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Open Educational Resources

A guide for those interested in finding, using, or creating open educational resources

Creative Commons FAQs

See below for answers to commonly asked questions about Creative Commons licenses. Please also feel free to ask a librarian for more help!

How do I share my work with a Creative Commons license?

First, consider how you'd like others to use your work. Below is a breakdown of the elements you can include in your license.

CC License breakdown

"Six Licenses for Sharing Your Work" by Creative Commons is in the Public Domain.

Creative Commons provides an easy online tool for choosing and indicating your chosen Creative Commons license. Make sure to include the license information on your work so that everyone knows about its intellectual property status. Include author and license information, and make sure that the license on your work is machine readable. Doing this usually involves copying and pasting a short snippet of code into your document or webpage. The snippet does three things: it creates a cool little image, it links the reader directly to the Creative Commons site for more details about the license, and it makes this document searchable by the Creative Commons search engines so that people who are looking for materials they can be sure they are free to use can easily find it. 

Why would I want to share my work openly?

There are many reasons that scholars decided to share their work openly. For example, think about the many creative works that only you have the rights to use - gray literature, things you put online, presentations you make, early drafts of articles, datasets, images you create, video you shoot, software code you produce, course materials you use to teach, music you compose - the list goes on! These materials are often not formally published, and, therefore, they don't contribute to the field (except, perhaps, for the few individuals who were able to see your presentation or video, or took your course). Some faculty decide to share these kinds of materials with an open license so that others can benefit from their work.

Sharing with an open license also allows for greater access. This is positive for at least two reasons. First, those individuals who want to learn or conduct research but don't have the financial means to access expensive library databases or collections can benefit greatly from access to openly-licensed content. Second, openly-licensed material with your name on it can reach many more people than material behind a paywall or never published at all. This can contribute to your academic reputation and your institution's prestige as well. 

What effect do Creative Commons licenses have on fair use or other copyright exceptions?

CC licenses have no effect on copyright exceptions. If your use falls under fair use or another copyright exception, you don't need to follow the terms of the CC license for your use.

What if I assign a Creative Commons license to a work and decide to change it later?

Creative Commons licenses are not revocable. Once a work has been published with a CC license, users can continue using the work under the terms of the license you initially used. You can stop making the work available, but existing copies outside of your control can be used under the initial license. There is, however, a method for asking users not to attribute your work to you (if you disagree with how the work is being used, for example). 

What if I assign a Creative Commons license to a work and disagree with how someone is using it?

As long as the user is following the terms of the license, you can't control their use of the work. However, no user of CC-licensed work can use the work in a way that implies the original author supports a particular use of the work. In addition, the original author can ask that a user remove attribution information on a particular use and the user must comply.

What can I do with a work that has a Creative Commons license on it?

There are six different Creative Commons licenses with slightly different permissions, but all of the licenses allow you to do the following:

What you can do with any CC licensed work

"Creative Commons: Free Photos for Bloggers" by is licensed under a CC-BY SA 3.0 License.

If your use falls outside of the scope of the uses above, then you'll need to consider the terms of the specific Creative Commons license. See below for a breakdown of what permissions each license type allows.

Permissions of each Creative Commons license

"Creative Commons: Free Photos for Bloggers" by is licensed under a CC-BY SA 3.0 License.

What if I want to use a Creative Commons licensed work in a way not permitted by the license?

Just as with other copyrighted work, you will need to contact the copyright holder to ask permission. Keep in mind that uses protected by fair use or another copyright exception do not require that you follow the terms of the CC license and/or get permission for your use. Creators who use CC licenses may be more open to uses not permitted by the CC license, but you will be violating the terms of the license if you don't check with them to get permission first.

Can I combine Creative Commons licensed material together to create a new work?

It depends on whether your combination is an adaptation (a new work based on the old work - this does not include making minor changes to grammar or changing the format of the work). If what you've done isn't an adaptation, then you can combine any CC-licensed content, as long as you provide attribution and comply with the Non-Commercial restriction if it applies. If your work is an adaptation, then you'll need to note the licenses of all of the parts you'd like to mix together. These licenses must be compatible, and the license you use for the entire work must be compatible with the licenses of its parts. See this chart for how CC-licensed work can be mixed together. A green check means that works with the licenses in the corresponding column and row can be remixed. A black X means the works can't be remixed.

Creative Commons license remixing chart

"Can I combine material under different Creative Commons licenses in my work?" from "Creative Commons: Frequently Asked Questions" by Creative Commons is licensed under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.