Chapter 3: Anatomy of a CC Licence

Creative Commons licences give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a clear, standardised way to grant permission to others to use their creative work. From the reuser’s perspective, the presence of a Creative Commons licence answers the question, “What can I do with this?” and provides freedom to reuse, subject to clearly defined conditions.

All Creative Commons licences ensure that creators retain their copyright and get credit for their work, while permitting others to copy and distribute it. Although the tools are designed to be as easy to use as possible, there are still some things to learn in order to fully understand their mechanics.

This anatomy of a CC licence chapter has four sections:

3.1 Licence Design and Terminology

3.2 Licence Scope

3.3 Licence Types

3.4 Licence Enforceability

There are also additional resources at the end of the chapter if you are interested in learning more about any of the topics covered in this chapter.

3.1 Licence Design and Terminology

Do you “speak CC” yet? This section covers the acronyms, terms, and symbols used in connection with Creative Commons’ tools, as well as some key things to know about how the licences were designed.

Learning Outcomes

  • differentiate the meaning of different CC icons
  • identify three layers of CC licences

Big Question/Why It Matters

Given that most of us are not lawyers, what do we need to know about the legalities in order to use the CC licences properly?

Creative Commons’ legal tools were designed to be as accessible to everyone as possible while still being legally robust. CC’s founders made several design decisions that make these legal tools relatively easy to use and understand.

Personal Reflection/Why It Matters to You

Have you ever come across a CC licensed Flickr image that you really liked but were afraid to use because you weren’t sure of the legal terms and conditions? Have you ever been frustrated because you didn’t understand how to decide which of the CC legal tools to use for your own work?

Acquiring Essential Knowledge

Copyright operates by default under an “all rights reserved” approach. Creative Commons licences function within copyright law, but they utilise a “some rights reserved” approach. While there are several different CC licence options, all of them grant the public permission to use the works under certain standardised conditions. The licences grant those permissions for as long as the underlying copyright lasts or until you violate the licence terms. This is what we mean when we say CC licences work on top of copyright, not instead of copyright.

The licences were designed to be a free, voluntary solution for creators who want to grant the public up-front permissions to use their works. Although they are legally enforceable tools, they were designed in a way that was intended to make them accessible to non-lawyers.

The licences are built using a three layer design.

graghic image of the 3 layer license.
How the the layer design works from Creative Commons license design and terminology. Creative Commons CC BY 4.0
  1. The legal code is the base layer. This contains the “lawyer-readable” terms and conditions that are legally enforceable in court. Take a minute and scan through the legal code of CC BY to see how it is structured. Can you find where the attribution requirements are listed?
  2. The commons deeds are the most well-known layer of the licences. These are the web pages that lay out the key licence terms in so-called “human-readable” terms. The deeds are not legally enforceable but instead summarise the legal code. Take some time to explore the deeds for CC BY and CC BY-NC-ND and identify how they differ. Can you find the links to the legal code from each deed?
  3. The final layer of the licence design recognises that software plays a critical role in the creation, copying, discovery, and distribution of works. In order to make it easy for websites and web services to know when a work is available under a Creative Commons licence, we provide a “machine readable” version of the licence—a summary of the key freedoms granted and obligations imposed written into a format that applications, search engines, and other kinds of technology can understand. We developed a standardised way to describe licences that software can understand called CC Rights Expression Language (CC REL) to accomplish this. When this metadata is attached to CC licensed works, someone searching for a CC licenced work using a search engine (e.g., Google advanced search) can more easily discover CC licenced works.
An example of machine readable code by Creative Commons CC BY 4.0

CC Licence Basics

All Creative Commons licences have many important features in common. Every CC licence ensures licensors get credit for their work. CC licences work around the world and last as long as applicable copyright lasts (because they are built on copyright) and as long as the user complies with the licence. All Creative Commons licences have many important features in common. Every CC licence ensures licensors get credit for their work. CC licences work around the world and last as long as applicable copyright lasts (because they are built on copyright) and as long as the user complies with the licence. At a minimum, every licence helps creators (we call them “licensors” when they use CC tools) retain copyright while allowing others to copy and distribute their work according to the CC licence that is applied. These common features serve as the baseline, on top of which licensors can choose to grant additional permissions when deciding how they want their work to be used.

