July 18, 2018

FAQ for Users



CC offers six core licenses, each of which grants a different set of permissions. Before you use CC-licensed material, you should review the terms of the particular license to be sure your anticipated use is permitted. If you wish to use the work in a manner that is not permitted by the license, you should contact the rights holder (often the creator) to get permission first, or look for an alternative work that is licensed in a way that permits your anticipated use. Note that if you use material in a way that is not permitted by the applicable license and your use is not otherwise permitted by an applicable copyright exception or limitation, the license is automatically terminated and you may be liable for copyright infringement, even if you are eligible to have your rights reinstated later.

Before using material offered under a Creative Commons license, you should know that CC licenses only grant permissions needed under copyright and similar rights, and there may be additional rights you need to use it as intended. You should also understand that licensors do not offer warranties or guarantees about the material they are licensing unless expressly indicated otherwise. All materials are licensed “AS IS” and a disclaimer of warranties applies unless expressly provided otherwise. If you want to ask for a warranty or guarantee about rights to use the material, you should talk with the licensor before using it.


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It depends. CC licenses do not license rights other than copyright and similar rights (which include sui generis database rights in version 4.0). For example, they do not license trademark or patent rights, or the publicity, personality, and privacy rights of third parties. However, licensors agree to waive or not assert any moral rights, publicity rights, personality rights, or privacy rights they themselves hold, to the limited extent necessary to allow exercise of the licensed rights. Any rights outside of the scope of the license may require clearance (i.e., permission) in order to use the work as you would like.

Additionally, creative works sometimes incorporate works owned by others (known as “third party content”), often used pursuant to a CC license or under an exception or limitation to copyright such as fair use in the U.S. You should make sure you have permission to use any third party content contained in the work you want to use, or that your use is otherwise allowed under the laws of your jurisdiction, particularly in cases such as fair use where your right to use the content depends on the particular context in which you plan to use it.

All CC licenses contain a disclaimer of warranties, meaning that the licensor is not guaranteeing anything about the work, including whether she owns the copyright, has received permission to include third-party content within her work, or secured other rights such as through the use of model releases if a person’s image is used in the work. You may wish to obtain legal advice before using CC-licensed material if you are not sure whether you have all the rights you need.


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All CC licenses require users to attribute the creator of licensed material, unless the creator has waived that requirement, not supplied a name, or asked that her name be removed. Additionally, you must retain a copyright notice, a link to the license (or to the deed), a license notice, a notice about the disclaimer of warranties, and a URI if reasonable. For versions prior to 4.0, you must also provide the title of the work. (Though it is not a requirement in 4.0, it is still recommended if one is supplied.)

You must also indicate if you have modified the work—for example, if you have taken an excerpt, or cropped a photo. (For versions prior to 4.0, this is only required if you have created an adaptation by contributing your own creative material, but it is recommended even when not required.) It is not necessary to note trivial alterations, such as correcting a typo or changing a font size. Finally, you must retain an indication of previous modifications to the work.

CC licenses have a flexible attribution requirement, so there is not necessarily one correct way to provide attribution. The proper method for giving credit will depend on the medium and means you are using, and may be implemented in any reasonable manner. Additionally, you may satisfy the attribution requirement by providing a link to a place where the attribution information may be found.

While the attribution requirements in the license are the minimum requirement, we always recommend that you follow the best practices for the kind of use you are making. For example, if you are using scientific data marked with CC0, you are not required to give attribution at all, but we recommend that you give the same credit you would give to any other source—not because the license requires it, but because that is the standard for letting others know the source of the data.

The CC website offers some best practices to help you attribute properly, and the CC Australia team has developed a helpful guide to attributing CC-licensed material (.pdf) in different formats. Note that the attribution and marking requirements vary slightly among license versions. See here for a chart comparing the specific requirements.


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The CC licenses are irrevocable. This means that once you receive material under a CC license, you will always have the right to use it under those license terms, even if the licensor changes his or her mind and stops distributing under the CC license terms. Of course, you may choose to respect the licensor’s wishes and stop using the work.


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CC’s NonCommercial (NC) licenses prohibit uses that are “primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or monetary compensation.” This is intended to capture the intention of the NC-using community without placing detailed restrictions that are either too broad or too narrow. Please note that CC’s definition does not turn on the type of user: if you are a nonprofit or charitable organization, 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. Whether a use is commercial will depend on the specifics of the situation and the intentions of the user.

In CC’s experience, it is usually relatively easy to determine whether a use is permitted, and known conflicts are relatively few considering the popularity of the NC licenses. However, there will always be uses that are challenging to categorize as commercial or noncommercial. CC cannot advise you on what is and is not commercial use. If you are unsure, you should either contact the rights holder for clarification, or search for works that permit commercial uses.

CC has a brief guide to interpretation of the NC license that goes into more detail about the meaning of the NC license and some key points to pay attention to. Additionally, in 2008, Creative Commons published results from a survey on meanings of commercial and noncommercial use generally. Note that the results of the study are not intended to serve as CC’s official interpretation of what is and is not commercial use under our licenses, and the results should not be relied upon as such.


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Yes. This is not considered to be a prohibited measure, so long as the protection is merely limiting who may access the content, and does not restrict the authorized recipients from exercising the licensed rights. For example, you may post material under any CC license on a site restricted to members of a certain school, or to paying customers, but you may not place effective technological measures (including DRM) on the files that prevents them from sharing the material elsewhere. (Note that charging for access may not be permitted with NC-licensed material; however, it is not disallowed by the restriction on ETMs.)


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Fair use a provision of copyright law that allows the use of a copyrighted work without permission from the copyright holder under specific circumstances. News reporting, teaching, and parody are all examples of activities that could qualify as fair use. Fair use is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and considers the purpose of the use, how much of the original work is used, and how it impacts the market for the original work.

The CC licenses are copyright licenses that provides a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work – on conditions of your choice. Creative Commons licenses offer creators a spectrum of choices between retaining all rights and relinquishing all rights (public domain), an approach we call “Some Rights Reserved.” Instead of an agreement between the author and another specific party like in traditional licenses, CC licenses are written as an agreement between the author and the general public, making usability and shareability the default – rather than restricting use.

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.


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Yes. When any of the six CC licenses is applied to material, licensees are granted permission to use the material as the license allows, whatever the media or format chosen by the user when it is used or distributed further. This is true even in our NoDerivatives licenses. This is one of a very few default rules established in our licenses, to harmonize what may be different outcomes depending on where CC-licensed material is reused and what jurisdiction’s copyright law applies.

This means, for example, that even if a creator distributes a work in digital format, you have permission to print and share a hard copy of the same work.


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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.

Under CC licenses, synching music in timed relation with a moving image is always considered an adaptation, whether or not it would be considered so under applicable law. Also, under version 4.0, certain uses of databases restricted by sui generis database rights also constitute adaptations (called “Adapted Material” in the 4.0 licenses), whether or not they would be considered adaptations under copyright law. For more details about adaptations in the database context, see the Data FAQ.

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.


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Contact the rights holders to ask for permission. Otherwise, unless an exception or limitation to copyright applies, your use of the material may violate the Creative Commons license. If you violate the terms of the license, your rights to use the material will be automatically terminated, and you may be liable for copyright infringement.


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Answers to "Frequently Asked Questions" are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License by Creative Commons, available at https://creativecommons.org/faq/.