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Creative Commons

This guide will explain Creative Commons licenses.

CC License Types

The Three Layers of the Licenses

Each CC License is composed of three layers.

The Legal Code - The legal code is the terms and conditions of the license that are enforceable in court.  This layer makes the base of the license.  

Common Deeds - The common deeds are the web pages that lay out the terms of the licenses in language for a  layperson.  The deeds themselves are not legally enforceable, but they summarize the legal code.  

Machine Readable Version - The final layer of the license is a machine readable version that helps software with the creation, distribution, reproduction, and discovery of Creative Commons works. This machine readable version provides a summary of key freedoms granted and obligations imposed that applications, search engines, and other types of software can read.  CC Rights Expression Language (CC REL) creates metadata that makes CC license works identifiable by machines.  

The Four Elements of the License

There are four different elements that CC licenses are built upon. These elements allow  creators to make choices about how their work is shared and whether it is adapted.  These four elements in various combinations will make up the six different license types.  Here are the four elements and their symbols: 

Attribution or BY. All licenses must include this element.  
Non-Commercial or NC. This means the work is only available to use for non-commercial purposes.
Share Alike or SA.  This symbol means that if any adaptations or derivatives are made that they must be shared using the same license type as the original. 
No Derivatives or ND. This means that users cannot share derivatives or adaptations of the work. 


The Six License Types

There are six different types of licenses that allow creators to create the terms by which their work can be shared or reused.  Below you can learn the parameters of each license.  

CC BY This license is the most permissive of the licenses.  It requires users to give attribution to the creator.  From there, users can distribute, build upon, remix, and adapt the source.  Commercial use is allowed with this license.  


This license also requires the user to give attribution to the creator and allows user to distribute and use the work in the same way as the CC BY license, including commercial use.  However, for users who create a derivative of the work, they must use the same license as the original work.  
CC BY-NC This license also requires attribution to the creator.  Users can distribute, adapt, remix, and build upon the original work, as long as it is for non-commercial purposes. 
CCBY-NC-SA This license has the same requirements as the CC BY-SA license.  If the user creates a derivative of the work, then the user must use the same type of license.  The use must also be for non-commercial purposes. 
CC BY-ND This license allows users to copy and distribute materials with attribution to the creator.  However, this license does not allow you to build upon, adapt, or remix the content.  The distribution can be for commercial use.  
CC BY-NC-ND This license has the same parameters as the BY-NC license, however, the distribution can only be for non-commercial use.  


Public Domain Tools

In addition to the six different license types, Creative Commons offers two public domain tools.  Please note that these tools are not the same as licenses.  

CC Zero or CC0 This tool allows creators to donate their work to the public domain to the greatest extent that they can. It allows creators to take a "no rights reserved approach."  It has the same three layers as a CC License.  The legal code includes a fall back license for jurisdictions that do not allow a creator to fully dedicate their work to the public domain.   
Public Domain Mark This is a mark that is used on works that have no copyright restrictions.  This mark has no legal implications when attached to a work.  It's purpose is only to inform others that the work is in the public domain.