There are three layers that make up the foundations of the Creative Commons Licenses:
There are four elements of a Creative Commons license, each has a stylized icon to easily indicate the permissions:
Attribution (BY) - you must always give attribution to the original creator, all licenses require this
ShareAlike (SA) - adapt and/or share work, adaptations must be licensed under the same license
NonCommercial (NC) - adapt and/or share work for noncommercial use
NoDerivatives (ND) - users cannot share adaptations of the work
Since the Creative Commons licenses were first created, the legal code and deeds have been updated to reflect changes in copyright law, needs of users, and updates in technology. These changes to not alter the effect of the individual licenses, rather they serve to clarify and improve the existing licenses for users. The latest version of the CC license, Version 4.0, was published in 2013. More information about the recent version can be found on the Creative Commons Wiki.
One major difference between licenses is the ability to adapt and share the work. What is considered a true adaptation can depend on the nature of the work and applicable copyright law. For more information on adaptations, visit the Creative Commons FAQ page.
As with adaptations, another distinguishing feature among the licenses is the ability to use work for commercial purposes. Commercial use is loosely defined as one that is “not primarily intended for or directed towards commercial advantage or monetary compensation.” This is true whether the user is a nonprofit or private business, as the definition refers to the use and not the user. More information can be found on the Creative Commons Wiki.
Licenses are listed in order of most open to least open (based on Creative Commons License Spectrum by Shaddim) and include a link to each license deed:
Attribution license or CC BY - allows use of the work for any purpose (even commercially and even in modified form) as long as attribution is given to the creator.
Attribution-ShareAlike license or BY-SA - allows use of the work for any purpose (even commercially and even in modified form), as long as attribution is given to the creator and any adaptations shared with others are available under the same or a compatible license.
Attribution-NonCommercial license or BY-NC - allows use of the work for non-commercial purposes only, and only as long as attribution is given to the creator.
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license or BY-NC-SA - allows use of the work for non-commercial purposes only, and only as long as attribution is given to the creator and any adaptations shared with others are available under the same or a compatible license.
Attribution-NoDerivatives license or BY-ND - allows use of the unadapted work for any purpose (even commercially), as long as attribution is given to the creator.
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license or BY-NC-ND - the most restrictive license, allows use of the unadapted work for non-commercial purposes only, and only as long as attribution is given to the creator.
"The Six CC Licenses" is a derivative of the June 2020 Creative Commons Certificate for Librarians, by Creative Commons, licensed CC BY 4.0. [Condensed definitions for each license.]
The video below goes over how to choose compatible resources and a valid license for your work.
Suppose you are developing an open educational resource (OER), and you want to use some other OER within yours. If you create a derivative work by adapting or combining works offered under Creative Commons licenses, you must not only follow the terms of each of the licenses involved, but also choose a license for your work that is compatible with the other licenses.
Creative Commons licenses do not apply to works already in the public domain. Additionally, creators may choose to add their work to the public domain before their copyright expires. Creative Commons includes two icons in addition to the four elements described above to address public domain works:
This tool allows creators to indicate that their work is dedicated to the public domain prior to the work's natural copyright expiration date.
Separate from CC0, this tool helps indicate that a work is already in the public domain.
The Creative Commons licenses are legal tools that work on top of and in coordination with already existing copyright laws. This means that, while the licenses allow creators to indicate in what ways they are willing to allow their work to be used, they do not take the place of copyright laws nor do they restrict uses granted by copyright exceptions, such as fair use. More information can be found on the Creative Commons FAQ page.