While copyright is automatically applied to a work the moment it becomes fixed, some creators may still wish to allow users to reuse, redistribute, remix, or revise that content under certain guidelines. In the past, one would have to reach out to the copyright holder to get permission. As the global Internet allowed for greater and faster sharing of information and content, it became difficult to navigate how to use content found online without violating copyright laws. Thus, the concept of open licensing was born. Open licensing allows creators to indicate in a straightforward and public way the various permissions granted to users of their content. While there are various types of open licensing, the most commonly used is the Creative Commons License.
Creative Commons is the brainchild of Lawrence Lessig, then Professor of Law at Stanford and currently the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School. In addition to being a nonprofit organization and a global network/movement, Creative Commons is primarily known for its set of free legal tools – the CC Licenses – that allow creators to easily label the ways in which their content can be reused or remixed. By making creative works more openly accessible, we are able to more effectively share and build upon that knowledge. Learn more about the Shared Culture that Creative Commons envisions and works to promote.
You may happen upon a resource and see a statement that includes something like this: CC-BY-SA or an infographic like this: Both the string of letters and the infographic are short-hand for a type of Creative Commons license. The license works within the context of copyright and indicates the level of “openness” or, as stated above, the permissions the author is granting to users of their works. Both the string of letters and the infographic should include a link to the corresponding page on the Creative Commons website that explains the license permissions so you know how it can be used.
There are six Creative Commons licenses, listed below in order of most open permissions to least open permissions, based on the Creative Commons License Spectrum:
If you are interested in adding a CC License to your work, you can use this License Chooser tool on the Creative Commons website. For a visual guide, CC Australia created a helpful flowchart: Which Creative Commons license is right for me? (CC BY 3.0). This chart provides basic guidance for choosing a CC License, although the information from the chart should not be considered legal advice.
Credits: Ilene Frank and Kathryn Walling provided valuable assistance with today’s research!