Creative Commons provides a set of free tools to help you legally share your knowledge and creativity.

Basics of copyright

When anyone creates content (as an ‘author’), it is automatically copyrighted as ‘all rights reserved’, even if there is no copyright symbol (©) displayed. This means you must not copy the materials without prior permission from the copyright holder.

In order to provide permissions for others to re-use, re-mix, revise, and re-distribute the materials, the copyright holder must apply an open licence.

Note that there are two exceptions:

  • First, if the duration of copyright for the work has expired, it will enter the public domain, and enable free use
  • Second, an author may dedicate a work to the public domain, waiving the protections associated with copyright. In other words, no copyright exists on the work

Creative Commons has become the international standard for open licensing. There are six Creative Commons licences providing a range of re-use permissions. The licenses are legally robust and free to use. They do not replace copyright, but they provide authors with options to give advance permission for re-use under the specified conditions of the licence.


Overview of Creative Commons licence elements

The Creative Commons Kiwi video, developed for Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand and produced by Mohawk Media, provides an excellent overview of the Creative Commons licence elements.

  • Have you ever wondered how to download and share digital content legally?
  • How do you let people know that you want them to re-use your own work?

This video will show you how. It provides a valuable summary before we study the detail of the licence elements.

Share your thoughts, ideas or insights based on the Creative Commons Kiwi video, in particular any questions you thought of when watching this video. Post your thoughts and questions on WENotes below.

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The six Creative Commons Licences

Copyright holders may choose which permissions or restrictions they want to apply by combining these licensing terms to create one of six CC licences, described below. Note that all six licences require attribution, i.e. giving credit to the creator of the work.

Attribution (CC BY)
This licence lets others distribute, re-mix, edit, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licences offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials. The OER Foundation and many OER pracitioners recommend this licence for OER (open educational resources).
Licence deed  |  Legal code

Attribution — Share-Alike (CC BY-SA)
This licence lets others re-mix, edit, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This licence is often compared to ‘copyleft’ free and open source software licences. All new materials based on your work will carry the same licence, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the licence used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.
Licence deed  |  Legal code

Attribution — No Derivatives (CC BY-ND)
This licence allows for re-distribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you. Your work can be included in compendiums, but may not be translated or modified without your permission.
Licence deed  |  Legal code

Attribution — Non-Commercial (CC BY-NC)
This licence lets others re-mix, edit, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although the new materials must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
Licence deed  |  Legal code

Attribution — Non-Commercial — Share-Alike (CC BY-NC-SA)
This licence lets others re-mix, edit, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
Licence deed  |  Legal code

Attribution — Non-Commercial — No Derivatives (CC BY-NC-ND)
This licence is the most restrictive of the six main licences, only allowing others to download your work and share it with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.
Licence deed  |  Legal code


Take this short quiz to test your knowledge of the Creative Commons licences.


We provide a free poster originally developed by Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand which you can download, print, and keep handy as a summary of the licence types.