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Creative Commons Licensing

Creative Commons heart logoIntroduction
Creative Commons (CC) is an international non-profit organisation that aims to make licensing your work simple so that individuals, educational institutions, and other organisations know how to use it. The CC concept is based on the idea of “some rights reserved” rather than “all rights reserved” providing a balance between the creators and the consumers. Adding a CC licence allows the creator to give a clear indication of how their work can be used, reused and distributed, while copyright can remain with the creator.

Creative Commons licences can be used for any type of work. Essentially there are four different licence terms – attribution (BY), no derivative works (ND), share alike (SA) and non-commercial (NC).

  • BY – Attribution: Indicates that a user can copy, adapt, remix, display, perform and distribute your work if they credit your name.
  • ND – No derivative works: Indicates the work is free to copy, distribute, display or perform as long as it is with no modifications or adaptations.
  • SA – Share alike: Means individuals can only disseminate the work under the same licence chosen by the original creator of the work.
  • NC – Non-commercial: Indicates that others may copy, distribute, display, perform or remix the work but only for non-commercial purposes.

Combinations of these four licence terms define the permissions for users and create specific licences which you can assign to your work. The Licences are as follows,

Licence Description
CC-BY Allows others to distribute and build upon your work, even commercially but they must credit you as the original creator.
CC BY-SA Allows others to re-use and build upon your work even for commercial purposes but they must credit you and licence any newly created works under identical CC Licence terms.
CC BY-ND Allows others to redistribute commercially and non-commercially as long as it remains unchanged and whole, with full credit to you.
CC BY-NC Allows others to re-use and build upon your work non-commercially. Any new works must acknowledge you as the original creator, use must only be non-commercial but they can licence their new works under any CC licence.
CC BY-NC-SA Allows others to re-use and build upon your work non-commercially but they must credit you as the original creator and licence any newly created works under an identical CC licence.
CC BY-NC-ND The most restrictive licence. Allows others to copy your work and share it but they must credit you, not change it in any way and must only use it non-commercially.

CC0 licence indicates that content can be used freely without any restrictions at all, including the requirement to attribution. By applying CC0 to their works the creator waivers all rights to be associated with it.

Licence your work
It is simple to add a Creative Commons Licence to your work. Once you have visited the Creative Commons website and chosen a licence that is appropriate, you can download the logo for the specific licence from their website and add this to the work. You can embed the licence title (for example, CC BY-NC-ND) into images. You can also embed the HTML code in your webpages.

You don’t need to register the licence, simply start to assign it using the title/symbols/logo/link to the CC licence. Only the copyright holder or someone with express permission from the copyright holder can apply a CC licence to the work. If you have created a work as part of your employment, be aware you may not be the copyright holder.

Websites can be licenced at the footer with a simple statement, for example, Unless otherwise noted, content on this site is licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Further guidance on how to mark CC licences to work is available in this guide.

When assigning a licence remember it cannot be revoked. It is worth considering the licences to ensure you choose the right one.

Creative Commons and Research
Academic staff and researchers should be aware that REF, UKRI, Wellcome Trust and European policies mandate the use of Creative Commons licences for certain publications. Jisc have produced guidance on Creative Commons and Copyright for UKRI-funded authors writing for publications.

Finding CC Material
Once you understand the various Creative Commons licences you can search and use licensed works. Many search engines and websites will let you limit your search to only CC licensed materials.

  • Creative Commons offers a search engine that can be found at (formerly Creative Commons Search).
  • Google’s Advanced Image search has an option to limit search to Creative Commons works.
  • Wikimedia Commons has a vast, largely free to use collection of media that is CC licenced.
  • Europeana has digital media provided by museums, libraries and archives of Europe. Europeana encourages organisation uploading to apply CC licences.


  • Flickr has a huge collection of images uploaded by users, some are Creative Commons licensed.
  • The Open Clip Art Library has a large collection of clip art images licenced under a CC0 licence.
  • Creativity103 is a library of backgrounds and textures that can be reused in their designs. All available for free under Creative Commons licences.

Video, Music and Sounds

  • You can search YouTube’s advanced search to find CC licensed works.
  • ccMixer is a community music remixing site featuring remixes and samples under CC licences.
  • Jamendo is a collection of Creative Commons licensed music from all genres.
  • Freesound has sounds effects created by users and uploaded under Creative Commons.