Creative Commons Licences

Creative Commons is a global movement to encourage the distribution and sharing of creative work in the digital age. "Share, Remix, Reuse - Legally"

Creative Commons licences are free to anyone - including schools. They are available online and have been legally and linguistically adapted for use in over fifty countries including the UK. They make finding resources - images, films, music, lesson materials, etc - on the web that you can legitimately use and re-use much easier. Just look for the CC logo. If you want to share materials with other schools and learners it provides a quick and easy way to manage copyright. BUT! Read and think before you act - they may not be the best answer for everything.

Creative Commons doesn't replace copyright or ignore it and it certainly doesn't mean 'copyright cancelled'; Creative Commons builds on copyright and supports creators and learning.

Some Rights Reserved

Creative Commons uses licences which can be easily read and spell out how the creator or owner of the materials wants them to be used which means there is no need to ask for permissions for most education activities or to take risks. The key phrase and principle behind Creative Commons is 'Some Rights Reserved'.


'A Shared Culture' by Jesse Dylan is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike (CC BY-NC-SA) license. Read The Shared Culture CC page for the full attribution and to find out how the video was made using CC licenced materials created by over a hundred different people. Music is by 'Nine Inch Nails' from 'Ghosts' - also on a a CC BY-NC-SA licence.

CC = Creative Commons; BY = acknowledge the creator; NC = OK for you to use except for commercial purposes; SA = '"sharealike", i.e. keep the CC licence with the work when you use it.

What the 'icons' mean

Creative Commons licences are available from a free and open website which automatically generates a 'button', made up from a set of 'icons', and a link that you can fix to your work.

The licences are made up by selecting four basic conditions each represented by an 'icon':

BY means 'attribute' - if you use or re-use the work you must acknowledge the creator - name and a web link if available is usual.


NC means 'non-commercial' - you can use or re-use the work for personal or education use but not for a commercial project.  In UK we get the dollar button. There is also a euro and a yen button. (these are NOT currency buttons - just a 'non-commercial' sign.)


ND means 'non-derivative' - you can use or re-use the work but only as it is - you musn't edit, mash-up or manipulate it to make something new.


SA means 'share alike' - if you have adapted someone's work - that is, created a 'derivative work' - and the SA icon has been used by the original creator it means you are obliged to release your new work under the same licence. It's a way of encouraging work and ideas to keep spreading.


What the 'buttons' mean.

The creator chooses the conditions they require for their licence and the CC licence page generates a 'button':

CC-BY-NC means: Creative Commons licence; please acknowledge the creator. You are free to use, re-use, modify or develop the materials; BUT you must ask permission to use the material for commercial purposes.

CC-BY-NC-SA means: you can use or re-use the work provided you acknowledge the creator, but don't use it for commercial purpopses AND you must retain the CC licence on your use of the materials - You must 'sharealike'.

CC-BY-NC-ND This is the similar to above, but ND means 'no-derivaties'; i.e. you can't mash-up the music, manipulate the photograph or whatever - without asking permission.


What does this CC licence mean?

It's quite easy to learn what the buttons mean. What do you think CC-BY means? If you or your pupils are using someone's work with a CC-BY licence what should they do?


Key Facts about CC

 The main principle of Creative Commons is 'Some Rights Reserved' - meaning that the materials can be used and re-used 'freely' without asking for permission provided you follow the wishes of the creator or owner of the work.

 Creative Commons licences are available free online.

 Creative Commons is a global movement with over 50 countries participating.

Creative Commons licences are freely availible online - fill in a short online form and hey presto! it generates the licence; you get a button like those above with a weblink to insert into or next to your work.

 The licences have 'buttons' to show how the materials can be used. The creator may want you to keep their name ("attribution") with the work; to use and re-use the work but not actually to change it ("non-derivative"); to use it but not for commercial purposes ("non-commercial"); or to keep the CC licence they used with the work ("share-alike"). While this may seem a bit complex it's a lot easier than seeing a standard 'copyright: all rights reserved' notice which means you have to ask for permission (which takes time and you may get a 'No' or a bill). So Creative Commons licences let you know exactly what you can do with the materials right from the off without asking - which is a good thing, given the pressures on time in the classroom.