Note for readers: Throughout this CC ebook content, please assume all descriptions of the licences refer to Version 4.0 of the CC licence suite unless otherwise noted. You will learn more about the different versions in Section 3.4.

Choices for the Licensor

All Creative Commons licences are structured to give the user permission to make a wide range of uses as long as the user complies with the conditions in the licence. The basic condition in all of the licences is that the user provides credit to the licensor and certain other information, such as where the original work may be found.

A CC licensor makes a few simple decisions on the path to choosing a licence– first, do I want to allow commercial use, and second, do I want to allow derivative works (also known as adaptations)? We’ll address how to do that in a later section.

If a licensor decides to allow derivative works, they may also choose to require that anyone who uses the work—we call them licensees—make their new work available under the same licence terms. This is what is meant by “ShareAlike” and it is one of the mechanisms that helps the digital commons of CC licensed content grow over time. ShareAlike is inspired by the GNU General Public Licence, used by many free and open source software projects.

These different licence elements are symbolised by visual icons.

CC BY logo This symbol means Attribution or “BY.” All of the licences include this condition.
Non-commercial logo This symbol means NonCommercial or “NC,” which means the work is only available to be used for noncommercial purposes. Three of the CC licences include this restriction.
share alike logo This symbol means ShareAlike or “SA,” which means that adaptations based on this work must be licensed under the same licence. Two of the CC licences include this condition.
This symbol means NoDerivatives or “ND,” which means reusers cannot share adaptations of the work. Two of the CC licences include this restriction.

When combined, these icons represent the six CC licence options. The icons are also embedded in the “licence buttons,” which each represent a particular CC licence type. Section 3.3 explores the combinations in detail.

Public Domain Tools

In addition to the CC licence suite, CC also has two public domain tools represented by the icons below. These public domain tools are not licences:

cc zero licence logo CC0 enables creators to dedicate their works to the worldwide public domain to the greatest extent possible. Note that some jurisdictions do not allow creators to dedicate their works to the public domain, so CC0 has other legal mechanisms included to help deal with this situation where it applies. (More on this in Section 3.3.)
CC public domain mark logo The Public Domain Mark is a label used to mark works known to be free of all copyright restrictions. Unlike CC0, the Public Domain Mark is not a legal tool and has no legal effect when applied to a work. It serves only as a label to inform the public about the public domain status of a work and is often used by museums and archives working with very old works.

3.1 Final remarks

There is a learning curve to some of the terminology and basics about how CC legal tools work. But as you now know, it is far less intimidating than it looks! Now that you understand how to “speak CC” and know some of the fundamentals of CC licence design, you are well on your way to becoming versed in CC licensing.

Quiz – Licence Design and Terminology

3.2 Licence Scope

Creative Commons licences are built on copyright law. That simple fact tells you most of what you need to know about when they do and do not apply, and how long they last.

Learning Outcomes

  • understand how CC works with copyright and why this is important
  • explain the duration of the licence

Big Question/Why It Matters

What is the legal foundation upon which Creative Commons licences operate? Why is it so important?

Creative Commons licences are copyright licences. They apply where and when copyright applies. This reflects a fundamental design decision by the founders of Creative Commons. Given that the goal was to make more creative and educational works available under common-sense terms, CC wanted to ensure its licences were not used to restrict works or uses of works that copyright does not restrict. This is a core CC value. Having the language of the licences track copyright law accomplished this goal.

Personal Reflection/Why It Matters to You

Do you understand why having CC licences align with copyright was an important decision for the founders of CC? Think about what it would mean if a CC licence could prevent you from doing something you could otherwise do with a copyrighted work, such as printing a copy of a poem to insert in a birthday card for a friend.

