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Creative Commons: a user guide

Simone Aliprandi

Chapter Three. Suggestions to correctly apply the licenses

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1As we have just seen, applying licenses to our works brings a sort of self‐management of our rights, which goes beyond the traditional network of intermediaries involved in copyright management. This is a relatively new practice and is strictly connected to the evolution of the communication world came thanks to the digital and communications technologies.

2In essence, each single author has to take on assessments and decisions, which in the traditional system had always been a prerogative of specialized dealers who had the necessary expertise and practice. The risk that this important phase will be managed with imprudence and inaccuracy is very high; and this – as we have already mentioned – could turn into a tremendous boomerang also damaging the author/licensor himself.

3That is why – in spite of the disintermediation attitude which is innate in open content licenses – it is in any case a good idea to always consult with a professional who can at least clarify the biggest doubts.

4However, most of the licensing operations are generally managed by the licensor himself. Thus, before releasing the work with the chosen license, it is important that the licensor has an overall view of all the available tools, such as the official websites of the various projects which promote the licenses, the publications dedicated to these topics, the specialized forums and mailing lists. He should also attend the specialized events organized in this field.

5On the other hand, it is also important to know how to select the information found in less official channels, to avoid falling victim to misinformation. Therefore, it is essential to gather some information, in order not to risk experiencing unpleasant situations and then having to repair the damage too late with the help of specialized professionals.


6The following list sets out some basic things that you should think about before you apply a Creative Commons license to your work.


7Creative Commons licenses apply to works that are protected by copyright. Generally, works that are protected by copyright are: books, scripts, websites, lesson plans, blogs and any other forms of writings; photographs and other visual images; films, video games and other visual materials; musical compositions, sound recordings and other audio works.

8Creative Commons licenses do not apply to things such as ideas, factual information or other things that are not protected by copyright. If you are based in the US, you can find out more about what is and is not capable of copyright protection at this site. If you are based in the UK, visit this site. If you are based in Taiwan, the relevant statutory provisions are Articles 9 and 10bis.


9Before applying a Creative Commons license to a work, you need to make sure you have the authority to do so. This means that you need to make sure that the person who owns the copyright in the work is happy to have the work made available under a Creative Commons license.

10If you are the creator of the work, then you are probably the owner of copyright and so can license the work how you wish. If you made the work as part of your employment, then your employer probably owns the rights to the work and so only your employer can decide to apply a Creative Commons license. If you made the work under an agreement, you need to check the terms of that agreement to see if the rights to the work were transferred to someone else.

11If you are combining pre‐existing works made by other people (unless those works are in the public domain, and thus there is no one from whom permission is required) or working in conjunction with other people to produce something, you need to make sure that you have express and explicit permission to apply a Creative Commons license to the end result (unless your use of the pre‐existing works constitutes fair use, and thus no permission is required). You don’t have this kind of permission in the case of, say, a Madonna CD or a Italo Calvino novel, that you purchase, because these are made available under “all rights reserved” copyright. You can only secure this kind of permission if you are in direct contact with the person, discuss Creative Commons licensing with them and they agree to a specific license; of course, if you are combining a work that is already Creative Commons‐licensed then you will also have the rights, provided your use is consistent with the terms of that license!


12Before you apply a Creative Commons license to your work, you should make sure you understand how they operate. You can do this by reviewing the FAQ and/or ask specific questions and voice your concerns on our discussion fora. Below is an overview of some of the key elements of the Creative Commons licensing model.

How does a Creative Commons license operate?

13Creative Commons license are based on copyright. So it applies to all works that are protected by copyright law. The kinds of works that are protected by copyright law are books, websites, blogs, photographs, films, videos, songs and other audio & visual recordings, for example. Software programs are also protected by copyright but, as explained in the FAQ, we strongly recommend that you do not apply a Creative Commons license to software.

14Creative Commons licenses give you the ability to dictate how others may exercise your copyright rights–such as the right of others to copy your work, make derivative works or adaptations of your work, to distribute your work and/or make money from your work. They do not give you the ability to restrict anything that is otherwise permitted by exceptions or limitations to copyright–including, importantly, fair use or fair dealing–nor do they give you the ability to control anything that is not protected by copyright law, such as facts and ideas.