This is the 'button' denoting a licence obliging users and re-users to acknowledge the creator (BY); not make commercial use without permission (NC) and if they adapt the work to keep the CC licence and 'sharealike' (SA). Click the 'button' to read the full licence conditions on the Creative Commons website.

Creative Commons licence 'buttons' have three layers you can click through. The top layer which is 'machine readible' by search engines, etc; then there's the button which we see; click on the button and w you are presented by a version of the licence in everyday language; click again and you get down to the full licence, this time in 'legal speak'.

Creative Commons licences have layers which you can click through. The top layer can be recognised by search engines, etc. so it is called 'machine readible' and is 'invisible' to the user.
The second layer is called 'human readable'. It has the icons that you can see and which are often all you need. If you click on the icon it takes you to a longer description in everyday language, This is very useful when you're not quite sure what the icon means or what it lets you do. Good for careful checking.
The third, deepest, layer is the 'legal code' - legal language for specialists. But of course it is the foundation of everything!

You can search for Creative Commons licensed material in some search engines and some of the large resource banks - just add 'Creative Commons' to the keywords you've chosen or select the Creative Commons or Open Licence 'boxes' in advanced search options; e.g. 'Google' and 'Yahoo' or the tool on the CC Search page.

Several of the biggest banks of on-line resources - 'Wikipedia', 'Internet Archive', 'Flickr' and 'You Tube' ('Google') - use Creative Commons licences for many of their materials.

SmileMusic. There are a growing number of online projects making a wide variety of music available through CC licences. See CC Music Communities

Many education and academic projects and resources in the UK also use Creative Commons licences: e.g. Wellcome Institute Image Library which uses two types of CC licence for 'education use' while reserving the right to charge and/or impose further conditions for servcies such as printing or commercial use of their images; CC-BY--NC-2.0-UK and CC-BYNC-ND-2.0-UK.  See Wellcome Library Terms of Use

Creative Commons licences don't over-ride other conditions such as 'third party rights'. A writer can use a Creative Commons licence on their website or blog to cover the original content of their writing and the expression of their ideas - BUT - although attached to a webpage it doesn't necessarily apply to the images or video they have also used, unless of course they took them themselves. You have to be a bit careful with website and powerpoints on this issue! See for instance this page of copyright news stories

 Creative Commons licences are 'irrevocable' and 'perpetual'. a creator can stop offering a piece of work under a CC licence they have previoulsy given it whenever they wish and assign new copyright conditions for subsequent use; BUT, anyone who has copied the work prior to the change has it under the original CC licence.

 Pupils can use the Creative Commons licences - BUT below the age of 18 (in UK) they can't sign off a commercial contract. In many cases the school can assign the CC licence for pupils' work - films, images, poetry, music - on their behalf having first obtained parental permission. More detail on using Creative Commons licences with pupils here ...

Creative Commons provides the legal background for the Open Education Resources (OER) movement. More on this important topic in Section 2, Open Licences

TAKE CARE! There is a lot of material - documents and presentations - on the web about Creative Commons and how to use it. Some care should be taken in selecting material to use in UK schools as it may not be up-to-date or it may originate from another country. Material from other countries may include assumptions about and references to copyright regulation and law that don’t apply in the UK, such as the ‘fair use’ doctrine in the USA. And of course, as always, not everything you find is up-to-date and not everything is accurate.


Licence versions, jurisdictions, (inter)national licences and 'unported' licences

Creative Commons is a global movement with over 50 countries participating. In each case legal experts have agreed wording for the legal-speak document to fit with conditions in their country AND the documents have been translated into required language. The map was 'released' into the public domain by it's creator Jordon Kalilich - source: Wikipedia. Key: green = countries with CC licences; dark blue = countries in process; light blue = countries with plans.

 'Jurisdiction' is the term used to identify legal entities - what we usually see as countries or regions.

 Since it's launch in 2001 Creative Commons has developed versions 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 of its licences and is now (2012) working on version 4.

 There are about 50 jurisdictions with national versions of the CC licences; written to suit their own legal system and laws.

Unported Licences. As well as the jurisdiction (national) versions of the CC licences there is also an international or unported - meaning global - version written to international treatise and not connected to particular jurisdictions, though it may well work for them.

