Creative Commons and why should I care

You may have heard of Creative Commons, but may not know exactly what it is, why it is useful and frankly why you should care. If that is the case then this article is for you.


Creative Works (things like images, drawings, photographs, pieces of music, software code and original text) are, by default, protected in law by Copyright. Copyright, is the right to stop copying (as the name suggests) and therefore, if you create a work, you automatically get wide-ranging range preventing others from using, modifying or copying your work without your permission. There are a few exceptions, but generally use of your work without your blessing is not allowed. Normally this is great news for the creator, who can control where and how their work is used and potentially charge a fee for use of their work.

Creative Commons

At times, however, the copyright laws can be considered a hindrance. If you want everyone to use your work – for example because it could potentially make you seen as an expert in the field – the copyright laws get in the way. The only way to allow your work to be freely shared is by granting explicit permission for each piece of work that is created. This is commonly known as issuing a non-exclusive licence.

This is where Creative Commons come in. Creative Commons,, has created a series of licences that allow the creator to easily tag their work and release it under a ‘Creative Commons’ licence. There are various clauses that can be inserted into the Creative Commons license including:

  • Requirement for attribution. If the creator wants to be credited or named whenever the work if used then the BY clause should be included. This clause would be useful, if you are trying to build up your reputation (either as a photographer, an illustrator, a musician or a thought leader) by having your work shared and distributor as widely as possible but with the knowledge that your name will be attached to the work wherever it is used.
  • Non-Commercial Use Only. If you only want your work to be used only for non-commercial use (for example for personal, educations and private uses) then the NC clause should be inserted. With the NC clause, use by companies is prohibited and so you should use this if you object to others attempting to benefit financially from your work.
  • Modifications should also be shared. Using the SA (Share alike) clause means that should a modification to made to your work then they are person making the changes is obliged to also release the derivative modified work under the same licensing conditions as your original work. Using the SA clauses allows modifications to your work, but ensures that if any modifications are made are still shared, are allowed for non-commercial only or attribute you as the original author if these clauses are included in the original licence.
  • No Modifications are allowed. If you do not wish to allow anyone to modify your work or create derivative works then the ND (no derivatives) clause should be used. Use of this clause ensures that your work remains in its original form and is only used ‘as is’.

These clauses can be used in combination (apart from SA and ND which are not compatible with each other) so you are able to issue your work under a BY-NC-SA license for example (where attribution is required, commercial use is prohibited and any modifications need to also be shared). In this case you could associate this image with the work:

Creatives Commons
BY-NC-SA licence

Using one of these standard images, which can all be downloaded from the Creative Common website communicates clearly to “would-be-users” what can and crucially can not be done with your work.

Why should I care about Creative Commons?

If you want your work to be used more widely, build up your reputation or brand or feel philosophically that works should be freely available then you should consider using the Creative Commons licenses to release your work.

Even if that does not describe you and you want to be able to limit use of your works, Creative Commons may still be useful for you. There are times when you need a work (an image, a piece of music, a stock photograph) for a specific purpose but do not wish to pay for it. Finding works that are suitable using a search engine is easy, but by default most of the results are protected by copyright and use is prohibited. By limiting the search to images released under Creative Commons, you can be certain that you are remaining on the correct side of the law and that nobody is going to come after you for copyright infringement.

You can search for Creative Commons released images for example from the Creative Commons website or alternatively using a Google image search by selecting “Creative Commons Licenses” under the Tools / Usage Rights menu as shown below.

Finding Creative Commons images on Google

In summary, Creative Commons promotes wider sharing of creative, copyright protected, works. Where this is appropriate and desired by the creator, it serves a useful purpose. I would argue that it is a useful addition and increases the options for use of specific copyright assets when cause be of benefit both for the creator and a party who wishes to use the work.

Copyright © 2020 Ian Goodyer. All rights reserve. Used with permission by Ideas Portal.