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Wayne State University

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Mar 29 / Karen Stoll Farrell

Share Your Work with Creative Commons Licensing

by Judith Pasek, MLIS Student

Reposted from Information Policy for Everyday Decisions

So you have finally finished that masterpiece and uploaded it to the Internet.  Certainly others will want to use your work to educate others and spread your brilliance.  But wait.  Others do not have permission to use your work, except for personal purposes.  Free to access is not the same as free to use.  The minute you created your masterpiece “in a tangible form,” it acquired a copyright automatically—no application and fee needed, although a voluntary registration is available, if desired (U.S. Copyright Office, 2006).  Even without designating your work as copyrighted, it has acquired an “All Rights Reserved” designation, meaning that anyone who wants to use or reuse your work legally has to contact you (or your heirs) for permission, unless the use falls within “fair use” or other legal copyright exceptions, such as certain limited uses for education or reproduction by libraries.

There is an alternative to waiting for the deluge of e-mail messages and phone calls asking for permission to use your work (assuming that these astute people can locate your contact information).  It is called a Creative Commons license.  Perhaps you have seen the “cc” within a circle logo, as opposed to the “c” within a circle that denotes copyright.  The Creative Commons license was developed so that creators could freely and easily designate permission levels without the need to hire a lawyer to write a contract.  By attaching a Creative Commons license to your work, others can use it in accordance with the conditions specified (including proper attribution) without having to contact you first.  This may enhance the distribution of your work and hopefully your reputation as well.pic resized 600

There are six different types of Creative Common licenses that provide for “Some Rights Reserved,” (as well as a public domain option in which all owner rights are waived).  All of the Creative Commons licenses require attribution in the manner specified by the author or licensor.  If not specified, it should include the name of the author or licensor, the title of the work if provided, and the URL that is associated with the work if possible (Bailey, 2010).  The user must also provide a copy or link to the license itself (Bailey, 2010).  Some licenses disallow commercial use and/or derivative works, i.e., modification by users other than the original creator (Bailey, 2010).  Licenses that do allow derivative works may carry a “Share Alike” requirement that stipulates that the derivative work must be licensed under the same terms as the original work (Bailey, 2010).

Watch this Creative Commons Kiwi video, by username plccamz of New Zealand, to learn more about the six types of licenses.  Although the video mentions the Creative Commons New Zealand licensing website, you should use a Creative Commons license version appropriate for the country in which you reside, or an international Creative Commons license, available with Creative Common’s Choose a License tool.  The video mentions several vendors, such as Flickr, that incorporate a license chooser within their application for their users, making it even easier to attach a Creative Commons license by simply clicking the desired license option during the file upload process.

The Creative Commons website also provides additional information that is important to consider before choosing to use one of their licenses.  For example, you need to make sure that you actually hold the copyright to the work rather than your employer, for instance.  And you should consider carefully what elements and formats you want to license, such as just the photos on your website, or an entire website including stylesheets and code.  Licenses are non-revocable, meaning that permission cannot be withdrawn from someone who obtained your work while it was circulating under a Creative Commons license.  So make sure you really want others to be able to use your work under the terms you choose.  However, if you are ready to share your work, make it easy for others to use your work by attaching a Creative Commons license of your choice.


Image Credit: Creative Commons


Bailey, J. (2010, January 12). How to correctly use Creative Commons works [Article]. Plagiarism Today. Retrieved from

Creative Commons. (n.d.). About the licenses [Article].  Retrieved from

Creative Commons. (n.d.). Choose a license [Online tool].  Retrieved from

Creative Commons Wiki. (2011, September 7). Before licensing [Article]. Retrieved from

Creative Commons Wiki. (2012, May 23). Case Studies: Flickr [Article]. Retrieved from

plccamz. (2011, July 4). Creative Commons Kiwi [Video file]. Retrieved from

U.S. Copyright Office. (2006, July 12). Copyright in general [FAQ]. Retrieved from

United States Copyright Office. (2011). Copyright law of the United States and related laws contained in Title 17 of the United States Code (Circular 92). Washington, DC: Library of Congress. Retrieved from