In the UK there is, currently (2012), an England and Wales 2.0 version ..... AND .....a Scotland 2.5 version.  C2Kni and LNI use the Scotland 2.5 version in Northern Ireland.


Creative Commons and the Public Domain

There are two Public Domain marks (icons) in Creative Commons, CCO and PDM - sometimes called "CC Zero".

Creative Commons released their new Public Domain mark in 2010. "The Mark makes it clear to teachers and students, artists and scientists, that they are free to re-use material. Its release benefits everyone who wishes to build upon the rich and vast resources that are part of the shared public domain."  The mark is 'CC0'  and is for copyright creators who want to put their work into the public domain. In other words 'waive their rights'.

  The CCO mark as well as covering the usual range of copyright works  - images, audio, etc. also covers 'database rights'.   

The second CC Public Domain mark or PDM is meant for use if a person (not the creator) "has identified a work that is free of known copyright restrictions."

Example: 'Europeana' - an EU project linking resources from 2,000 museums and collections across Europe including the UK - is using the CCO mark for works free of known copyright AND also for the metadata behind the project. The general 'terms of service' for the materials on Europeana permit education use. See EUROPEANA and Europeana Terms of Service



How Do You Feel Today. still from children's film. embc CC-BY-NC-NDOur Shorts - 'embc' film-making project. A schools film-making project involving pupils from nursery, primary, secondary and special schools. A CC BY-NC-ND licence was agreed by the project and each school obtained parental/carer permissions by letter for all the children contributing so their films could go online. The films were posted online by the regional network (embc) under the CC licence.
'How Do You Feel Today' is a still from one of the films called 'Feelings'. All of films dealt with aspects of 'Citizenship'.

 'European Schoolnet', a network of 30 Ministries of Education in Europe and uses CC licences for it's Learning Resource Exchange for Schools (LRE). CC-BY is used to maximise the re-usability of resources. Assigning a 'No Derivatives' licence can, for instance, impeed development of resources to suit new contexts including translation into other languages.
 LRE for Schools Copyright page

 In Northern Ireland C2Kni uses the Scotland 2.5 version of CC for it's on-line resources bank. Teachers uploading resources can choose the CC licence or an alternative from a drop-down menu - a two-click action - to help share materials between schools in Northern Ireland through Learning Northern Ireland (LNI).


Choose an image you want other people to use - we're using the little '© = ?' graphic . Then head off to the Creative Commons Website 'Choose a Licence' page. Then there's just a few steps to complete online.
 Do you want people to be able to use your image commercially or for non-commercial uses?

 Do you want people to be able to modify or adapt your work?

 Select whether you want to use a national licence
- for UK schools either UK England & Wales or UK Scotland. N. Ireland school users should select UK Scotland - or an unported licence - i.e. 'global'.
 You can also add more information
to give your name or school or project, contact url and a url if users want more 'permissions' to use the works, say for commercial or endorsement purposes if you've used a 'No-commercial' licence. This added information is optional - and you don't have to add it. You could use a school or project name so individual pupil and teacher names remain 'anonymous' if that is required. 

Each question on the 'Choose a Licence' page has a little blue and white information button beside it; taking the time to read these brief explanations increases your knowledge of using CC quickly and effectively. Take the time!

 And Hey Presto! you'll see your licence button, web link and if you you need it, code to embed in a website. The idea is that you 'copy' the button and web link into or next to your work so people can see your licence and know how you want your work used. When a user clicks on the licence button they'll be able to read the full licence from the CC website. Like this!

Creative Commons Licence'Copyright equals what?' by NEN is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at Click the button to read the full licence.

The Choose a Licence Page on the Creative Commons website does just that - lets you choose a licence. It doesn't register or record your use of it. It is YOU who assigns the licence when you place it onto a piece of work, by using the buttons and links, or even by simply stating that the work is licenced CC-BY (or whatever). It is YOU who assigns the licence not Creative Commons.

Job done! Low cost - High value.


Explore the Creative Commons website 

Try it Out Creative Commons - Choose a Licence page.

 Need a recap? Summary of Creative Commons in Quickstart 

 For more 'exactness' and detail on many questions use the CC FAQ pages: Creative Commons FAQ

 For more about national and unported licences: CC FAQ national or unported?