Acquiring Essential Knowledge

The statement that “Creative Commons licences are copyright licences” tells you the following about the licences:

  1. The licences “operate” or apply only when the work is within the scope of copyright law (or other related law) and the restrictions of copyright law apply to the intended use of the work (this is discussed in more detail below).
  2. Certain other rights, such as patents, trademarks, privacy and publicity rights, are not covered by the licences and must be managed separately.

The first point explains a basic limitation of the licences in controlling what people do with the work, and the second provides a warning that there may be other rights at play with the work that restrict how it is used. Let’s start by unpacking what it means for the licence to apply where copyright applies.

Creative Commons licences are appropriate for creators who want to provide people with one or more of the permissions governed by copyright law. For example, if you want to give others permissions to freely copy and redistribute your work, you can use a Creative Commons licence to grant them that permission. Likewise, if you want to give others permission to freely transform, alter, or otherwise create derivative works based on your work, you can use a Creative Commons licence to grant them that permission.

However, you don’t need to use a Creative Commons licence to give someone permission to read your article or watch your video, because reading and watching aren’t activities that copyright generally regulates.

Here are two more important scenarios in which copyright does not apply:

  • When fair dealing, fair use, or some other limitation and exception to copyright applies; please see the relevant Creative Commons FAQ and the JCU Library FAQ on fair dealing.
  • When the work is in the public domain; see the relevant FAQ.[1]

Because copyright does not apply in those scenarios, CC licences don’t either.

Can you think of reasons why someone might try to apply a CC licence to a work not covered by copyright in their own country? Or reasons why a CC licensor might expect attribution every time their work is used, even for a use that is not prohibited by copyright law?

They might be trying to exert control they do not actually have by law. But more likely than not, they simply do not know that copyright does not apply or that a work is in the public domain. Or, for the savvy licensor, they may realise their work is in the public domain in some countries but not public domain everywhere, and they want to be sure everyone everywhere is able to reuse it.

For a real-life example, let’s look at what happens when you want to use Creative Commons licences in a field like 3D printing. Glance through this Public Knowledge resource about how to apply a CC licence in the 3D printing field. It is easy to see how complicated the legal issues can become, particularly in newly emerging fields like this one.

One other subtle but important difference about the scope of CC licences is that they also cover other rights closely related to copyright. Defined as “Similar Rights” in the CC licence legal code, these include related and neighbouring rights and sui generis database rights, which are rights in some countries restricting the extraction and reuse of the contents of a database. See Section 2.1 for a refresher on what Similar Rights covers. Just as with copyright, the CC licence conditions only come into play when Similar Rights otherwise apply to the work and to the particular reuse made by someone using the CC licenced work.

The other critical part of the statement, “CC licences are copyright licences,” is that there may be other rights in the works upon which the licence has no effect—for example, privacy rights. Again, CC licences do not have any effect on rights beyond copyright and Similar Rights as defined in the licences, so other rights have to be managed separately. Read the FAQs.

While not required, Creative Commons urges creators to make sure there are no other rights that may prevent reuse of the work as intended. CC licensors do not make any warranties about reuse of the work. That means that unless the licensor is offering a separate warranty, it is incumbent on the reuser to determine whether other rights may impact their intended reuse of the work. Learning more can sometimes be as easy as contacting the licensor to inquire about these possible other rights. Read through this complete list of considerations for reusers of CC-licensed works.

What Types of Content can be CC-Licensed?

You can apply a CC licence to anything protected by copyright that you own, with one important exception.

CC urges creators not to apply CC licences to software. This is because there are many free and open source software licences that do that job better; they were built specifically as software licences. For example, most open source software licences include provisions about distributing the software’s source code—the CC licences do not address that important aspect of sharing software. The software sharing ecosystem is well-established, and there are many good open source software licences to choose from. This FAQ from CC’s website has more information about why we discourage our licences for software.

Whose Rights are Covered by the CC Licence?