15Creative Commons licenses attach to the work and authorize everyone who comes in contact with the work to use it consistent with the license. This means that if Bob has a copy of your Creative Commons‐licensed work, Bob can give a copy to Carol and Carol will be authorized to use the work consistent with the Creative Commons license. You then have a license agreement separately with both Bob and Carol.

16Creative Commons licenses are expressed in three different formats: the Commons Deed (human‐readable code), the Legal Code (lawyer‐readable code); and the metadata (machine readable code). You don’t need to sign anything to get a Creative Commons license–just select your license at our ‘License’ page.

17One final thing you should understand about Creative Commons licenses is that they are all non‐exclusive. This means that you can permit the general public to use your work under a Creative Commons license and then enter into a separate and different non‐exclusive license with someone else, for example, in exchange for money.

What if I change my mind?

18This is an extremely important point for you to consider. Creative Commons licenses are non‐revocable. This means that you cannot stop someone, who has obtained your work under a Creative Commons license, from using the work according to that license. You can stop offering your work under a Creative Commons license at any time you wish; but this will not affect the rights with any copies of your work already in circulation under a Creative Commons license. So you need to think carefully when choosing a Creative Commons license to make sure that you are happy for people to be using your work consistent with the terms of the license, even if you later stop distributing your work.

19For some creators and/or licensors, this is not an important issue. If you are an amateur photographer, and you’ve just taken a cool picture of Mt. Fuji, there may be little risk to you if you decide to make it available under our freest license that reserves only the right of attribution. But if you’re a musician who depends upon your music for your livelihood, you should think carefully before giving away commercial rights to your creative work. Many musicians have discovered that offering work for noncommercial use can be quite rewarding. But anything beyond that requires careful consideration. We all admire generous souls. But if you want to be generous, we want you to think carefully about it before you are.


20You need to be specific about exactly what you are CClicensing when you apply the Creative Commons license to your work. We give you the option of identifying the format of the work in the metadata (text, audio, video, image, interactive) and you should use this. This enables more precise machine-readable language.

21However, you should also think about exactly which elements of your work you are licensing. For example, in the case of a website, are you licensing just the text and images? Or also the stylesheets and the code that run the site? Similarly, if you make CC‐licensed music available for download on your site, does the Creative Commons license apply to both the musical composition and the sound recording as well as any artwork and graphics at your site? And remember, as discussed under “Make sure you have the rights” above, you need to make sure you have the rights to each element that you license under a Creative Commons license.

22Take a moment to think about exactly what you are intending to license and then frame your metadata and legal notice accordingly, eg. “All images at this site are licensed under a Creative Commons [insert description] 2.5 license.”


23You need to check with your society. Currently, many of the collecting societies in Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Taiwan and the Netherlands take an assignment of rights (or in France what is called a “mandate” of rights that nonetheless has the same effect practically as an assignment) from you in present and future works (so that they effectively become the owner of these rights) and manage them for you. So if you are already a member of a collecting society in one of these jurisdictions, you may not be entitled to license your work yourself under a Creative Commons license because the necessary rights are not held by you but by the collecting society. Please also read the FAQ on the website of the Creative Commons project team for your jurisdiction for more information about this issue in your jurisdiction.

24Creative Commons is reaching out to collecting societies in those jurisdictions where this problem arises to try to find a solution that enables creators of content to enjoy the benefits both systems offer.



25First of all, it is important not to be fooled by the idea that the terms of the license shall also constrain the licensor. It is a fairly widespread misconception that an author applies a license with the possibility to modify the work for fear of being unable to modify it; or that he applies a license with the possibility to commercialize the work because in the future he intends to commercialize it.

26Such an approach makes little sense and reflects confusion on the basic functioning of the licenses. Let’s keep in mind that the essential function of licensing is to communicate to licensees which uses are granted freely and under what conditions. The licensor, as the copyright holder, always has the possibility to do what is not permitted by the license. On the other hand, the criterion for the selection of certain types of clauses is usually reversed: if I choose the term “noncommercial” it is precisely because I want to reserve the right to commercialize the work for myself (or possibly for a publisher or an agency with whom I have contractual relationships), forbidding the commercialization to others.

27The same applies to the “No Derivatives” clause.


