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Open Access Guide: Creative Commons Licensing

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons logo

Creative Commons licenses are a simple, standardized way to give others permission to share and use your work -- on conditions of your choice. By using Creative Commons, the creator retains copyright of their work while allowing others to make limited uses.

Many scholars and artists choose Creative Commons licensing as an easy and safe option to share their work with the world in a free and open way.

There are many advantages to utilizing a Creative Commons license:

  • CC licenses are free and easy to use for both the owner and user
  • CC licenses include easy-to-understand language for both the owner and user
  • CC licenses are legal, and work with copyright law, not against it
  • CC licenses provide copyright owners with several options in what rights they grant to others
  • Creative Commons provides an easy tool to help authors select the right license for their works

Creative Commons offers six different license types, which are all combinations of four different attributes:

Creative Commons License Types

All Creative Commons licenses are derived from a combination of these four attributes, listed below. 
By Attribution (by)
All CC licenses require that others who use your work in any way must give you credit the way you request, but not in a way that suggests you endorse them or their use. If they want to use your work without giving you credit or for endorsement purposes, they must get your permission first.
Share Alike ShareAlike (sa)
You let others copy, distribute, display, perform, and modify your work, as long as they distribute any modified work on the same terms. If they want to distribute modified works under other terms, they must get your permission first.
Non Commercial NonCommercial (nc)
You let others copy, distribute, display, perform, and (unless you have chosen NoDerivatives) modify and use your work for any purpose other than commercially unless they get your permission first.
No Derivatives NoDerivatives (nd)
You let others copy, distribute, display and perform only original copies of your work. If they want to modify your work, they must get your permission first.

Creative Commons offers six copyright licenses. 

CC By Attribution (CC BY)
This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.
CC BY SA Attribution ShareAlike (CC BY-SA)
This license lets others remix, tweak, 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 license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.
CC BY ND Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND)
This license lets others reuse the work for any purpose, including commercially; however, it cannot be shared with others in adapted form, and credit must be provided to you.
CC BY NC Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC)
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
CC BY NC SA Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA)
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
CC BY NC ND Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND)
This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

Why use CC Licenses?

A Creative Commons license can help you safely and effectively manage the rights to your research while sharing your work freely and openly with the world. Along with the advantages of CC licenses mentioned above, there are additional, specific benefits as an instructor or researcher:

  • CC licenses encourage the use of your work and research, rather than hiding it behind a paywall or subscription.
  • You can allow others to either build upon, remix, or reinterpret your work and research while retaining credit and copyright for your contributions. This helps to foster a community of shared culture and scholarly research.
  • With CC licenses, you can create, share, and find learning tools, lesson plans, and more with other educators and researchers 
  • Embedding CC licenses into provides additional exposure for you as a creator and for your work, as it will be discoverable by CC searches. This can lead to more breakthroughs and citations.


Remember: Utilizing a Creative Commons license to your work doesn't take away your copyrights.

Video: "Get Creative!" by Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Creative Commons infographic

Infographic by Martin Missfeldt, licensed under a CC-BY-SA Creative Commons license. For a text version explaining the licenses, please visit the About Creative Commons Licenses page.


The information presented in this guide is intended for information purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice.