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6 Ways to License Your Creative Work

By Puela Lunaris

Creative Commons is a non-profit corporation dedicated to making it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright.

Founded in 2001 with the support of the Center for the Public Domain at Duke Law School, Creative Commons is led by a Board of Directors that includes cyber-law and intellectual property experts from different parts of the world.

The Creative Commons licenses are seen by many as a new way to encourage creativity online legally, as they provide licensing models and other legal tools to mark our creative work with the freedom that we as creators want it to carry, so others can share, remix, use commercially, or any combination thereof.

Creative Commons licenses are based on copyright. So they can apply to all works that are protected by copyright law. Creative Commons licenses give us as intellectual property owners the ability to dictate how others may exercise their copyright rights, such as the right of others to copy your work, make derivative works or adaptations, distribute your work and/or make money from your work.

Here is one important point to understand: Creative Commons licenses are non-revocable! This means that you cannot stop someone, who has obtained your work under a Creative Commons license, from using the work according to that license.

However, you can stop offering your work under a Creative Commons license at any time you wish; but this will not affect the rights associated with any copies of your work already in circulation under a Creative Commons license.

Therefore, it is important to think carefully when choosing a Creative Commons license to make sure that you are happy for people to be using your work consistent with the terms of the license, even if you later stop distributing your work under that license.

Likewise, it is crucial to be specific about exactly what you are CC-licensing when you apply the Creative Commons license to your work.

For instance, if you make CC-licensed music available for download on your site, you need to make clear if the Creative Commons license applies to both the musical composition and the sound recording as well as any artwork and graphics at your site. It is important to make all the details very clear online, so people know exactly what they are licensing.

Here are the six main licenses offered by Creative Commons:

Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives (by-nc-nd) This license is the most restrictive of all six main licenses, allowing only redistribution. This license is often called the “free advertising” license because it allows others to download your works and share them with others as long as they mention you and link back to you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially. 

Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike (by-nc-sa) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. Others can download and redistribute your work just like the by-nc-nd license, but they can also translate, make remixes, and produce new stories based on your work. All new work based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also be non-commercial in nature.

Attribution Non-commercial (by-nc) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be noncommercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

Attribution No Derivatives (by-nd) This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.

Attribution Share Alike (by-sa) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.

Attribution CC by (by) This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered, in terms of what others can do with your works licensed under this attribution.

The importance of understanding these licenses is twofold. On one hand, if you are a content creator or if you have any intellectual properties, you want to know what your options are in licensing your work.

But even if you don't have any intellectual property, you can benefit from understanding these Creative Commons symbols, so you know what your options are in using materials that you find on Internet and what the symbols mean.

Steve Gordon, author of The Future of the Music Business, quotes Lawrence Lessig, MIT computer science professor, saying: “Creative Commons licenses do not compete with copyright; they complement it. The aim is not to defeat the rights of authors, but to make it easier for authors and creators to exercise their rights more flexibly and cheaply. This will enable creativity to spread more easily”

As more and more people develop creative work, it is advantageous to be aware of the different, innovative options that Creative Commons offers to share our creativity, protect our intellectual property, and build upon the work of others.  

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