The Creative Commons Series – Part 1: An Introduction

Image courtesy of teketen under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license:

If you are an artist, photographer, videographer or writer you may have already heard of Creative Commons. Even if you are a recreational picture-taker who posts the occasional family vacation photo to Flickr you probably noticed a prompt giving you the option to designate a Creative Commons license for the photograph. The terms of these licenses can be confusing, which is why this Creative Commons blog series seeks to break down and explain their complicated layers.

Part One of our series will introduce you to the concepts behind Creative Commons, its mission and its usage. Part Two will explain the different licenses Creative Commons offers and their specific functions. Part Three will illustrate important points to keep in mind before choosing a license and Part Four will provide tips on how to use Creative Commons content and properly attribute creative works.

What is Creative Commons?
Creative Commons is a Massachusetts-chartered 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable corporation. The organization aims to enable the sharing and use of creative works via copyright licenses.

Whether you are a visual artist, painter, photographer, screenwriter, playwright, novelist or filmmaker, chances are you have probably come across the issue of copyright at one point on your creative journey. Copyright, an area of intellectual property law, provides protection for original works of authorship and gives the copyright owner a bundle of rights to those original works. Copyright can be used by artists to control their own original works in terms of use and distribution.

On the other hand, from an idealistic standpoint, the internet is supposed to be an open exchange of information that provides people with access to culture and education. Creative Commons believes this goal is not always realized due to certain restrictive aspects of the legal system that makes it complicated to legally perform common web tasks of copying and pasting, editing source code, and sharing information on the web because copyright law requires that these actions have permission from the copyright holder. Creative Commons aims to be a free and public standardized infrastructure balancing internet freedoms with copyright law. Creative Commons licenses provide a standardized way to give the public permission to share and use creative work using conditions designated by the individual artist.

Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright and enable copyright holders to modify copyright terms on their own creative works to their liking. The ultimate goal of the licenses is to give people the ability to share, use, and even add to creative work via the internet. The catch regarding these licenses is that the user of the license must actually own the copyrighted work before applying a Creative Commons license to it. Users of works bearing a Creative Commons license must still beware: a Creative Commons license on a work does not guarantee the person granting the license actually owns the copyrighted material. It is always important to double-check your sources when using creative works.

Who Uses Creative Commons Licenses?

Some of the industry big kahunas currently use Creative Commons licenses. These include Al Jazerra, Google, Flickr,, and Wikipedia.

Here is a list of other industries that use Creative Commons licenses:


The New York State Senate is working to adopt open licenses for the public to use and share the content generated by the State House. and the Obama Administration have used Creative Commons to license campaign photos and release information on third party sites under Creative Commons licenses.

Open Educational Resources (OER)

Several higher education tools such as FlatWorld Knowledge and KOCW have recently incorporated Creative Commons licenses into their business model so educational content can be shared more openly.


The photography industry uses Creative Commons in various ways from individual photographers applying Creative Commons licenses to their photographs to large photo-sharing sites such as Flickr, DeviantArt and Fotopedia giving their users the option to designate Creative Commons licenses to the content they upload.


Filmmakers are now using Creative Commons licenses for a variety of functions related to film distribution and production. These areas include viral video campaigns, film trailers, digital sharing and editing.

GLAM: Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums

The National Museum of Denmark has released digital images and educational videos on YouTube under Creative Commons licenses.

The British Library released a large set of bibliographic data into the public domain via a Creative Commons license.


 ProPublica, non-profit, public interest newsroom, uses Creative Commons licenses to encourage others to reproduce their stories in order to easily and quickly spread news stories that will benefit the public.

 Al Jazerra is the first major news source to use Creative Commons by building a Creative Commons video repository containing rare footage of the war in Gaza and made it available to anyone for use under a Creative Commons Attribution license.


 Creative Commons licenses are appearing in content created by online audio distribution platforms such as Soundcloud, Jamendo and ccMixter to allow collaboration, promotion and distribution of audio recordings offered by musicians.


With the emerging ebook industry, many books currently released contain content licensed under Creative Commons. This allows other publications to use material contained in these ebooks provided the user attributes it to the author.

For a complete list of case studies regarding the usage of Creative Commons click here.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the concepts and theory behind Creative Commons, you should explore the specifics of the different Creative Commons licenses. Part Two of this series will introduce you to the different types of licenses and provide you with the tools to help you choose the right license for your next masterpiece.

Visit the Creative Commons website at 

There’s more information to come in this Creative Commons blog series! Get the latest updates from CREATE Legal on Twitter and Facebook.


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