A CC licence on a given work only covers the copyright held by the person who applied the licence—the licensor. That might sound obvious, but it is an important point to understand. For example, many employers own the copyright to works created by employees, so if an employee applies a CC licence to a work owned by their employer, they is not able to give any permission whatsoever to reuse the work.

Additionally, a work may incorporate the copyrighted work of another, such as a scholarly article that uses a copyrighted photograph to illustrate an idea (after having received the permission of the owner of the photograph to include it). The CC licence applied by the author of the scholarly article does not apply to the photograph, only the remainder of the work. Separate permission may need to be obtained in order to reproduce the photograph (not the remainder of the article). See Section 4.1 for more details on how to handle these situations.

Also, works often have more than one copyright attached to them. For example, a filmmaker may own the copyright to a film adaptation of a book, but the book author also holds a copyright to the book on which the film is based. In this example, if the film is CC-licensed, the CC licence only applies to the film and not the book.

3.2 Final remarks

A key to understanding how Creative Commons works is understanding that the licences depend on copyright to function. This seemingly simple concept explains a lot about when the tools apply and how much of a work they cover.

Quiz: Licence Scope

3.3 Licence Types

There are six different CC licences, designed to help accommodate the diverse needs of creators while still using simple, standardised terms.

Learning Outcomes

  • explain the CC licence suite
  • describe the different CC licence elements

Big Question/Why It Matters

Why are there so many different Creative Commons licences?

There is no single Creative Commons licence. The CC licence suite (which includes the six CC licences) and the CC0 public domain dedication offer creators a range of options. At first, all of these choices can appear daunting. But when you dig into the options, you will realise the spectrum of choices is fairly simple.

Personal Reflection/Why It Matters to You

Think about a piece of creative or academic work you made that you are particularly proud of. If you shared that work with others, would you have been okay with them adapting it or using it for commercial purposes? Why or why not?

Acquiring Essential Knowledge

Creative Commons licences are standardised tools, but part of the vision is to provide a range of options for creators who are interested in sharing their works with the public rather than reserving all rights under copyright.

The four licence elements—BY, SA, NC, and ND—combine to make up six different licence options.

All of the licences include the BY condition. In other words, all of the licences require that the creator be attributed in connection with their work. Beyond that commonality, the licences vary whether (1) commercial use of the work is permitted; and (2) whether the work can be adapted, and if so, on what terms.

The six licences, from least to most restrictive in terms of the freedoms granted reusers, are:

CC BY logo The Attribution licence or “CC BY” allows people to use the work for any purpose (even commercially and even in modified form) as long as they give attribution to the creator.
CC BY-SA lgo The Attribution-ShareAlike licence or “BY-SA” allows people to use the work for any purpose (even commercially and even in modified form), as long as they give attribution to the creator and make any adaptations they share with others available under the same or a compatible licence. This is CC’s version of a copyleft licence, and is the licence required for content uploaded to Wikipedia, for example.
CC BY-NC logo The Attribution-NonCommercial licence or “BY-NC” allows people to use the work for noncommercial purposes only, and only as long as they give attribution to the creator.
CC BY-NC-SA logo The Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence or “BY-NC-SA” allows people to use the work for noncommercial purposes only, and only as long as they give attribution to the creator and make any adaptations they share with others available under the same or a compatible licence.
CC BY-ND logo The Attribution-NoDerivatives licence or “BY-ND” allows people to use the unadapted work for any purpose (even commercially), as long as they give attribution to the creator.
CC BY-NC-ND logo The Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence or “BY-NC-ND” is the most restrictive licence offered by CC. It allows people to use the unadapted work for noncommercial purposes only, and only as long as they give attribution to the creator.


To really understand how the different licence options work, let’s dig into the different licence elements. Attribution is a part of all CC licences, and we will dissect exactly what type of attribution is required in a later chapter. For now, let’s focus on what makes the licences different.

