Lawrence D’Oliveiro
Creative Commons Dos & Don’ts

(Note: IANAL.)

Creative Commons is a wonderful idea: take copyright, which was created to benefit publishers and distributors, and use it to benefit artists, writers and other content creators instead. It offers a menu of standardized options that you can pick from to suit your needs over how you want to publish a piece of work, and it makes it easier to figure out whether you can or can’t reuse someone else’s work, depending on what CC options they chose.

These options are commonly denoted by two-letter codes placed after the letters CC:

  • ND — No Derivatives. People are allowed to copy the work verbatim, but not to modify it in any way. Non-Free
  • NC — Non-Commercial. Sure, you can’t “sell” it, but what else does or does not constitute “commecial” use? Using it for advertising/promotional purposes? Publishing it in a magazine? Non-Free
  • BY — Attribution. Any copying/redistribution must credit you among the authors. Free
  • SA — Share-Alike. Any copying/redistribution must be on the same terms as the original licence. Basically this means that, since you let others freely reuse your work, anybody doing so cannot prevent others from freely using any of theirs that they derive from your work. Free

Certain combinations of these are allowed. Or you can omit them all, to produce what’s called the “CC0” licence (Creative Commons with no restrictions whatsoever). This is equivalent to “public domain”, except (strange but true) some jurisdictions do not allow creators of works to directly put them into the public domain. Hence the need for a “no-licence” licence!

The first two, Non-Free, options, are best avoided:

  • Avoid ND — because no work of art exists in a vacuum. Everything you’ve created will contain elements copied from your influences—imagine if they had put ND restrictions on their work, you would be infringing their copyright! But if you were free to pick and choose elements from them, why should others not be free to pick and choose elements from you?
  • Avoid NC — because nobody can decide what constitutes “commercial” versus “non-commercial” use. If you want to avoid companies ripping you off by taking your work and not giving back, then SA is your best bet.

So the Free options that maintain maximum flexibility, both for yourself and for others wanting to remix or mash-up your work, are:

  • CC0 — no restrictions, as described above.
  • CC-BY — attribution required.
  • CC-SA — share-alike, not available as a licence option any more.
  • CC-BY-SA — attribution & share-alike.

Keep in mind how these propagate from any source material you copied from others: if their licence was CC-BY, than your licence must include BY (either CC-BY or CC-BY-SA); if theirs was CC-BY-SA, then yours must also be CC-BY-SA. Of course, CC0-licensed source material imposes no requirements on you.

Personally I mostly use CC-BY-SA, because it means that anything else derived from that must, if redistributed, be done so under CC-BY-SA also. But by all means choose whichever of these three combinations you wish, depending on your needs.

  1. ldo17 posted this