Understanding Creative Commons Licences

As members of a University, we all enjoy a fair amount of freedom to reuse and distribute copyrighted material to our colleagues and students, under the framework of our Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA), Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) and Educational Recording Agency (ERA) licensing agreements.

Specific exceptions to copyright even allow us to copy works not covered by CLA, NLA and ERA, within certain limits.

However, whilst under these exceptions we might, for example, be able to use a copyright image to directly illustrate an educational point, we don’t have carte blanche to use it in a more general illustrative way within our teaching materials: a Bleddyn Butcher photograph of Nick Cave might justifiably be used to examine the iconography within images of popular musicians, but using it as the background to a presentation slide titled “looking to the future” would probably be seen as a breach 1

Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons licenses are a useful option for situations like this, preserving copyright for the creators of all kinds of media, but allowing anyone to make use of them according to some simple predetermined conditions. With over 1.1 billion works now using a creative commons licence 2, there is a significant global resource bank of images, video, audio and written texts to draw upon. We explored using Creative Commons images in presentations in an earlier post, but this time we want to look more closely at the conditions that apply to the different types of Creative Commons licence.

Six licences

cc-1Attribution
CC BY 
cc-2Attribution-NonCommercial
CC BY-NC
cc-3Attribution-ShareAlike
CC BY-SA
cc-4Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
CC BY-NC-SA
cc-5Attribution-NoDerivs
CC BY-ND
cc-6Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs
CC BY-NC-ND

There are six different Creative Commons licences in total, shown in the grid above. These are bound by different combinations of four conditions (Attribution, NonCommercial, ShareAlike and NoDerivs), which can at first seem confusing. However, if we organise them according to three dimensions of use, it becomes clearer.

  • Dimension 1: Attribution

All work with a Creative Commons licence must be attributed, so looking at the licences from this dimension, they are all grouped together.

Attribution:

cc-1Attribution
CC BY
cc-2Attribution-NonCommercial
CC BY-NC
cc-3Attribution-ShareAlike
CC BY-SA
cc-4Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
CC BY-NC-SA
cc-5Attribution-NoDerivs
CC BY-ND
cc-6Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs
CC BY-NC-ND

In practice, this means that you are always obliged to identify the creator and the licence, with links back to both. Creative Commons provide a best practice guide for attribution. Additionally, there are tools, such as Photos for Class and the University of Nottingham Xpert search, which will add a correct attribution for you.

  • Dimension 2: Context

As far as the licences are concerned, there are two contexts in which you might be using the work: a commercial context and a non-commercial one. If the licence on a work is one of the three marked “NonCommercial” or “NC” (the three in the right-hand group below), then you can’t use it commercially.

Context:

(Commercial use allowed) “NonCommercial”
cc-1Attribution
CC BY
cc-2Attribution-NonCommercial
CC BY-NC
cc-3Attribution-ShareAlike
CC BY-SA
cc-4Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
CC BY-NC-SA
cc-5Attribution-NoDerivs
CC BY-ND
cc-6Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs
CC BY-NC-ND

Fortunately, university teaching and learning is understood as a non-commercial practice (regardless of student fees), so we and our students are able to use works with any of the six licences in our teaching, learning and assessment materials.

  • Dimension 3: Modification

The final dimension looks at what changes you are allowed to make to the work you are copying, to adapt it to your specific purpose. This might be as simple as cropping an image, or as sophisticated as synthesising several different pieces of video, text and/or music into an entirely new work. The Creative Commons licences form three sets of conditions in relation to this, shown by the rows in the grid below:

Modification:

(No restrictions)
cc-1Attribution
CC BY
cc-2Attribution-NonCommercial
CC BY-NC
“ShareAlike” (modified materials must be published under the same CC licence as the original materials)
cc-3Attribution-ShareAlike
CC BY-SA
cc-4Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
CC BY-NC-SA
“NoDerivs” (you may not modify the original materials in any way)
cc-5Attribution-NoDerivs
CC BY-ND
cc-6Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs
CC BY-NC-ND

The pair of licenses with no restriction on modification allow you to remix or alter the original work in any way you choose (although you will still need to attribute it and follow the “NonCommercial” condition of CC BY-NC). Conversely the pair with a “NoDerivs” condition mean that you must not make any alteration to the original work, but can only reuse it unchanged.

142455033_49ce50a89b_z

“Sharing” flickr photo by ryancr shared under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-NC) license

Possibly the most confusion exists around the “ShareAlike” condition. This pair of licences allow you to adjust and combine the original work, but specify that you must make the modified version available, usually online, under exactly the same Creative Commons licence as the original (i.e. whichever of the CC BY-SA or the CC BY-NC-SA licences the original work used).

You would also need to do this if you have blended or combined the original work with other material to make a new work. If you haven’t changed the original work in any way, you don’t need to republish anything (just attribute it and follow any “NonCommercial” condition).

Difficulty can arise, however, in deciding what constitutes a change to the work, and what exactly you need to republish if you do make a change. Creative Commons assumes a modular understanding of resources, so an image within a presentation is understood as a work in its own right: simply including it in the presentation is not changing it, and the presentation doesn’t count as a remix, so doesn’t have to be published under the same licence (although the image must be attributed, etc. within the presentation). Even if you do make a change to the image (for example colouring it blue), you only need republish the changed image under the same licence, not the entire presentation.

In summary

So, in short, the six Creative Commons licences can be grouped according to three dimensions, each of which have one or two conditions attached to reusing the original work.

Attribution Context Modification
“Attribution”
(BY)
“NonCommercial”
(NC)
“ShareAlike”
(SA)
“NoDerivs”
(ND)

Creative Commons have published a handy leaflet aimed at using the six licences for your own work, but which is also a helpful reminder of what they each mean.

There is further, more general, guidance on copyright and the university’s licensing agreements in the Library Guide to Copyright.

Additionally, during #DIWSussex Digital Innovation Week later this month, the TEL team and library are delivering a session on Copyright for Education, which aims to help staff gain a better understanding of both the available tools and the copyright issues involved in creating online learning resources, particularly for Study Direct.

If you would like any help with copyright issues, email library.copyright@sussex.ac.uk.

  1. For a fuller explanation of the rights and responsibilities of university members in relation to copyright, please see the copyright guidance published by Planning, Governance and Compliance
  2. Figure quoted on Creative Commons website https://creativecommons.org/, 11th Nov 2016
Tagged with:
Posted in Technology Enhanced Learning
One comment on “Understanding Creative Commons Licences
  1. Ace work.

    I would just like to add, for those who are/were completely unaware of Creative Commons, I still would suggest watching the likes of:-

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAyaXyYM3Eo

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=io3BrAQl3so

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "Understanding Creative Commons Licences"
  1. […] Read the full story by University of Sussex Technology Enhanced Learning Blog […]

About our blog

We are the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

Subscribe to the Blog

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow us on Twitter

Archive