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Note on terminology: throughout these FAQs, the term “remix” is interchangeable with “adapt.” Both are designed to mean doing something that constitutes an adaptation under copyright law.


What are Creative Commons licenses?

Creative Commons (CC) licenses provide an easy way to manage the copyright terms that attach automatically to all creative material under copyright. The CC licenses allow that material to be shared and reused under terms that are flexible and legally sound. Creative Commons offers a core suite of six copyright licenses. Because there is no single “Creative Commons license,” it is important to identify which of the six licenses you are applying to your material, which of the six licenses has been applied to material that you intend to use, and in both cases the specific version.

All of the CC licenses require that users provide attribution (BY) to the creator when the material is used and shared. Some licensors choose the BY license, which requires attribution to the creator as the only condition to reuse of the material. The other five licenses combine BY with one or more of three additional license elements: NonCommercial (NC), which prohibits commercial use of the material; NoDerivatives (ND), which prohibits the sharing of adaptations of the material; and ShareAlike (SA), which requires adaptations of the material be released under the same license.

CC licenses may be applied to any type of work, including educational resources, music, photographs, databases, government and public sector information, and many other types of material. The only categories of works for which CC does not recommend its licenses are computer software and hardware. You should also not apply Creative Commons licenses to works that are no longer protected by copyright or are otherwise in the public domain. Instead, for those works in the worldwide public domain, we recommend that you mark them with the Public Domain Mark.

No. By design, CC licenses do not reduce, limit, or restrict any rights under exceptions and limitations to copyright, such as fair use or fair dealing. If your use of CC-licensed material would otherwise be allowed because of an applicable exception or limitation, you do not need to rely on the CC license or comply with its terms and conditions. This is a fundamental principle of CC licensing.

What happens if someone applies a Creative Commons license to my work without my knowledge or authorization?

CC alerts prospective licensors they need to have all necessary rights before applying a CC license to a work. If that is not the case and someone has marked your work with a CC license without your authorization, you should contact that person and tell them to remove the license from your work. You may also wish to contact a lawyer. Creative Commons is not a law firm and cannot represent you or give you legal advice, but there are lawyers who have identified themselves as interested in representing people in CC-related matters.


How should I decide which license to choose?

If you are unsure which license best suits your needs, there are plenty of resources to help rights holders choose the right CC license. CC Australia has developed a flow chart that may be useful in helping you settle on the right license for your work. Creative Commons has also compiled a list of examples that demonstrate how various licenses fit into licensors' overall strategies. You can also read case studies of others who are using CC licenses. The CC community can also respond to questions, and may have already addressed issues you raise. The CC community email discussion lists and discussion archives may be useful resources.

Finally, you may also want to consult with a lawyer to obtain advice on the best license for your needs.

Why should I use the latest version of the Creative Commons licenses?

The latest version of the Creative Commons licenses is version 4.0. You should always use the latest version of the Creative Commons licenses in order to take advantage of the many improvements described on the license versions page. In particular, 4.0 is meant to be better suited to international use, and use in many different contexts, including sharing data.

Can I still make money from a work I make available under a Creative Commons license?

Yes. One of CC's goals is to encourage creators and rights holders to experiment with new ways to promote and market their work. There are several possible ways of doing this.

CC's NonCommercial (NC) licenses allow rights holders to maximize distribution while maintaining control of the commercialization of their works. If you want to reserve the right to commercialize your work, you may do this by choosing a license with the NC condition. If someone else wants to use your work commercially and you have applied an NC license to your work, they must first get your permission. As the rights holder, you may still sell your own work commercially.

You may also use funding models that do not depend on using an NC license. For example, many artists and creators use crowdfunding to fund their work before releasing it under a less restrictive license. Others use a “freemium” model where the basic content is free, but extras such as a physical printed version or special access to a members-only website are for paying customers only.

For more information and ideas, The Power of Open presents case studies of artists, businesspeople, and organizations who use CC.

What happens if I offer my material under a Creative Commons license and someone misuses them?

A CC license terminates automatically when its conditions are violated. For example, if a reuser of CC-licensed material does not provide the attribution required when sharing the work, then the user no longer has the right to continue using the material and may be liable for copyright infringement. The license is terminated for the user who violated the license. However, all other users still have a valid license, so long as they are in compliance.

Under the 4.0 licenses, a licensee automatically gets these rights back if she fixes the violation within 30 days of discovering it.

If you apply a Creative Commons license and a user violates the license conditions, you may opt to contact the person directly to ask them to rectify the situation or consult a lawyer to act on your behalf. Creative Commons is not a law firm and cannot represent you or give you legal advice, but there are lawyers who have identified themselves as interested in representing people in CC-related matters.

What can I do if I offer my material under a Creative Commons license and I do not like the way someone uses it?

As long as users abide by license terms and conditions, licensors cannot control how the material is used. However, CC licenses do provide several mechanisms that allow licensors to choose not to be associated with their material or to uses of their material with which they disagree.

First, all CC licenses prohibit using the attribution requirement to suggest that the licensor endorses or supports a particular use. Second, licensors may waive the attribution requirement, choosing not to be identified as the licensor, if they wish. Third, if the licensor does not like how the material has been modified or used, CC licenses require that the licensee remove the attribution information upon request. (In 3.0 and earlier, this is only a requirement for adaptations and collections; in 4.0, this also applies to the unmodified work.) Finally, anyone modifying licensed material must indicate that the original has been modified. This ensures that changes made to the original material–whether or not the licensor approves of them–are not attributed back to the licensor.

When I release my work under a CC license in one format (e.g., .pdf), can I restrict licensees from changing it to or using it in other formats?