Commercial vs. noncommercial use

Non-commercial logo NonCommercial (“NC”) As we know, three of the licences (BY-NC, BY-NC-SA, and BY-NC-ND) limit reuse of the work to noncommercial purposes only. In the legal code, a noncommercial purpose is defined as one that is “not primarily intended for or directed towards commercial advantage or monetary compensation.” This is intended to provide flexibility depending on the facts surrounding the reuse, without over-specifying exact situations that could exclude some prohibited and some permitted reuses.>

It’s important to note that CC’s definition of NC depends on the use, not the user. If you are a nonprofit or charitable organisation, your use of an NC-licensed work could still run afoul of the NC restriction, and if you are a for-profit entity, your use of an NC-licensed work does not necessarily mean you have violated the term. For example, a nonprofit entity cannot sell another’s NC licensed work for a profit, and a for-profit may use an NC licensed work for non-commercial purposes. Whether a use is commercial depends on the specifics of the situation. See the CC NonCommercial Interpretation page for more information and examples.


The other differences between the licences hinge on whether, and on what terms, reusers can adapt and then share the licensed work. The question of what constitutes an adaptation of a licensed work depends on applicable copyright law (for a reminder, see Chapter 2). One of the exclusive rights granted to creators under copyright is the right to create adaptations of their works or, as they are called in some places, derivative works (for example, creating a movie based on a book, or translating a book from one language to another).

As a legal matter, at times it is tricky to determine exactly what is and is not an adaptation. Here are some handy rules about the licences to keep in mind:

  • Technical format-shifting (for example, converting a licensed work from a digital format to a physical copy) is not an adaptation regardless of what applicable copyright law may otherwise provide.
  • Fixing minor problems with spelling or punctuation is not an adaptation.
  • Syncing a musical work with a moving image is an adaptation regardless of what applicable copyright law may otherwise provide.
  • Reproducing and putting works together into a collection is not an adaptation of the individual works. For example, combining stand-alone essays by several authors into an essay collection for use as an open textbook is a collection and not an adaptation. Most opencourseware is a collection of others’ open educational resources (OER).
  • Including an image in connection with text, as in a blog post, a powerpoint, or an article, does not create an adaptation unless the photo itself is adapted.
No derivatives symbolNoDerivatives Two of the licences (BY-ND and BY-NC-ND) prohibit reusers from sharing (i.e. distributing or making available) adaptations of the licensed work. To be clear, this means anyone may create adaptations of works under an ND licence so long as they do not share the work with others in adapted form. This allows, among other things, organisations to engage in text and data mining without violating the ND term.
share alike logoShareAlike Two of the licences (BY-SA and BY-NC-SA) require that if adaptations of the licensed work are shared, they must be made available under the same or a compatible licence. For ShareAlike purposes, the list of compatible licences is short. It includes later versions of the same licence (e.g., BY-SA 4.0 is compatible with BY-SA 3.0) and a few non-CC licences designated as compatible by Creative Commons (e.g., the Free Art Licence). You can read more about this, but the most important thing to remember is that ShareAlike requires that if you share your adaptation, you must do so using the same or a compatible licence.

Public domain

In addition to the CC licence suite, Creative Commons also has an option for creators who want to take a “no rights reserved” approach and disclaim copyright entirely. This is CC0, the public domain dedication tool.

CC0 logo
Like the CC licences, CC0 (read “CC Zero”) uses the three-layer design—legal code, deed, and metadata.

The CC0 legal code also uses a three-pronged legal approach. Some countries do not allow creators to dedicate their work to the public domain through a waiver or abandonment of those rights, so CC0 includes a “fall back” licence that allows anyone in the world to do anything with the work unconditionally. The fall back licence comes into play when the waiver fails for any reason. And finally, in the rare instance that both the waiver and the “fall back” licence are not enforceable, CC includes a promise by the person applying CC0 to their work that they will not assert copyright against reusers in a manner that interferes with their stated intention of surrendering all rights in the work.

Like the licences, CC0 is a copyright tool, but it also covers a few additional rights beyond those covered by the CC licences, such as non-competition laws. From a reuse perspective, there still may be other rights that require clearance separately, such as trademark and patent rights, and third-party rights in the work, such as publicity or privacy rights.

