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Creative Commons

Creative Commons: A Shared Culture by Jesse Dylan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike (CC BY-NC-SA)

What is Creative Commons?

It is common to see online content such as images, videos, documents, audio files, blog posts and more appearing with a little CC symbol. In the digital age where everything is easily shared, copyright and intellectual property rights present complex issues.

Creative Commons is the name of a non-profit organisation which aims to make sharing and reusing online content simpler and more transparent. Creative Commons consists of six different license types with different levels of permission for anyone who wants to reuse online content created by somebody else.

Creative Commons can be helpful in two ways:

  • When searching for resources to use in your teaching you can limit your search to Creative Commons licensed content. This ensures that the results returned by your search are all free to use. The ways you can use them may differ but as long as you attribute them correctly you know that you won’t be breaking copyright restrictions.
  • By licensing your own content using Creative Commons, it is easier to control how your work is used by other people. Getting a CC licence does not mean giving away the copyright on your creations. It simply specifies conditions under which people may reuse, remix and redistribute it.

Of course, people can still ignore Creative Commons licences, just as they can choose to ignore copyright restrictions. At least, however, the CC licences are clear and unambiguous, and are legally binding.

Understanding Creative Commons licences and locating CC materials

Creative Commons Licences: a good place to start is on the Creative Commons website. This explains the rationale behind CC and gives you lots of information about the different types of licence and how to use them.

Creative Commons Search Portal: a ‘one-stop shop’ for search engines which you can use for CC-licensed images, audio, video and web content

Choose a Licence: the Creative Commons site also has a tool which can help you to choose which type of licence is most appropriate for your work.

Licensing your own creations

If you are creating a resource which uses various digital artefacts with different Creative Commons licence, requirements then things can get ricky. This JISC blog post looks at some of the issues of multiple licences.

The JISC Blog: Joi Ito: Education is at the core of Creative Commons (29 June 2011)


A Creative Commons licence must always attribute the original author, but apart from that there are various options depending on whether you want to allow people to make changes to your work, use it commercially and also on how you want them to subsequently share the work.

Watch this video from Creative Commons New Zealand for a clear explanation of the 6 different types of licence currently available.