reserved to himself and which are free to use.

When to use?

You can use Creative Commons for every work created by you that you want to share. The only exception for that is for software licensing since those licenses does not cover patent and warranty matters, and they are incompatible with open-source code licenses like: MIT, GNU GPL, Apache, etc.

Also, you are not required to release your work digitally. Some contents (books, for example) are licensed using Creative Commons license without necessarily releasing it in a PDF file on the web.

Which warranties do I have that people will respect the license?

The short answer is: You don’t have it. The point is: We must respect copyright, otherwise we might have to pay for infractions. Also, some websites like YouTube have tools to prevent copyright infringement.

Which options am I able to choose, and what is the differences between then?

You have a lot of different options. This article will explain them starting from the most flexible to the most restrictive license.

Public Domain (CC-0)


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This license means that you are giving up from all your rights related to your work. Example: If you have created an image and released it under CC-0 terms, you are giving permission to change it, sell it, create any stuff based on it, without giving credits to you.

Attribution (CC-BY)


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This license means that you are giving permissions for everyone to do everything with your work, as long as they give credits to you. It includes commercial purposes. You are also giving permissions for derived works based in yours. Example: If Gaga starts using this license on her musics, you will have permission to create your remix and monetize it!

Attribution-Share Alike (CC-BY-SA)


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This license gives the same permission as CC-BY license, but with a condition. Every derived work must be licensed under the same license terms. It means that if you create your tribute video to your favorite writer using his/her photos, everyone will have rights to use your video to create other tributes. This license is used by famous websites like Wikipedia, since it will propagate the same rights for everyone, preventing them to prohibit other people to have the same freedom that the author gave.

Attribution-Non Derivatives (CC-BY-ND)


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If any content is licensed under these terms, you are allowed to share it anywhere you want. Even earn money with it. The restriction is: You cannot create anything based on this content. It must be shared as it is. It means that you can even earn money with any work licensed under these terms, as long as you do it with the original version (without changes) and give credits to the author.

Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike (BY-NC-SA)


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This is the license that I am using in all articles that I am creating in Medium. Using this article as an example, you are able to share it with anyone and even create derived works (translate it to Chinese, for example). If you want to use it, you must respect three restrictions:

  • You must give me credits (copying this article’s link, for example);
  • You cannot make money with it;
  • You have permission to create derived works. If you do, you must share your version using the same license. If you create an infographic explaining this article with images, it must be shared on the Internet under these terms, for example.

Attribution-Non Commercial-Non Derivatives (BY-NC-ND)


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That is the most restrictive Creative Commons License. You are only allowed to share the content. It must be shared as it is and without earning money with it. You must give credits to the author. It means that if you find an article written in English on the web under this terms and you want to translate it to your local language, you must ask for permission from the author.

What do you mean with “not earn money with it”?

This point can be confusing, but it is simple! If you are creating a video for YouTube using a song with this restriction, you cannot monetize it. If you are creating anything based in my articles, you cannot put advertisements on it, for example.

Can I use other licenses instead of Creative Commons when Share-Alike right is given?

Only if they are listed here :)

I want to create something based on a video with “non-derivatives” restriction. Can I do this?

When an author release something using Creative Commons licenses, he is giving up some reserved rights from him, but not all of them. When a content is licensed under any of these licenses, you will see Some Rights Reserved message instead of All Rights Reserved. If you want to create something with the “non-derivatives” restriction, you will need to contact the author before doing it.