Creative Commons License Guide

A Creative Commons (CC) license is one of several public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted work. A CC license is used when an author wants to give people the right to share, use and build upon a work that they have created. CC provides an author flexibility (for example, they might choose to allow only non-commercial uses of their own work) and protects the people who use or redistribute an author’s work from concerns of copyright infringement, as long as they abide by the conditions that are specified in the license by which the author distributes the work.

There are several types of CC licenses. The licenses differ by several combinations that condition the terms of distribution. They were initially released on December 16, 2002 by Creative Commons, a U.S. non-profit corporation founded in 2001.

Applicable Works

Work licensed under a Creative Commons license is governed by applicable copyright law. This allows Creative Commons licenses to be applied to all work falling under copyright, including: books, plays, movies, music, articles, photographs, blogs, and websites. Creative Commons does not recommend the use of Creative Commons licenses for software.

However, application of a Creative Commons license may not modify the rights allowed by fair use or fair dealing or exert restrictions which violate copyright exceptions. Furthermore, Creative Commons licenses are non-exclusive and non-revocable. Any work or copies of the work obtained under a Creative Commons license may continue to be used under that license.

In the case of works protected by multiple Creative Common licenses, the user may choose either.

Types of Licenses

The CC licenses all grant the “baseline rights”, such as the right to distribute the copyrighted work worldwide for non-commercial purposes, and without modification. The details of each of these licenses depends on the version, and comprises a selection out of four conditions:

Icon Right Description
Attribution (BY) Licensees may copy, distribute, display and perform the work and make derivative works based on it only if they give the author or licensor the credits in the manner specified by these.
Share-alike (SA) Licensees may distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs the original work.
Non-commercial (NC) Licensees may copy, distribute, display, and perform the work and make derivative works based on it only for noncommercial purposes.
No Derivative Works (ND) Licensees may copy, distribute, display and perform only verbatim copies of the work, not derivative works based on it.

The last two clauses are not free content licenses, according to definitions such as DFSG or the Free Software Foundation’s standards, and cannot be used in contexts that require these freedoms, such as Wikipedia. For software, Creative Commons includes three free licenses created by other institutions: the BSD License, the GNU LGPL, and the GNU GPL.

Mixing and matching these conditions produces sixteen possible combinations, of which eleven are valid Creative Commons licenses and five are not. Of the five invalid combinations, four include both the “nd” and “sa” clauses, which are mutually exclusive; and one includes none of the clauses. Of the eleven valid combinations, the five that lack the “by” clause have been retired because 98% of licensors requested attribution, though they do remain available for reference on the website. This leaves six regularly used licenses:

Icon Description Acronym
Attribution alone BY
Attribution + NoDerivatives BY-ND
Attribution + ShareAlike BY-SA
Attribution + Noncommercial BY-NC
Attribution + Noncommercial + NoDerivatives BY-NC-ND
Attribution + Noncommercial + ShareAlike BY-NC-SA

For example, the Creative Commons Attribution (BY) license allows one to share and remix (create derivative works), even for commercial use, so long as attribution is given.

Version 4.0 and international use

The original non-localized Creative Commons licenses were written with the U.S. legal system in mind, so the wording could be incompatible within different local legislations and render the licenses unenforceable in various jurisdictions. To address this issue, Creative Commons had started to port the various licenses to accommodate local copyright and private law. As of July 2011, Creative Commons licenses have been “ported” to over 50 different jurisdictions worldwide.

The latest version 4.0 of the Creative Commons licenses, released on 25 November 2013, are generic licenses that are applicable to most jurisdictions and do not usually require ports. No new ports have been implemented in version 4.0 of the license. Version 4.0 discourages using ported versions and instead acts as a single global license.


Since 2004, all current licenses require attribution of the original author (the BY component). The attribution must be given to “the best of [one’s] ability using the information available”. Generally this implies the following:

  • Include any copyright notices (if applicable). If the work itself contains any copyright notices placed there by the copyright holder, those notices must be left intact, or reproduced in a way that is reasonable to the medium in which the work is being re-published.
  • Cite the author’s name, screen name, or user ID, etc. If the work is being published on the Internet, it is nice to link that name to the person’s profile page, if such a page exists.
  • Cite the work’s title or name (if applicable), if such a thing exists. If the work is being published on the Internet, it is nice to link the name or title directly to the original work.
  • Cite the specific CC license the work is under. If the work is being published on the Internet, it is nice if the license citation links to the license on the CC website.
  • Mention if the work is a derivative work or adaptation, in addition to the above, one needs to identify that their work is a derivative work, e.g., “This is a Finnish translation of [original work] by [author].” or “Screenplay based on [original work] by [author].”

The text above is offered by courtesy of Wikipedia, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

At HDCLASSICALMUSIC.COM, we have a sizable collection of creative commons licensed classical music. Click here to explore our music library.