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Creative Commons

What is Creative Commons Licensing?

Using a copyrighted work in your own work sometimes requires obtaining permission from the copyright holder. What if the copyright holder could grant that permission up front, giving permission to anyone who wanted to use the work? That's the basic idea behind Creative Commons, which enables authors to establish a set of licences or permissions that determine how others can use their work. Creative Commons (CC) doesn't replace copyright, but it does make it easier to determine how someone can use a particular work. You and everyone else can benefit from CC. You can also apply a license to your own work. 

Millions of people have licensed their copyrighted works under CC licenses, and they still have copyright protection of those works. However, while copyright implies that all rights are reserved, CC implies that only some rights are reserved. There are six different licenses, plus the public domain dedication, and each license has different terms to its use.

For example, the most basic and common license, the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license, requires only that you attribute the original creator of the work.

Here is an example of a CC-BY licensed image with proper attribution: 

Gizmo - Photo with a CC-BY License
Photo courtesy of David Sikes

In the photo above, attribution has been given to the artist, David Sikes, which is a requirement under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license. This is the most basic example. See the table below for more explanations of the terms of the licenses. 

To get a better idea of what Creative Commons is all about, check out this short video:

Search the Commons

You can search the commons for photos, art, music, videos, writings, and scholarly works that have CC licenses attached. Many people use CC licensed photos and music, for example, because it's easier to use these works than to seek permission for a copyrighted work. You can search works with CC licenses using these methods:

  • Go to search.creativecommons.org 
    • Select the organization you'd like to search. 
      • Note:Wikimedia Commons is an option to search. Wikimedia has many types of media with many different CC licenses as well as items marked with CC0 (Public Domain Dedication) or PDM (Public Domain Mark). It's a common misconception that everything on Wikimedia is in the public domain, but this is false. You will see one of these buttons if the item is in the public domain: 
        CC0  PDM
        Otherwise, the item will have a CC license, and you must comply with the terms of the license and not treat it like a public domain object.
    • After selecting the organization, you can select or deselect the options "use for commercial purposes" and "modify, adapt, or build upon." These options will either expand or limit your options, depending on what you want to do with the content.
  • You can also find scholarly works, such as academic journal articles, with CC licenses:
    • Go to Advanced Google Search or search.creativecommons.org
    • Type in search query: [search term(s)] + scholarly articles 
    • Indicate the usage rights for the scholarly works you're searching; more restrictive licenses will return more results.
      • If using Google, under "Usage Rights," select your preferred usage rights.
      • If searching the Commons, select or deselect "use for commercial purposes" or "modify, adapt, or build upon" to indicate the usage rights.
    • Now search!
      • Select "Advanced Search" if you're using Google
      • Select the "Google" button if searching the Commons
    • If you do not search for "scholarly articles" in addition to your search terms, many other CC licensed works will appear in the search results, such as Wikipedia pages and blogs. This type of search will help narrow your search to scholarly articles. You can also search for book chapters and textbooks using this method.

License your work

Like the traditional copyright symbol, ©, Creative Commons provides symbols that you can paste into your documents and other work to indicate that it's licensed under Creative Commons. 

If you wish to apply a CC license to your own work, there are a number of ways to do this. You can use a Creative Commons platform, such as flickr, Wikimedia, or YouTube, or you can choose a license directly from CC.

Creative Commons Licenses & Terms of Licenses

Download the PDF of the Creative Commons Licenses & Terms

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Icon 

Terms of License

Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY)

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike (CC-BY-SA)

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial (CC-BY-NC)

Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivative (CC-BY-ND)

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike (CC-BY-NC-SA)

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (CC-BY-NC-ND)

CC0 Public Domain Dedication

Public Domain Mark

BY Icon



Others can copy, distribute, display, perform and remix your work if they credit your name as requested by you.

 CC-ND Icon 

(No Derivatives)

Derivative Works 

Others can only copy, distribute, display or perform verbatim copies of your work.

CC-SA Icon



Share Alike

Others can distribute your work only under a license identical to the one you have chosen for your work.

CC-NC Icon




Others can copy, distribute, display, perform or remix your work but for non-commercial purposes only.

 CC0 Icon

Public Domain Dedication (CC0)


Public Domain Mark (PDM)


Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

This is considered a dedication to the public domain, and thus the creator(s) associated with this item have waived all their rights to the work worldwide under copyright law.


Public Domain Mark (PDM)

This mark (bottom left of first column) should only be associated with those items that are already in the public domain, such as a play by Shakespeare. The mark helps to communicate the copyright status of a work, but it should not be used like the CC0 or vice versa. If you need help understanding the public domain, check out the public domain page.

Remember, not all CC licenses are the same. The Creative Commons No Derivatives (CC-BY-ND) license requires attribution (as do all the licenses) and does not allow any modifications. Therefore, if you wanted to put a filter on a photo or crop the photo, the CC-BY-ND license would not allow for that type of use. You would have to leave the photo as-is in order to comply with the license. If you wished to modify a photo with a CC-BY-ND license, you would have seek permission from the copyright holder for this type of use.