3.3 Final remarks

Creative Commons legal tools were designed to provide a solution to complicated laws in a standardised way, making them as easy as possible for non-lawyers to use and apply. Understanding the basic legal principles in this Chapter will help you use the CC licences and public domain tools more effectively.

Quiz: Licence Types

3.4 Licence Enforceability

The Creative Commons licences were carefully crafted to make them legally enforceable in countries around the world.

Learning Outcomes

  • describe the state of Creative Commons case law
  • explain the potential benefit of seeking non-legal resolutions to disagreements

Big Question/Why It Matters

Creative Commons licences are legal tools that build on copyright law. As legal instruments, CC licences need to stand up in court. What happens when there is a court case that involves Creative Commons licences? What happens if someone is violating the CC licence you applied to a work, but you do not want to file a lawsuit? What happens if a licensor complains about how you have attributed them when reusing their work?

To date and to our knowledge, no court around the world that has heard a case involving a CC licence (of which there have been very few) has questioned the validity or enforceability of a CC licence. Thanks to the CC community, most disputes connected to CC licences are resolved outside of court and often without involving lawyers.

Personal Reflection/Why It Matters To You

Whether you or your organisation is using CC licences, or you are advising others in the use of CC licences, you want to be confident that the terms of the CC licences are enforceable. If someone misuses your work, what recourse do you have? What would you do if you found out someone was using your CC licensed photograph in a magazine without giving you credit, for example?

Acquiring Essential Knowledge

Most people who reuse CC licensed works try to comply with the licence conditions. But whether well meaning or not, sometimes people get it wrong.

If someone is using a CC licensed work without giving attribution or otherwise following the licence, their right to use the work ends automatically as soon as they violate the licence terms. Unless the person using the work received separate permission or is relying upon fair use or some other exception to copyright, they are potentially liable for copyright infringement. Read this FAQ about what happens when someone does not comply with a CC licence. Read this FAQ for a look at what happens from the perspective of a reuser.

Note: this important difference between the newest version of CC licences (version 4.0) and prior versions:

Read  What’s New in 4.0 page on the CC website. CC BY 4.0

Under Version 4.0, users of CC-licensed works who come into compliance with licence terms within 30 days of discovering they were in violation of the terms have their rights under the licence automatically reinstated.

Sometimes these types of disputes can end up in court. Over the course of CC’s history, to our knowledge, there have been very few legal disputes and decisions involving CC legal tools. Each court that has rendered a decision has made it without questioning the enforceability of the CC licence at issue.

Those judicial decisions have been in a variety of places around the world, including Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Israel, and the United States. Creative Commons maintains a listing of court decisions and case law from jurisdictions around the world on its wiki.

In all of these decisions, no court has questioned the validity of the CC licence in the case. While the CC licence played a minor role in some of the cases, in others the court has held the defendant liable for copyright infringement for failing to follow the CC licence terms. Read the summary of one such decision.

Legal enforceability is one of the key features of CC licensing. While the licences are widely seen as symbols of free and open sharing, they also carry legal weight. The legal code was written by lawyers with the help of a global network of international copyright experts. The result is a set of terms and conditions that are intended to operate and be enforceable everywhere in the world.

Licence Versions

As noted above, there are different versions of CC licences. Not to be confused with the different types of licences described in Section 3.3, the licence version number simply represents when that particular version of the legal code was written. CC improves its licences through the process of versioning, which is the process by which we update the legal code to better account for changes in copyright law and technology, and the needs of reusers. While there are some differences between licence versions, the different versions are largely the same in practical effect. The latest version of the CC licence suite (at writing) is Version 4.0, which was published in 2013. Details on what updates were made to the licences in Version 4.0 can be found on the CC website. For the most definitive and comprehensive view of how the licences have changed from Version 1.0 to the present, including all changes to the attribution and marking requirements, the CC wiki.

In all cases, we recommend that creators use the latest version of the licences, as it reflects the latest thinking of Creative Commons and its global network of legal experts.

