Creative Commons is a site set up to help people creating works protected by copyright to generate licesnses that allow the public to use those works in specific circumstances. A Creative Commons license falls somewhere between the extremes of most copyright law: either "All Rights Reserved" (where all uses of the work are regulated) or "No Rights Reserved" (public domain works).
Anything that can be protected by copyright can be licensed with a Creative Commons license. You should make sure that you own the copyright to the work you wish to license. (For example, I do not own all copyrights to my work on About.com, so I cannot license these articles through Creative Commons.)
What Type of Licenses Does Creative Commons Offer?
When you set up a Creative Commons license, there are six possible licenses you can use for your work:
- Attribution (by)
This allows anyone to use your work including creating derivative works, even if they use it commercially. This license is the most accommodating of the Creative Commons licenses. The only requirement of this license is that the person using it credits you for the original work in the way you request.
- Attribution Share Alike (by-sa)
This license is similar to the Attribution (by) license, except that any works they create must be licensed in the same way as your work. This is the most similar license to an open source license for software.
- Attribution No Derivatives (by-nd)
This license allows people to copy your work (commercially or non-commercially) as long as they don't change it in any way and provide you credit.
- Attribution Non-commercial (by-nc)
This license allows people to use your work, including making derivative copies of it, as long as they do it for non-commercial purposes and credit you.
- Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike (by-nc-sa)
This license is just like the Attribution Share Alike license, but it also does not allow the work to be used commercially. They must retain the same license you have used and credit you for the original work.
- Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives (by-nc-nd)
This is the most restrictive of the Creative Commons licenses. It does not allow the creation of derivative works or commercial use. They must credit you the way you request.
How to Set Up a Creative Commons License
- Think about the 6 licenses available, and decide what is important to you. Some people feel that non-commercial use is the most important, while others would like to prevent the creation of derivative works. What rights are important to you?
- Go to the Creative Commons license page, and answer the questions there.
- I recommend opening the "more information" option, and filling in exactly how you want to be credited. Include your name in the "Attribute to name" and your URL in the "Attribute to URL".
- Copy all of the HTML in the license box onto your Web page with the content to be licensed. If you're only licensing the HTML or specific images, you should indicate that in the license text.
Pros and Cons of Using Creative Commons to License Your Web Work
There are many good reasons to use Creative Commons licenses, but there are also some drawbacks. Make sure you understand what you're doing before you publish your license. If you still have questions about Creative Commons, read the Creative Commons FAQ on their site.
Benefits to Using Creative Commons Licenses
- Creative Commons licenses are non-exclusive. You can set up a Creative Commons license for the general public and another, different licesnse (say for money) with someone else.
- Creative Commons licenses are easy to use. Just select your license on the Creative Commons website and post it with your work.
- You aren't giving up your copyright, you are just making your work available for others to use.
- You can still make money from a work that has a Creative Commons license.
- Creative Commons was written to be enforceable in court.
Drawbacks to Using Creative Commons Licenses
- Creative Commons licenses are non-revokable. Once you've licensed something with a Creative Commons license, you can't change your mind, so be sure that you want to allow copying before you publish the license.
- Creative Commons licenses do not grant you additional rights or override copyright law. If you don't have the rights to license the content, then you can't use a Creative Commons license. And Creative Commons licenses don't take the place of rules governing fair use.
- Creative Commons licenses are not available for software, but you can use a license from the Free Software Foundation or the Open Source Initiative to release your software.
Creative Commons licenses are a great way for content creators to get their works out to the public. Web designers might use it to license templates and ensure they get credited. Or you might want to license your music or images non-commercially so that you get more exposure. Don't be afraid to share your work, you might be surprised at how much it helps!