What Is Creative Commons? Here’s All You Need to Know

What is Creative Commons and why does it matter? If you create or distribute content like images, music, and videos on your blog or website, you should know what it is and how it works.

Before jumping in, please note that this article is not intended to offer legal advice.

Up until two decades ago, if you were a content creator (for example, a musician) and you wanted to protect your intellectual property, you only had one option: copyright your work.

Copyrights are essentially a one-size-fits-all legal construct wherein content creators can publish their work under an “all rights reserved” agreement with the public. If someone steals, borrows, or builds upon your copyrighted work without your permission, you can ask them to stop (or sue them).

As we entered the age of the internet — where seemingly everyone shares and builds upon other people’s works — an “all rights reserved” copyright approach wasn’t always a good fit. Concerns that the copyright framework would stifle creativity and innovation in the new digital age abounded.

The beginning of Creative Commons

To address this problem, a group of people got together and formed the Creative Commons (CC) framework in 2001. This universal “copyleft” framework offers content creators in any country multiple ways to license and protect their original works.

Want to let anyone use or build upon your content? There’s a Creative Commons license for that. Want to halt any commercial use of your work and require attribution for any non-commercial entity that shares your work? There’s a Creative Commons license for that, too.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Creative Commons to the internet as we know it today. It’s essential for nonprofit and for-profit web-based organizations alike, ranging from Wikipedia to Google to Flickr.

What is Creative Commons: a license overview

As previously mentioned, Creative Commons offers a wide-range of license types that content creators can choose from when publishing their works. You can read about each CC license type in detail along with the rationale behind their creation at the CC licenses page.

For a high-level overview of how each CC license type might apply to an original song, here’s a breakdown, arranged from least to most restrictive Creative Commons license type:

  1. Attribution (CC BY): Anyone can share or remix your song, as long as they attribute you as the creator.
  2. Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA): Same as the previous license, with the added caveat that the licensee also has to use the same CC license you did when they publish the original or remixed song.
  3. Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND): Anyone can share your song, commercially or non-commercially, but they can’t change it. They also have to attribute you.
  4. Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC): Anyone can remix your song so long as they’re doing so non-commercially (not making money from it). They also have to attribute you, but they have some flexibility in what CC license they choose to use.
  5. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA): Same as the previous license, but the other party has to use the same CC license as you.
  6. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND): This is as close as a CC license comes to a traditional copyright. A person can download and share your songs, but only if they credit you, don’t alter the song, and don’t use it commercially.

Looking for more information on copyright options for your blog? Check out this article by Bev Feldman.


Aaron von Frank

Cofounder and CEO at GrowJourney.com, a USDA certified organic heirloom garden seed subscription service. Writer at TyrantFarms.com, Edible Upcountry Magazine, and other media outlets.

More by Aaron von Frank

%d bloggers like this: