Creative Commons Licensing

Four Conditions

Creative Commons (CC) licenses are created from the combination of four conditions. Understanding the meaning of each condition is useful for deciding how CC licensed content can be reused and how to license newly created work. As discussed in Module 5 (Evaluating OER), understanding the meaning of the conditions can also be useful in evaluating an open resource.

Attribution icon. person inside a circle

Attribution (BY)

The Attribution (BY) condition is fundamental to all CC licenses. Many creators care about receiving credit for their creative work. When reusing CC-licensed work, proper attribution must be given to the original creator — and to other contributors on the work, if any. The CC BY license is the most open of all the licenses and allows for the most reuse options.

Share Alike icon, circular arrow inside a circle

Share-Alike (SA)

The Share-Alike condition requires that anyone reusing a resource must also license their own creation under the same license. Both the CC BY-SA and CC BY-NC-SA licenses include this condition. While this condition effectively “locks open” the content, remixing SA content with non-SA or other-SA licensed work may not be straightforward or allowed at all.

non-commercial icon, dollar sign with a line through it inside a circle

Non-Commercial (NC)

The Non-Commercial condition allows for reuse and sharing but reserves commercial rights for the creator. The meaning of the NC material can be tricky, but the license condition clearly indicates that commercial reuse rights are not granted.

No derivatives icon, equal sign in a circle

No-Derivatives (ND)

The No-Derivatives condition allows sharing and reuse but only if the content is left unchanged. For this reason, ND content is not considered true OER and can only be reused when no adaptations are needed.

Combining the Conditions

Together, the conditions form the six CC licenses.

The BY (attribution) condition is a part of all the licenses, but not all conditions work together. For example, the SA and ND conditions do not appear in the same license because there is no reason to include the share-alike condition when no derivatives are being allowed.

six cc licenses with icons

Understanding how the different licenses can or cannot be combined is a critical step in reusing openly licensed material. The license compatibility chart below is a great resource in determining which licenses work together.

A license compatibility table which shows how two or more Creative Commons licenses can and cannot be combined.
"License Compatibility Chart" by Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

All six of the creative commons licenses include the BY or attribution condition. This is a requirement of reuse. The original creator has explicitly informed the user of this requirement through the use of the BY condition. Citations and attributions are similar but different. Providing attribution is the legal requirement of the open license. While some tools, like CC Search, include the attribution in the resource, there are other tools available to help users easily create attribution statements for work they reuse, remix, or modify.

  • Attribution Builder - created by Open Washington, this tool, similar to a citation generator, builds attribution statements that can be copied and pasted into documents and websites. Note: all the attribution statements for these modules were created using this tool.

  • Creative Commons License Chooser - is a Google Add-on tool. It is easy to install as an Add-on for your docs. Attribution statements can be created within the document as you go, similar to how MS Word has a citation builder in their toolbar.

When creating attribution statements a good rule of thumb is to remember the acronym TASL:

  • Title of the work

  • Author of the work

  • Source or where the work can be found

  • License of the work

This is an example of an ideal attribution for a CC-licensed image:

It is an ideal attribution because it includes:

See Best Practices for Attribution for more information.

Choosing A License For Newly Created or Adapted Work

When publishing newly created or adapted work, selecting and displaying a license with it ensures the work can be adopted and adapted how the author/creator intends. If a license is not selected, all published material may be assumed to be all rights reserved even if the intent was for it to be openly licensed.

When creating work to share, carefully consider the following:

  • Do you want to allow derivatives?

  • Do you want to allow for commercial purposes?

  • Do you want the same license to be applied on derivatives?

  • If this work was made using openly licensed material, is there a copyright provision you must abide?

Creative Commons designed the licenses to provide more options to the creator than all-rights reserved copyright. The CC License chooser is a simple tool designed to help creators decide which license is best for their work. After selecting preferred sharing permissions, a license icon, statement, and code -- similar to the one below -- is generated and can be copied and pasted into new work. Remember, to be considered true OER, the rights assigned must permit the ability for others to retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute (5 Rs).


Information for this module was consulted and adapted from:

"Best Practices for Attribution" by Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

"Creative Commons Licensing: Nuts & Bolts" by Carrie Gits is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

"CC License Compatibility Chart" by Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

"CC License Conditions" by William Meinke is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

"Putting a CC License on Your Work" by William Meinke is licensed under CC BY 4.0.