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Services for Authors at the Penn Libraries: The Creative Commons License -- Controlling the Way You Share Your Work

Creative Commons Licenses -- Determining How Your Work Is Used

Controlling the Way You Share You Work - the Creative Commons License

With your published work, you may or may not retain the rights to post your pre- or post-publication prints to your personal website, sharing platform, or institutional repository (find brief definitions at Sherpa-Romeo by clicking on the glossary drop-down). There is still a question about how to safely share your unpublished work. What if you want to post your slides from a conference presentation or workshop, post an unpublished graph, diagram, design, or photograph, a syllabus, or post course materials that correspond to a new and innovative course you’ve taught? You own the copyright, but how can you make your work available to others and also retain your right to decide on how you share your exclusive rights under copyright? In the academic world, the Creative Commons(CC) license is one common solution. CC licenses were developed for this very scenario and they exist on a sliding scale. The least restrictive is the CC 0 (public domain—no rights reserved). Generally, the higher the number of the license, the greater the number of restrictions on sharing and reuse.

What is a License?

A license grants permission for a third party to use your copyright protected work. CC is just one type of standard license. A CC license works hand in hand with your copyright. It is not an independent type of copyright. Even if you share your work via a CC license, your copyright is still alive and well. If you are in the U.S., Fair Use may also apply.

By using a CC license, you are telling everyone under what circumstances they are permitted to engage in any of your exclusive rights as a copyright holder without asking your permission each and every time. You can only add a CC license to written work, a work of art, or other fixed copyrightable media if you are the copyright holder. CC licenses are not revocable, and you cannot use a CC license if you have transferred your exclusive rights to a publisher or other entity. Applying a CC license does not require registration or application. You simply affix the text to your work and add a link back to the CC site which identifies the terms of the specific license you have selected. Visit the Creative Commons site to review all the licenses in full detail. Below is a quick summary.

CC BY ...

allows any one, private or corporate to use your work, in whole or in part, to reuse, distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon it in any medium or format, as long as the second comer provides attribution. This means that even though you are giving your work away to others to use, another person or organization might sell it or a derivation of it for a profit. Attribution is required for all CC licenses except for CC0, which is a public domain license (allows use without restriction). From an academic integrity perspective, it is unethical, of course, to make use of a work, regardless of whether it is restricted by copyright or another license, without providing full and accurate attribution. Copyright considerations are related to, but different than plagiarism and academic integrity. Beyond the possibility of copyright infringement, using academic work without proper attribution raises serious academic dishonesty concerns including plagiarism.

CC-BY-SA ...

or “share alike,”allows any one, personal or corporate, to make use of your work as stated above in the CC-BY license, as long as the second comer also makes their work openly accessible under a CC-BY-SA license as well. This license is based on the principle of “paying it forward”. The second comer must share their new work in the same way that you, the original author, shared your work.

CC-BY-NC or “noncommercial” ...

includes everything in CC-BY except that the second comer must be a not-for-profit individual or entity.


You are probably getting the hang of this: for use by a not-for-profit individual or entity, and the second comer must make their work available using this CC-BY-NC-SA license.

CC-BY-ND or “no derivatives”...

is the same as the CC-BY license except that you are specifying that the second comer must use your work as is—there can be no derivatives made of your work. This might be important if you create and want to share a work of art, a piece of music, or song lyrics, and you do not want them to appear in ways that are counter to your own beliefs and practices, or say, sold on commercial goods.


has the exact same terms as the CC-BY-ND above, except that the work may only be used for nonprofit / non commercial purposes.

Creative Commons reports that their licenses are “drafted to be enforceable around the world, and have been enforced in court in various jurisdictions. To CC’s knowledge, the licenses have never been held unenforceable or invalid.” While CC licenses might not be appropriate in every circumstance, understanding how the term is used and how you can leverage it for citation and sharing purposes is only to your advantage.

Keep in mind that once a Creative Commons license is utilized, it cannot be revoked.

You cannot put a Creative Commons notation on work that you do not own.  Only the copyright-holder, or someone with the express permission of the copyright-holder may add a Creative Commons license to a creative work.

Still have questions? Contact your subject librarian to learn more about Creative Commons, open access and subscription publishing venues, and for support as you begin and continue to publish.

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