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Expanded Copyright (self-paced course)

Self-paced course for faculty and staff to learn the aspects of copyright law that affect higher education. It's intense - if you want something lighter, please go to the Intro to Copyright videos on Learnscape.

The Creative Commons

An additional kind of license is a Creative Commons license. 

These are publicly available licenses that any rightsholder can choose to put on their own work. The licenses apply to everyone, and in every jurisdiction. They have some very specific requirements and restrictions that are generally pretty lenient and easy to meet. But beyond that, anyone can use their content - copy it, share it, create derivative works, and share those derivative works - for free and without having to get a license.

The Creative Commons was invented by some copyright lawyers back in the 1990s to help society cope with the strictness of copyright in the Internet era. It doesn't interfere with copyright law at all, but allows people to donate their works for free public use. It is not the same as public domain, because there is no legally enforceable way to put your works into the public domain. But it is the closest thing possible.


There are multiple Creative Commons licences, and each one has a different combination of permissions and restrictions. Here are the different options for permission or restriction, which can be recombined:

CC BY = Attribution = "Others can copy, distribute, display, perform, and remix your work if they credit your name as requested by you." CC ND = No Derivative Works = "Others can copy, distribute, display, or perform verbatim copies of your work." CC SA = Share Alike = "Others can distribute your work only under a license identical to the one you have chosen for your work." CC NC = Non-commercial = "Others can copy, distribute, display, perform, or remix your work but for non-commercial purposes only."

You can have many combinations of BY, NC, ND and SA. 

What this means is that when you want to create a work that incorporates a Creative Commons work, you have to make sure that the license you want to put on your work is going to be compatible with the license of the work you are incorporating. 

  • If you want to remix, you cannot use works under a No Derivative Works license. 
  • If you have a commercial or for-profit purpose, you cannot use works under a Non-Commercial license
  • If you do not want to put your work under a Share Alike license, you cannot use works under a Share Alike license.
  • There's a misconception that Share Alike works can't be used behind a password. They can - that is just one copy that is behind a password. The important thing is that other people are still allowed to use the work without permission or royalties!

It gets more complicated when you want to create a work that incorporates two or more Creative Commons works. You will be restricted to the permissions of the most restrictive license. 

This Creative Commons License Compatibility Chart is a simple visual way to understand license remixing, and it's also a great quick reference.

Just remember that if you are using Creative Commons licensed works, you absolutely have to follow the terms of the license to the letter, or else you void the license and then you're infringing on copyright. 

Attribution is generally where people get hung up. 

How To Attribute

It is extremely important to give proper attribution, and there is one authority on how and where to do that: the Creative Commons website itself!