Creative Commons Licenses Can Help You Avoid Copyright Infringement

The Internet makes sharing images, music, and video as easy 'copy-paste.' However, that type of sharing is not always legal. Creative Commons licenses are working to make sharing words, pictures, and ideas on the web safe and easy. Read on to learn how.

By Sarah Wright


Copyright and Intellectual Property

If you're at all interested in intellectual property issues, you're probably familiar with the concept of copyright. You may also have heard of a Creative Commons license, which is an alternative to copyright. In order to get at a better understanding of what this means, let's take a moment to explore copyright.

Copyright is granted to the creator of an original work in order to provide legal and financial protection over that creation. Things like music, books, images, logos, architectural designs, movies, plays and audio recordings are eligible for this sort of protection. Similar protection is in place for different types of creative work, including patent and trademark.

If you get a creative work copyrighted, you own exclusive rights to that work. That means if, say, you take a picture and get it copyrighted, no one but you may legally use that image. There are a few exceptions, such as parody, but overall, the copyright holder reserves all rights over the use of the copyrighted material. If you see the term 'all rights reserved', that typically refers to copyright protection. Penalties can be harsh for violators of these rights and restrictions.

Creative Commons Alternative


Copyright isn't the only way to protect original work, though. Creative Commons licenses are one way to provide an alternative type of protection for creative work. Though it is an alternative to copyright, Creative Commons licensing doesn't deprive the work's creator of any protection. It is simply an intermediate point between 'all rights reserved' and no protection whatsoever.

A total lack of protection might make it difficult for an artist to profit off of their work, or to preserve the integrity of their creative efforts. But still, some artists find the restrictions of copyright to be too severe. They may want to allow people to use their work in different ways, while still protecting their ownership and authorship of that material. That's where Creative Commons licenses come in.

License Types

There are six types of licenses offered by Creative Commons, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to making copyright more flexible. These licenses are free to the public and legally binding. They offer different types of protection. If you see that something you want to use, say a photo on Flickr or a piece of music that you want to remix, is covered by one of these licenses, you will have varying degrees of ability to share, distribute, use and profit off of that material depending on which license applies. Here is a breakdown of the different licenses:


Under this license, others may use your work however they see fit, even for profit. The only caveat is that they must attribute that work to you. So, if you write a poem that is covered by a Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY), anyone can publish and distribute it, as long as it is made clear that you are the author of the poem. If they make money from that distribution, they don't have to share it with you.


Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) licenses allow for alteration of the original work. This license also includes the requirement that work is attributed to its author, and is allowed to be used commercially. However, the CC BY-SA license means that anything derived from the licensed material will have to be covered by the same license.


The Creative Commons Attribution-NonDerivs (CC BY-ND) license allows for both commercial and non-commercial use of your work, but stipulates that the author must receive credit and that no changes may be made to the original work.


This is similar to the CC BY license, but the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC) license adds the caveat that the work may not be used commercially. This is a good option if you don't want to stop people from remixing or sharing your work, but you don't want others to be able to profit from it.


Again, this is similar to the CC BY-SA license, with the stipulation that Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) licensed items may not be used commercially. This could protect anything derived from your work from being able to be used commercially.


This license is the combination of CC BY, CC BY-NC and CC BY-ND licenses. Under the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND) license, others will be allowed to share and distribute your work, but they won't be allowed to profit from that sharing or alter your work, and they must credit you as the author.

If you're worried about inadvertently misusing legally protected material, add that to the list of many things that can cause academic paranoia.

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