Official Translations of CC Legal Tools

The latest versions of all CC legal tools may be translated into official versions in other languages. Creative Commons has a formal process by which this is done in order to ensure that the translations are as close to the original as possible. Our goal is to get the legal tools into as many languages as possible so that everyone can read and understand the terms in their native language(s). The official translations are noted at the bottom of the legal code on all of the licences, and are equivalents of one another.

Many people ask about the relationship between the official translations and the English originals. All official translations are linguistic translations only, unlike porting (described below). All the official translations are legal equivalents of one another, which means that while the licensor may have gone through the English language version of the chooser to apply a CC BY licence to her work, a reuser of that work who speaks Arabic may view that very same licence in Arabic. This is similar to how standards bodies such as the World Wide Web Consortium translate a single standard into many different languages, and how the United Nations publishes treaties.

Distinguishing Ported Versions of the Pre-4.0 Versions of the CC Licences

Prior to the publication of Version 4.0 in November 2013, Creative Commons gave permission to the CC Global Network to “port” the Creative Commons licences. Porting involved linguistic translation and adjustments so that the licences reflected local terminology and drafting protocols, and accounted for other local differences, such as the existence of moral rights and collecting societies.

One of the primary reasons for versioning the licences from 3.0 to 4.0 was to eliminate the need for porting, an unnecessarily complex process that could be eliminated if CC took proper care to ensure the new licences were internationalised. Starting with Version 4.0, the most recent version of the CC licence suite, CC no longer “ports” the licences. The ported licences of previous versions may still be used and remain legally valid and enforceable; however, Creative Commons discourages their use and recommends Version 4.0 as the latest and most up-to-date thinking of CC and its global network.

Resolving Disputes

Since the publication of Version 1.0 of the licences in 2002, Creative Commons is not aware of a large number of disputes between licensors and reusers over its licences, including the NonCommercial term and attribution.

There may be several explanations for this. As observed by Creative Commons in its Defining NonCommercial Study, expectations of licensors and reusers of CC licensed content may play a factor. For example, NC licensors often intend for broad reuse of their NC licensed content, as long as it is not reused primarily for commercial gain. However, reusers of NC licensed content may assume more conservative licence terms around commercial reuse. As a result, NC licensed content is not often reused to the full permissions the licence affords or the licensor intends. Often when disputes around CC licensed content do arise, they are resolved amicably and out of court, frequently without involving lawyers. Instead, disputes are resolved through outreach by the licensor to the user, and an accord struck to fix any actual problem.

Note that we accounted for this practice in Version 4.0. Whereas prior to 4.0, any violation of the licence automatically terminated the licence, and the violator had to seek new and express permission from the licensor to reuse the work again. In Version 4.0, the licence automatically reinstates if the violator corrects the problem within 30 days of having become aware of it. This encourages reusers to do the right thing—correct violations as soon as possible upon discovery,  whether or not the licensor has made a claim. This can help avoid disputes.

In many ways, both of these practices—being more generous and respectful, and outreach to solve any perceived violations—are a testament to the values held and practiced by the CC community of creators and reusers. Creative Commons encourages healthy, open interactions between licensors and those reusing their works.

3.4 Final remarks

The legal robustness of the CC licences is critically important. With the help of its international network of legal and policy experts, the CC licences are accepted and enforceable worldwide. To date, no court has declared the licences unenforceable, and very few lawsuits have ensued. In the vast majority of cases, the community resolves disputes outside of the courtroom.

Quiz: Licence Enforceability

Chapter 3 Additional Resources

  • About the Licenses by Creative Commons. CC BY 4.0. Visit this site to read all of the licence deeds, or legal codes, and explore the different licences.

  1. Remember that the term of copyright for works varies around the world. So, in some situations, a work may be in the public domain under the laws of Germany but not in the public domain under the laws of Canada. This means that depending on the law that applies to your use (generally, where you are when using the work), the CC licence may or may not apply.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Creative Commons for JCU Staff Copyright © 2023 by James Cook University Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.