A Quick Guide to Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons Stickers

The internet has made it incredibly easy to copy content from authors and art from artists. Unfortunately, this lessens the value of their work and people freely steal others’ work and use it without properly crediting the original creator.

Fortunately, in recent years, a non-profit organisation called Creative Commons has made it exceptionally easy for content creators and artists to license their work using a standardised set of licenses and for people who want to use them to then use them in the appropriate fashion.

Creative Commons Licenses

Now, a little terminology for you. A licensor is someone who licenses their work. A licensee is someone who has been granted a license. Content is any creation by any person which they own the copyright to, which could range from photos to poems or writings to software.

So, if I am a photographer and I wish to license my work to others, I am the licensor and anyone who uses my photos (content) under the license is a licensee.

There are six different types of Creative Commons licenses which licensors can select from, which indicate how they wish their content to be used and attributed. In short, they are:


This is the most liberal license, allowing the licensee to do whatever they wish with the content (tweak, redistribute, remix, incorporate into another piece), so long as they attribute the licensor.

Attribution Share-Alike

This is the same as the attribution license in the sense that the licensee can use the content in any way you wish, but the caveat is that they must license their new creation in the same manner. So if they create something new with the content, they also must license it under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license.

Attribution No-Derivatives

With this license, a licensee can use or redistribute the content, but it must not be altered and the licensor must be credited.

Attribution Non-Commercial

This license allows the licensee to use the content in whatever way they choose, so long as it for non-commercial purposes and they credit the licensor.

Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike

This license gives a licensee the same permissions as the license above, however, they must license their new creation under the same license, so that others can use their new creation if they like.

Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivatives

This license is the most restrictive: the content may only be used for non-commercial purposes and may not be altered. As always, the licensor must be credited.

One common theme you will note between every single license is that the licensor must always be credited. After all, the very basic wish of any content creator is that they are acknowledged for what they have created.

Licensing your work

Blogs have been around for quite a few years now and because they are created online and live on computers, it’s also very easy for computers to copy the content and redistribute at their will.

By not claiming any kind of license or copyright on your website, you are not waiving your rights to your work – everything unique that you create is your own personal property, whether it is text written on a blog, or acrylic painted on a canvas. Anyone who uses your creations in whole or in part, without your permission is breaking the law and you can pursue legal action at your option.

So, do not think that just because these licenses exist, that you have to get one. You should only be getting a license if you are willing for your work to be used elsewhere. If you want your work to remain your own, then you don’t need to license it – it’s already yours and protected by law.

However, if you wish to allow others to use your work, the Creative Commons Licenses give you a standardised way of doing so, enabling you to set forth what you are OK with, and what you are not OK with, without having to come up with the language yourself.

Simply take a look at the licenses and decide what license best describes how you are comfortable for you work to be used. Then it’s merely a case of going over to the Creative Commons website and creating a license that you can then display with your content. Make sure that it’s displayed in a prominent location, where it is obvious that your content is covered by the license.

You’re now allowing others to re-use your content under the terms of the license that you chose.

Using licensed work

It is very common for bloggers and other content creators to want to use content created by others. The most obvious reason that comes to mind is to illustrate your content with images, for example, WordPress’ featured images feature.

Once you find the content that you want to use (if you want to find free licensed images for your site, check out ‘How To Find Free Images for your site (Legally)‘), and you have determined that the way in which you want to use the content is covered by the license, then you need to attribute the licensor. By the very nature of online content, there is typically less information to cite than there would be if the work appeared in print.

The Creative Commons website has a whole FAQ about the best way to attribute the licensor. In short, you should provide as much information as possible, and where possible, include a link to the place you originally found the work. Take my featured images for example – they always reference the Flickr screen name of the person who created them and a link back to the page where I found the image.

So now that you know what it’s all about, do you already, or do you plan to license your work? Why or why not?

5 thoughts on “A Quick Guide to Creative Commons Licenses”

  1. blogsew says:

    This is nice tutorial for creative commons licenses. There must be many bloggers who are still not aware of this, thanks for sharing.

    1. Dave says:

      Hey there,

      I have to agree. Far too many people don’t know what Creative Commons is and it’s an excellent resource for bloggers

  2. Marshal says:

    Hi Dave! I couldn’t find your license information and I would like to translate your post to Spanish so people in other languages can read your post, wich I believe represents very weel the whole picture of the CC licences.

    Is there a problem if a do so? Thanks.

    1. Marshal,

      Thanks for your interest. I’m happy for you to translate the article, so long as I’m properly credited and backlinked.

      Let me know how it goes!

      1. Marshal says:

        Of course Dave, it would be properly linked and credited, no problems with that. I’ll let you know.

Leave a Reply