28From the point of view of the licensor, we can say that it is best to choose to apply the most recent available license, so that you can take advantage of the processing implemented by the Creative Commons team of lawyers. It follows that in the case of the publication of a new version of the license, it is recommended to update the notice of the recall and the link to the license.

29But we cannot exclude cases where the licensor considers that an older version of the license is better and he does not want to update the copyright notice.


30The choice of jurisdiction is one of the most delicate aspects, since it requires some rudiments of international law. Moreover, the legal aspect is further complicated by the social and technological one; since Creative Commons licenses tools are designed primarily for the digital world, it is really difficult to circumscribe the life of the license to a specific jurisdiction in advance.

31Let us explain better. Firstly, we consider that the criterion for choosing the most appropriate jurisdiction is not so much what the nationality of the licensor is, but rather the context in which the work will play the main part of his life. Thus, in a hypothetical case, if we have an Italian author who writes a novel in French, but the novel is primarily intended for the Belgian market, then the Belgian jurisdiction will be the most indicated one. That is true at least in principle, but consider that the choice of jurisdiction involves some significant legal consequences: in fact, in a potential litigation about the use of the work, we must refer to the rules of Belgium, and in some cases be ready to start a civil case before a Belgian court.

32It is very difficult even for experts to make assessments, since in the current globalized world of communications no one can predict for sure in what context the work will circulate predominantly in and for how long.

33These – mind you – are rather theoretical and hypothetical reflections; for a correct diagnosis it is necessary to assess each situation. In most cases using an “unported” license written for an international audience is the most reasonable choice, and is the default in many systems that utilize Creative Commons licensing.


34Let’s start with a simple but fundamental logical assumption, which is connected with the above about the underlying mechanisms of licenses. Since for centuries the reference model for the management of copyright has been the “all rights reserved” model, it follows that any work in which we run into responds to the model of full protection, whether a specific warning is shown or not. In other words, if surfing on the web we find a picture, text, music and we have no assurance that the rights holder has authorized their free use in some way, we must refrain from any operation, in orther to protect ourselves from possible injunctions and litigation for copyright infringement.

35Consequently, moving to the perspective of the rights holder, if we allow certain free uses of our work we should mention explicitly and clearly, so that any user (even random) of our work can understand our choice and can take advantage of it.


36Whether works are in digital format, or they are distributed on a physical medium, the most banal and the most intuitive solution is to put an appropriate notice about copyright in the work (or inextricably linked) to specify the three essential pieces of information: the name of the rights holder, the year of publication of the work (i.e. the year in which the rights began to be exercised) and the type of license applied to the work.

37A correct example of copyright notice could be:

Copyright © Joseph Green 2011
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Non Commercial –
Share Alike 3.0 license.
The text of the license is available at​licenses/​by-nc-sa/​3.0

38We should not forget any of these details and include the link correctly and completely. An inaccurate disclaimer (or a self-contradictory one) would undermine the function of communicating information with any legal value.

39However, we consider that, in the case of Creative Commons licenses applied through the insertion of HTML code into web pages (see details in the next section), a draft of copyright notice appears at the bottom of our page. Nothing prohibits us from enriching this brief text with more information or from embellishing it by replacing certain words. What matters is that the section with the link to the license remains intact and the end result is clear and consistent with what needs to be expressed.


40As we have seen, Creative Commons has put a lot of emphasis on the semantic effectiveness of the visuals, that is those small icons and buttons with which their evocative graphics identify the licenses and other various tools of Creative Commons. In addition to those related to individual clauses, there is a generic one (and perhaps the most common one) with the symbol of Creative Commons that is the double circled C, and the sentence “some rights reserved”.

41Otherwise, it is important to bear in mind that these are elements that primarily have the purpose to embellish and disseminate, so that users can understand and recognize more effectively licenses and other instruments in the world of Creative Commons. However, logos and visuals do not have a legally‐significant value in the sense that only using one of these visuals may not be sufficient to explain the willingness of the licensee if they are not tied to an appropriate disclaimer or (when possible) to a link to the text of that license.

