How to Protect Your Artistic Works With a Creative Commons License

Six Types of Creative Commons Licenses

Following are the six Creative Commons licenses that you can use to protect your creative works, ranging from least restrictive to most restrictive. Each one ensures that you are recognized as the owner of your work and describes how other people can use it in plain, easy-to-understand language.

1. Attribution (CC BY)

How to Protect Your Work with a Creative Commons License

As the least restrictive of all Creative Commons licenses, the Attribution license lets other parties distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. If you want to encourage maximum dissemination and use of your content, this is probably the best license for you.

How to Protect Your Work with a Creative Commons License
2. Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA)

Similar to the basic Attribution license, this one lets other people remix, tweak, and build upon your work--even for commercial purposes. Under this license, however, they must not only credit you but also license their new creations to others under the identical terms, so that all new works based on yours will carry the same license. The Attribution-ShareAlike license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open-source software licenses; it's also the one Wikipedia uses.

3. Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND)

How to Protect Your Artistic Works With a Creative Commons License
Under this license, users of your work may redistribute it commercially or noncommercially so long as they pass it along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you. No derivative works are allowed, in other words.

4. Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC)

How to Protect Your Artistic Works With a Creative Commons License
This license permits other parties to remix, tweak, and build upon your work noncommercially. While their new works must both acknowledge you and be noncommercial, they don’t have to be licensed under the same terms.

5. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA)

How to Protect Your Artistic Works With a Creative Commons License
Much like the Attribution-NonCommerical license, this version adds the requirement that those who remix, tweak, or build upon your work noncommercially must not only credit you but also license their new creations under the identical terms.

6. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND)

How to Protect Your Artistic Works With a Creative Commons License
Last but not least, the most restrictive among the Creative Commons licenses allows other parties to download your works and share them while crediting you; they can’t, however, change your works in any way or use them commercially.

How Do You Apply a Creative Commons License?

Before you even settle on a Creative Commons license, you need to make sure that the work you want to protect is copyrightable, and that you have the authority to place a license on it. The Creative Commons website outlines other factors that you should understand before proceeding.

Next, assuming that you've met the prerequisites, you need to select a Creative Commons license to use, based on the degree of control you want to retain. You'll find a handy guide to help you through that process on the Creative Commons site.

Once you've done that, you need only indicate alongside the material in question which license you've chosen, and potential users are bound to abide by its stipulations. The Creative Commons site provides HTML code for online material, as well as suggestions for how to indicate a license in offline works.

Using a Creative Commons license doesn't mean that you need to register with that group or any other agency.

Do These Licenses Have Legal 'Teeth'?

Any obligations specified under a given license are enforceable provisions, says Jim Burger, a partner and copyright attorney with Dow Lohnes.

Not only that, but “there are a number of cases where they have been enforced,” he says--not just in the United States, but around the globe.

The Creative Commons website, in fact, lists several such cases.

“Throughout the world, courts are saying this is like any other license when there are obligations,” Burger explains.

Is There Any Risk in Giving Away Some of Your Rights?

“If you're creating your own content, and you're willing to accept the risks of putting something online, they're no greater because you're using a Creative Commons license,” says Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks's Duff. In fact, “the biggest risk is putting it out there to begin with.”

After all, Creative Commons licenses are not a radical departure from copyright, Duff stresses. Rather, “they depend on copyright to exist.”

Essentially they “encourage the free flow of ideas without saying we don't want copyright protection to happen automatically,” he adds.

Next Page: Dealing With Infringement

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