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Copyright and Fair Use

Learn about copyright and fair use and how it may affect you.

Many open resources are licensed under a Creative Commons license. These licenses are sets of permissions that make it easy for users to determine what they are allow to do with the work. Creative Commons licenses give content creators a “standardized way to grant the public  permission to use their creative work under copyright law.”1

There are four main elements or attributes that can be indicated in a Creative Commons license:

  BY - Attribution: Others can copy, distribute, display, perform, and remix the work as long as they credit the original creator.

  SA - Share Alike: Derivatives (e.g. adaptations, revisions, remixes, etc.) of the original work must be shared under the same license as the original.

  NC - Noncommercial: Others can copy, distribute, display, perform, and remix the work for noncommercial purposes only (i.e. they can't make money).

  ND - No Derivatives: Others can copy, distribute, display, or perform the work, but remixes, adaptations, revisions, etc., are not allowed.


These four elements can be combined into the six main types of Creative Commons licenses:

CC-BY (Attribution)                                                                                        
CC-BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike)                                                      
CC-BY-NC (Attribution-NonCommercial)
CC-BY-ND (Attribution-NoDerivatives)
CC-BY-NC-SA (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike)
CC-BY-NC-ND (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives)

Creative Commons also offers a public domain license, often styled as CC0 (CC Zero), as a way to visually stamp something as in the public domain.

Adding a Creative Commons License to a Work

To add a Creative Commons license to a work, there are two important factors to consider:

  1. You must own or control the copyright to the work.
  2. The licenses cannot be revoked. Once you apply a CC license to a work, anyone who receives that work may rely on that license as long as the work is protected by copyright.

Creative Commons Permissions

The grid below is a useful tool for visualizing what permissions are associated with each type of Creative Commons license as well as resources in the public domain.2

Creative Commons license explainer showing what permissions are associated with each license.


1Creative Commons (n.d.) About CC licenses.
JoKalliauer; foter. (2015). Creative Commons licenses.