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Library Research Guides

Creative Commons

Looking for images, video, music, and other content you can share, reuse, or remix? Looking to share content you created? Consider the Creative Commons licenses.

Copyright Questions?

The University of Michigan Library Copyright Office provides help with copyright questions for University of Michigan faculty, staff and students. Please email us with questions or visit our website for more information.

Legal Advice

The information presented here is intended for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have specific legal questions pertaining to the University of Michigan, please contact the Office of the General Counsel.

If you require legal advice in your personal capacity, the lawyer referral services operated by the Washtenaw County Bar Association and the State Bar of Michigan may be helpful to you.

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that created a set of simple, easy-to-understand copyright licenses. These are legally enforceable licenses that allow creators to mark a work with permission to make a variety of uses, with the aim of expanding the range of things available for others to share, quote, adapt, and build upon. Creative Commons licenses do two things: They allow creators to share their work easily, and they allow everyone to find work that is free to use without permission. As long as you obey the terms of the license attached to the work, you can use Creative Commons licensed material without fear of accidentally infringing someone’s copyright. We encourage the use of Creative Commons licenses because they help communicate information about copyright holders’ intentions and thus help everyone know what may be used and what uses would require further permission. They help authors and creators manage their copyrights and share their creative work without losing control over it. Further, Creative Commons licenses facilitate creators’ rights by communicating clearly a contact for permission when appropriate.

What do the Creative Commons licenses mean?

When a copyright holder applies a Creative Commons license to her work, she tells the world what uses she is willing to permit to everyone, without payment of license fees. Other uses of her work still require her authorization, and she may choose to charge for them. Copyright holders can apply the licenses to any work that is covered by copyright law, including books, scholarly articles, movies, musical arrangements, and artwork. Please note, however, that the licenses are not designed for computer software.

Some explanation: a work of authorship is protected by copyright from the moment of creation (fixation), and those rights are owned by the author of the work. So, the starting assumption - or the default status - for a work protected by copyright is "All Rights Reserved." Copyright is often referred to as a bundle of rights because copyright includes a whole range of rights including the right to authorize (or not) copying, performance, display, distribution of copies, or making derivatives; effectively anything other than just viewing the original copy. There are some exceptions like fair use, but these are applicable only in certain circumstances. Unless you as the copyright holder indicate otherwise, you are assumed to control all of the rights in that bundle. This means that anyone who wants to make any use of a work needs to get permission from you. You can license some, all, or none of those rights depending on your goals - that's where Creative Commons licenses can help both copyright holders and people who want to use copyrighted materials.

Why apply a CC license to your work?

Supplementing your existing copyright with a Creative Commons license can help you manage your copyrights and share your works without losing your rights. What, though, are some of the specific benefits to you as a creator of artistic or scholarly works?

Embedding CC licenses into web content means it will be discoverable by CC searches, providing more exposure for you as a creator and for your work. For scholarly works, this can lead to more citations.

By mixing and matching the different CC license attributes (i.e. NC, ND, SA), you can encourage those uses you want without the hassle of permissions. For example, if you want other users to be able to reinterpret your work as long as they don't use it for any commercial endeavors, you could use a CC BY-NC license. There is even a CC license chooser to help you select a license.

You can allow others to either build upon, remix, or reinterpret your work and research while retaining credit for your contributions. This helps to foster a community of shared culture and scholarly research.

Finally, if you're involved in instruction, CC licenses can be especially helpful when developing or sharing course materials. You can find and share learning tools, lesson plans, and more with other educators through CC licensing and searching.

Get Creative!

The video below describes the origins and mission of the Creative Commons initiative:

Further Reading