No. CC licenses grant permission to use the licensed material in any media or format regardless of the format in which it has been made available. This is true even if you have applied a NoDerivatives license to your work. Once a CC license is applied to a work in one format or medium, a licensee may use the same work in any other format or medium without violating the licensor’s copyright.

What if I change my mind about using a CC license?

CC licenses are not revocable. Once something has been published under a CC license, licensees may continue using it according to the license terms for the duration of applicable copyright and similar rights. As a licensor, you may stop distributing under the CC license at any time, but anyone who has access to a copy of the material may continue to redistribute it under the CC license terms. While you cannot revoke the license, CC licenses do provide a mechanism for licensors to ask that others using their material remove the attribution information. You should think carefully before choosing a Creative Commons license.


Can I share CC-licensed material on file-sharing networks?

Yes. All CC licenses allow redistribution of the unmodified material by any means, including distribution via file-sharing networks. Note that file-trading is expressly considered to be noncommercial for purposes of compliance with the NC licenses. Barter of NC-licensed material for other items of value is not permitted.

Can I use effective technological measures (such as DRM) when I share CC-licensed material?

No. When you receive material under a Creative Commons license, you may not place additional terms and conditions on the reuse of the work. This includes using effective technological measures (ETMs) that would restrict a licensee’s ability to exercise the licensed rights.

A technological measure is considered an ETM if circumventing it carries penalties under laws fulfilling obligations under Article 11 of the WIPO Copyright Treaty adopted on December 20, 1996, or similar international agreements. Generally, this means that the anti-circumvention laws of various jurisdictions would cover attempts to break it.

For example, if you remix a CC-licensed song, and you wish to share it on a music site that places digital copy-restriction on all uploaded files, you may not do this without express permission from the licensor. However, if you upload that same file to your own site or any other site that does not apply DRM to the file, and a listener chooses to stream it through an app that applies DRM, you have not violated the license.

Note that merely converting material into a different format that is difficult to access or is only available for certain platforms does not violate the restriction; you may do this without violating the license terms.

When is my use considered an adaptation?

Whether a modification of licensed material is considered an adaptation for the purpose of CC licenses depends primarily on the applicable copyright law. Copyright law reserves to an original creator the right to create adaptations of the original work. CC licenses that allow for adaptations to be shared—all except BY-ND and BY-NC-ND—grant permission to others to create and redistribute adaptations when doing so would otherwise constitute a violation of applicable copyright law. Generally, a modification rises to the level of an adaptation under copyright law when the modified work is based on the prior work but manifests sufficient new creativity to be copyrightable, such as a translation of a novel from one language to another, or the creation of a screenplay based on a novel.

Note that all CC licenses allow the user to exercise the rights permitted under the license in any format or medium. Those changes are not considered adaptations even if applicable law would suggest otherwise. For example, you may redistribute a book that uses the CC BY-NC-ND license in print form when it was originally distributed online, even if you have had to make formatting changes to do so, as long as you do so in compliance with the other terms of the license.

Copyright law grants exclusive rights to creators of original works of authorship. National laws usually extend protections to such works automatically once fixed in a tangible medium, prohibiting the making of copies without the rights holder’s permission, among other things. On the internet, even the most basic activities involve making copies of copyrighted content. As content is increasingly uploaded, downloaded, and shared online, copyright law is becoming more relevant to more people than it was 20 years ago. Unfortunately, infringing copyrights—even unintentionally or unknowingly—can lead to liability. Successful navigation of the internet requires some understanding of copyright law.

What is the public domain?

The public domain of copyright refers to the aggregate of those works that are not restricted by copyright within a given jurisdiction. A work may be part of the public domain because the applicable term of copyright has expired, because the rights holder surrendered copyright in the work with a tool like CC0, or because the work did not meet the applicable standards for copyrightability.

Because the public domain depends on the copyright laws in force within a particular territory, sometimes a work may be considered “in the public domain” of one jurisdiction, but not in another. For example, U.S. government works are automatically in the public domain under U.S. copyright law, but might be restricted by copyright in other countries.

The Public Domain Manifesto, the University Libraries page, and the CC0 FAQs all contain additional information about the public domain.

Copyright in most jurisdictions attaches automatically without need for any formality once a creative work is fixed in tangible form (i.e. the minute you put pen to paper, take a photo, or hit the “save” button on your computer).

In some jurisdictions, creators may be required to register with a national agency in order to enforce copyright in court. If you would like more information, please consult the Berne Convention or your jurisdiction's copyright law.

Although you do not have to apply a copyright notice for your work to be protected, it may be a useful tool to clearly signal to people that the work is yours. It also tells the public who to contact about the work.

What is an adaptation?

An adaptation is a work based on one or more pre-existing works. What constitutes an adaptation depends on applicable law, however translating a work from one language to another or creating a film version of a novel are generally considered adaptations.

In order for an adaptation to be protected by copyright, most national laws require the creator of the adaptation to add original expression to the pre-existing work. However, there is no international standard for originality, and the definition differs depending on the jurisdiction. Civil law jurisdictions (such as Germany and France) tend to require that the work contain an imprint of the adapter's personality. Common law jurisdictions (such as the U.S. or Canada), on the other hand, tend to have a lower threshold for originality, requiring only a minimal level of creativity and “independent conception.” Some countries approach originality completely differently. For example, Brazil's copyright code protects all works of the mind that do not fall within the list of works that are expressly defined in the statue as “unprotected works.” Consult your jurisdiction's copyright law for more information.

This information can found at the Creative Commons website, here and here. Minor changes have been made. Both webpages are licenced under CC BY 4.0 Int'l