Licenses are permissions given by the copyright holders for their content. Licenses can be applied to copyrighted material to permit some specific uses of the material. Copyright is still held by the creator in these cases; however, the creator, in this scenario, decides how others would use his work. Sometimes licenses are purchased, and sometimes they are given freely by the creator. Creative Commons Licenses are public licenses. A public license permits certain uses of copyrighted materials by the public at large. If a work you wish to use has been released under a public license, you do not have to seek additional permission from the rights holder to do the things authorized by the license. However, you still need to follow the license terms.

– Creative Commons Symbol

Difference between Copyright and Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a license that is applied to a work protected by copyright. It is not separate from a copyright – instead, it is a way of easily sharing the copyrighted work. In the case of copyright, generally, what is created is automatically protected by copyright. Copyright ensures that others can’t use your work without seeking your permission. Not everyone requires or wants these protections. If they spent the time to license the work every time someone was interested in using it, they would spend a lot of time and money allowing people to use their work. Now, this is where Creative Commons comes into the picture. Creative Commons is a non-profit organization providing licensing structures that people can use to license their copyrighted work to anyone willing to abide by the licensing terms. It makes it easy to share the creative work without giving up total control or spending countless hours granting permissions.

Types of Creative Commons Licenses

Under Creative Commons, there are several different variants of licenses that rights holders can use. All of the licenses are based on six key conditions, which are as follows:

  1. Attribution (CC BY) – Others may distribute, copy, and modify a CC-licensed work, even for commercial purposes, provided that they attribute credit to the rights holder for the original work. By definition, this is the most permissive of the CC licenses.
  1. Attribution ShareAlike (CC BY-SA)Under this variant, others may modify, distribute, and even sell a work provided that they attribute credit to the original rights holder AND license their new creations under identical terms. It is the licensing term that is most similar to software copyleft licenses like the GPL. 
  1. Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND) – Under this license, others may use a work for any purpose. However, it cannot be modified under any circumstances, and the original holder MUST be attributed. 
  1. Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC) – This license lets others copy, modify, and distribute a work non-commercially. Their new works must also attribute the original owner and be non-commercial, but derivative works need not be under the identical terms that they obtained the license. 
  1. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) – This license lets others copy, modify, and distribute a work non-commercially. Derivative works must also be non-commercial, provide credit, and be licensed under the exact terms under which the original work was obtained. 
  1. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND) – Under this license, others may only share a licensed work. They cannot modify or sell the works under any circumstances. It is the most restrictive of any CC license.

There are different versions of the licenses (the current one is 3.0). The license language is updated when the organization identifies improvements that will benefit users. The differences between the versions can be tracked on the Creative Commons website.

Misuse of Creative Commons Licenses

If someone uses your work in a way that contradicts the terms of the Creative Commons license you used, the license for that person terminates. Since that person no longer has a license to use your work, he, in this situation, commits Copyright Infringement. You can take action against him the same way you would have against someone who infringed a copyrighted work that wasn’t licensed under the Creative Commons structure.

Final Note

In recent times, numerous alternative copyright schemes have emerged to address perceived shortcomings in the traditional copyright system. Creative Commons (CC) is one such scheme intended to address two main issues:

1) The problem of maintaining creative control over a creative work even when the author is happy for others to use his original creation in certain specific ways (such as open-source, collaborative projects); and

2) To make the process of protecting works easier for a broader public of creators to understand by using standardized, simplified terms.

Works distributed under a Creative Commons license are different from other copyrighted works, but they still attract copyright. The benefit of Creative Commons licensing is that it does not require complex negotiations or legal representation to be able to use a Creative Commons-protected work. Unlike other copyrighted works, a Creative Commons work will clearly show that it is available under a Creative Commons license, usually through the use of a ‘CC’ symbol followed by additional symbols that explain the types of uses permitted. The six licenses give creators a range of options to choose from as per their requirements. The best way to decide which is appropriate for you is to think about why you want to share your work and how you want others to use that work.