42Let’s look at the perspective of a generic user of our Creative Commons licensed work, who, without knowing in the least what a Creative Commons license is, gets a CD or a book that only shows the visual information to the license or – even worse – the generic button with the double C circled and the words “some rights reserved”. With these general directions the user cannot easily trace the real will of the licensor, and therefore the function of the visual information will not be sufficient. Instead, the issue is different if we move in the digital and online environment; if it is a work published on the Web, a simple button may be sufficient to inform the user when clicking on the button the text of a disclaimer or directly the license’s text (either the “commons deed” or “legal code”) appears clearly and immediately.

43The issue becomes even more delicate if we make some considerations when it comes to trademark law and protection of distinctive signs.

44Indeed, as stated on the official web‐page for the policies for using the CC trademarks, «the double C in a circle, the words and logotype “Creative Commons,” Creative Commons license buttons, and any combination of the foregoing, whether integrated into a larger whole or standing alone, are Creative Commons’ trademarks.»16. The purpose is to clarify that all brands (logos, trademarks, visuals) are subject to legal protection, and that the right holder is the Creative Commons Corporation. The users of the tools offered by Creative Commons can use them freely, but in strict compliance with the policies dictated by the body.

45On the use of the Creative Commons logo, the aforementioned page dedicated to the policies explains that «Creative Commons licenses the use of its trademarked CC logo in the context of its Public Copyright License Marks (shown immediately to the right) on the condition that licensee use the mark solely to point to a Creative Commons license or Commons deed on the Creative Commons server or otherwise uses it to describe the Creative Commons license that applies to a particular work; and provided that, to the extent the licensee is using the mark in an online environment, licensee does not alter or remove the hyperlink embedded in such logo as made available on Creative Commons webpage»17.

46Despite Creative Commons has shown some flexibility and tolerance in the use of its logos, we always have to keep in mind that any unauthorized use of a mark may entail – in principle – a legal dispute. So it is always advisable to strictly adhere to the policies of Creative Commons. For other uses not provided in the policies it is better to contact the project leaders to obtain specific authorization.


47For those who have not yet acquired sufficient familiarity with the licenses, Creative Commons has developed an interactive process to choose and apply a license which is the closest to the licensor’s needs: it is in the official web site at​choose/​.

48Let us observe how the screen‐shot appears at the beginning of the guiding procedure:

49In essence, to make things simpler and more intuitive the site presents some questions to deduce which of the six Creative Commons licenses best serves our needs as licensors.

50The first question is “Do you allow commercial uses of your work?” and there are two possibile answers: “yes” or “no”.

51The second question is “Do you allow modifications of your work?” and offers three possible answers: “yes”, “no” and “yes, as long as others share alike”.

52Subsequently, the screen provides the option to choose the jurisdiction. Scrolling down, all the countries of the world (precisely, the countries where the porting of licenses has been completed) appear. Then we can choose the most appropriate jurisdiction, based on the criteria we have mentioned above. It is also possible, however, not to indicate any particular jurisdiction, leaving “none of the above” highlighted. This is suitable for example in cases where it is not possible to make objective assessments about which jurisdiction will be prevalent for the life of our work, and therefore we will use an “unported” license; it will be up to those who will analyze the specific case (judges, lawyers, consultants) to identify the correct jurisdiction and applicable law.

53Finally, there is also a part aimed to gather some additional information about the work through some open fields that the licensor can fill in or leave blank.

54The data that he decides to enter will later be incorporated within the metadata constituting the digital code; of course, if you want to make your work readily available and recognizable you should provide as much information as possible.

55The fields to be filled in relate to:

  • the format of the work (audio, video, image, text, interactive or otherwise);
  • the title of the work;
  • the name of the author or copyright holder that the users of the work should state in compliance with the provision Attribution (present in all the six licenses);
  • the URL (the specific web address) that will link those who use or redistribute the work;
  • the source from which the work is extrapolated (in the case of a work that already comes from another previously published one);
  • the exact address of the web page where the licensor can possibly claim to allow other uses, in addition to those already granted by the license choice.

56Once you have filled in everything that you are interested in, you can click on the “select a license” button and you will be forwarded to the page where the license which corresponds to your preferences is, with the following screen‐shot:

57The requested license is present in the first part of the screen‐shot and here there is one more choice to make: it is a purely aesthetic choice, i.e. which of the three types of buttons you prefer to show on your web page. Once you have checked the option, click on “Watch how the license will be” then you can see the Commons Deed as it will be seen by the users when they view your web page.

