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Study Skills

Copyright for Researchers: Creative Commons

Question marksWhat is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons provides a way to licence the use of material you create and share. Using a simple formula it allows creators to build a licence which suits their needs and authorise the appropriate use of their work. For example if you produce an artwork and upload it online you might want to specify that people can use it in their own work as long as they give you credit. You can also specify what you don’t want others to do with your work.

Using an open licence such as Creative Commons allows researchers to get more exposure for their work whilst maintaining control over its use. This helps the spread of information and the creation of new knowledge. Using a licence also means that other people know how to use your work in an appropriate way without infringing copyright.

Elements of a Creative Commons licence

Each Creative Commons licence is made up of a combination of the four elements below. Licences can be created in a number of ways but each includes attribution of the original author as a minimum.

  • Attribution - Must acknowledge the author of the work.
  • Non-Commercial - Only the original author can make money from the work.
  • No derivatives - The use cannot change or remix the work.
  • ShareAlike - New creations must be re-shared under the same rules.

For a full explanation of the licence icons and abbreviations see the Creative Commons webpages.

Elements of a Creative Commons licence

How can work be licensed under Creative Commons licences?

Creative Commons licences are designed to make it easier to both share work and build upon the work of others. Content creators such as authors and artists are able to specify exactly what they will allow others to do with their work, including restricting any commercial use. Those looking to produce new work can use the licences to understand exactly what they are allowed to use and how, without going through complex copyright clearance procedures.

 You should think carefully about assigning a Creative Commons licence to your materials as if you change your mind you will only be able to make the licence more open rather than choose something more restrictive.

Finding Creative Commons licenced materials

The following search engines offer a useful way of finding Creative Commons licenced materials. You can also use search filters on popular commercial sites to find reusable materials. It is important to always double check the licence of each individual item you want to use to ensure that you have the correct permissions.

How does Creative Commons work?

A simple explanation of how Creative Commons licences work can be found in this video from Creative Commons Kiwi:

Combining Creative Commons materials

Materials licenced under Creative Commons and other open licences are designed to be reused, remixed and adapted as their licence allows. It is important to remember that not all of the licences are compatible with each other. The table below explains which materials can be combined:

Creative Commons license compatibility chart

Created by Kennisland and published under a CC0 license (click image to enlarge)

If you are new to using these licenses it can be difficult to understand the difference between a collection of Creative Commons content and a remix but this blog post offers a handy guide.

Try it out: Introduction to Creative Commons Licences

Want to dive into Creative Commons licenses in more detail and put your skills to the test? Try our interactive lesson and quiz to learn more about how to apply licences in practice.


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