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Open Education

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons (CC) is a non-profit organization which operates globally to oversee CC licenses and support the open movement. 

Creative Commons licenses are designed to allow people to share their work in a variety of ways while maintaining copyright over what they created.  

Over 2 billion works are now either CC licensed or are in the public domain.

About Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons licenses work within copyright law. By licensing your work with a CC license:

  • you retain copyright
  • you give the user specific permissions
  • the user of your work must give you credit (attribution)

The four license elements

  BY – Attribution - the work must be attributed by the user - all CC licenses include this element 

  SA  -  ShareAlike - any use of the work, including derivatives, must be licensed with the same license

  NC – NonCommercial - the work cannot be used by a person or entity to make a profit

  ND – NoDerivative - the work can be reused but any adaptations cannot be shared

Creative Commons Licenses


This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.

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This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.

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This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.

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This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

View License Deed | View Legal Code



This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.

View License Deed | View Legal Code



This license is the most restrictive of the six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

View License Deed | View Legal Code

Creative Commons maintains a website where all their different licenses are explained.

Additional Resources

Public Domain

Works that are not under copyright are considered in the public domain. These works are free to use for any purpose - you do not need permission to copy or adapt the work. You do not even have to give the work attribution but is is good practice to do so.

In Canada, works usually enter the public domain 50 years after the creator dies.

If the work was created outside of Canada in a Bern Convention country, it is generally considered to be in the public domain if you are using it in Canada and it would fall under public domain in Canada.

CC has a CC0 public domain tool which allow creators to disclaim copyright over their work. This differs from the CC licenses as the creator takes a no rights reserved approach.


If you want to put your work in the public domain, you can give it a CC0, no rights reserved, mark. This should be used only with your own work.

The CC0 legal code also uses a three-pronged legal approach. Since some countries do not allow creators to waive their rights, CC0  includes a 'fall-back' license that allows anyone to do anything with the work and a promise that the creator will not assert their rights against anyone reusing their work.    

The Public Domain mark, no known copyright, is given to works that are known to be in the public domain in all jurisdictions. This is usually applied to old works.

Find out more in UBC's guide Copyright at UBC: Public Domain 

Adapted from: “Unit 3: Anatomy of a CC License” by Creative CommonsCC BY 4.0.

What About Traditional Knowledge?

Inspired by Creative Commons licenses, Traditional Knowledge (TK) licenses and labels are under development as "a tool for Indigenous communities to add existing local protocols for access and use to recorded cultural heritage that is digitally circulating outside community contexts".

 Visit Local Contexts' website to learn more.