58Looking at the Commons Deed obtained, all the elements which we discussed in these pages can be found: the name of the license written in full, the complete version and jurisdiction (also highlighted by the flag information that appears at the top right), the division license in two main parts: the first part related to the freedom for the licensee; and the second part related to the conditions set by the licensor with some additional clarifications, inserted at the end of the text. Finally, we find the link to the Legal Code form of the license.

59Obviously, if you were about to publish a work on a physical medium (such as a book, a CD or a DVD) instead of online and you wanted to use the Commons Deed as your disclaimer, it is highly advisable to add a statement at the end of the text showing the full web address to which the user can find the Legal Code. This way, if a user is not aware of Creative Commons and he had a book, a CD or a DVD with this Commons Deed inserted, he would be able to read and to ascertain the conditions that you have put on the work, by reading the full text of the license.


60Technical issues related to the dissemination of works under Creative Commons licenses are complementary to each other and can vary depending on the point of view from which we consider them: if you are a writer or producer, it is in your interest to ensure proper enforcement of CC licenses so that those looking for works released with a certain type of license can find your work more easily. However, if we are on the other side (i.e., on the side of the user who looks for works under CC licenses), we can do our research and selection better if the licensor has applied the license to the work, observing all the necessary technical precautions. As you can imagine, the following considerations are attributable solely to works published in digital format and disseminated through the Internet. So they do not relate solely to works published on material supports.

61There are several ways to publish and distribute files of your work online, some that require a certain familiarity and awareness of internet technologies, others which are simpler and more intuitive. Recently, with the advent of the so‐called “web 2.0”, there are different services that offer an integrated set of choices (webspace to host the file, more advanced tagging and licensing processes, etc). We cannot, of course, provide a complete overview of all the available services with their current mode of operation. We therefore limit our discussion to some basic principles to clarify and analyze the most common services, referring to other sources for further discussion of the distinctive features.

62The license choosing process we have discussed above is intended to provide a set of metadata, identifying the license we choose. By inserting these code lines in the HTML structure of our website, we will see the usual copyright notice and the button with a link to the the license’s Commons Deed at the bottom of the page.

  • 18 «The Resource Description Framework (RDF) is a family of World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) specifica (...)

63Therefore, if we assume we would release a movie licensed with CC, and we already have our website, we have to do the following: create a special webpage, insert the video file, display the page in “code mode”, copy (by the classic “ctrl‐c” command) the lines of metadata provided at the end of the choosing process, paste (by the classic “ctrl‐v” command) metadata at the end of your HTML page, before “</ body> </ html>”. This process is based on a system known in technical terms as Resource Description Framework (RDF)18 and it uniformly works for all kinds of files because it does not directly operate on the code of the file, but on the web page that hosts the file.


64It is also recommended that you display the license within the work itself, especially if your content will be shared online or displayed in a physical medium. Different types of content will have different limitations, but your marker should contain:

1. The full URL (link) to the license.
2. Optionally, the Creative Commons license icons, including the CC logo.

65CC icons may be downloaded from the Press Kit page at​about/​downloads. Markers and video bumpers are available on the CC wiki, but you can also make your own.

66You may also want to include a copyright notice stating the author(s) and date of creation. The phrase “some rights reserved” may be used to differentiate from the default “all rights reserved” copyright notice.

67Since each CC license represents a different set of permissions and restrictions, it is important to note the specific license used.

68Displaying only the c icon, “Creative Commons”, or “some rights reserved” is insufficient, always include the full URL.

69In order for others to credit you for your work, it is preferable to provide an attribution name and URL. If your work is a derivative or remix, you must also properly attribute the original creator(s).

70Unless the creator(s) has specified otherwise, displaying his name(s) and an URL (if applicable) is adequate attribution.


71Text based documents should contain a CC marker – a graphic or line of text stating the license – wherever a copyright notice would go, such as in a footer or on a cover page. For documents containing images, markers should ideally include the CC icons and the full URL to the license. For plain text documents, the CC icons may be replaced with the name of the license (e.g. Creative Commons Attribution‐Noncommercial) or the abbreviation (e.g. CC BY‐NC). In both cases the full URL to the license should be included. A copyright notice stating the author(s), date, and copyright should also be included21.

72For images, a CC marker – a graphic or line of text stating the license – should be displayed on or near the image.

73Markers should ideally include the CC icons and the full URL to the license. For plain text captions, the CC icons may be replaced with the name of the license (e.g. Creative Commons Attribution) or the abbreviation (e.g. CC BY). In both cases the full URL to the license should be included. A copyright notice stating the author(s), date, and copyright should also be included22.

74There are a variety of ways to mark audio. One option is an audio bumper – a brief sound clip at the beginning or end of your audio work that states the author(s) and CC license. If you record your own audio bumper, be sure to include the full URL to the license and/or the full name of the license (including version number). A copyright notice stating the author(s), date, and copyright should also be included23.

Example Script:
Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under [license].
© 2007, [author]. Some Rights Reserved.

75Another way to mark audio is with a CC marker – a graphic or line of text stating the license – next to the file (on a webpage) or in the liner notes (for physical media). For more information about CC markers, see Marking Image above.

76Video should contain a video bumper – a notice at the beginning or end of your video that states the author(s) and CC license. If you make your own video bumper, be sure to include the CC license icons (including the CC logo) and the full URL to the license. The CC icons may be replaced with the name of the license or the abbreviation. A copyright notice stating the author(s), date, and copyright should also be included24.

77Another way to mark video is with a CC marker – a graphic or line of text stating the license – next to the file (on a webpage) or in the liner notes (for physical media). For more information about CC markers, see Marking Image above.


78Social networking sites like YouTube, Flickr and MySpace are a popular option for publishing and distributing content. Some sites like Flickr (photo sharing), ccMixter (community music and remix), and Scribd (document sharing) allow you to select a license for your work from within the website itself. For sites lacking this functionality, we recommend cutting and pasting the HTML code generated by our license chooser (​license/​) into the description field so that users know that your work is CC licensed.

  • 26 Metadata is machine‐readable information embedded within a digital file. Properly formatted metada (...)

79Finally, there is always the possibility to use file‐sharing programs such as Emule, Morpheus, BearShare, with which we share other types of files. Thus, we can spread our works also putting these files in the sharing folder of our software; this way those who are connected to the same peer‐to‐peer network will see our files. Some of them also have a search option to search files containing RDF metadata26. If we want to make it even more visible to users that the work is licensed under Creative Commons, we can also write it in the name of the file, possibly using the most common abbreviations (eg “CC by‐ncsa” to report a work licensed under Creative Commons Attribution – Non Commercial – Share Alike).


80If we click “find” on the homepage of, we are immediately redirected to the web‐page Here is a page created by Creative Commons to facilitate searching for works released under CC. In the search field you can enter one or more keywords and even specify what you want to do with the work, only by checking the two options on the right: 1) “I want something that I can use for commercial purposes”; 2) “I want something that I can modify, adapt, or build upon”.

81A search initiated via this page will use Google or other search engines that can conduct a specific search on contents with Creative Commons licenses.

82Finally, we can look for a more immediate way through some versions of Mozilla Firefox, which incorporate a small search field in the top right, next to the web address. Clicking on the drop down (which as the default option usually gives the “G” in Google) there is the symbol with the double C of Creative Commons.


15 This section is taken from



18 «The Resource Description Framework (RDF) is a family of World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) specifications originally designed as a metadata data model. It has come to be used as a general method for conceptual description or modeling of information that is implemented in web resources, using a variety of syntax formats.» This definition is taken from

19 This section is partially taken from the document published at‐and‐marking‐your‐content_eng.pdf.

20 This section is partially taken from the document published at‐and‐marking‐your‐content_eng.pdf.

21 Sample markers may be downloaded at

22 Sample markers may be downloaded at

23 Sample bumpers may be downloaded at

24 Sample bumpers may be downloaded at

25 This section is partially taken from the document published at‐and‐marking‐your‐content_eng.pdf.

26 Metadata is machine‐readable information embedded within a digital file. Properly formatted metadata can communicate CC license information to your computer, MP3 player, ebook reader,etc. Some formats (such as MP3 and SVG) support license metadata better than others. Creative Commons supports the use of XMP for embedding and retrieving standardized, media specific metadata. More technical details at


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