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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.

Benefits of Licensing Your Work Under One of the Creative Commons Licenses

Licensing your work under one of the Creative Commons licenses provides many benefits.

You don't have to handle individual permissions requests.

Once you've applied one of the Creative Commons licenses to your work, you can refer all potential users to the License Deed. If the license you chose permits what a user wants to do, she doesn't need further permission from you.

Your work is easier to discover.

The Creative Commons licenses can be machine readable. If you mark your licensed works with HTML code provided by Creative Commons, search engines know how it can be reused. They can communicate that to their users.

Your work is easier to access.

Releasing your work under a Creative Commons license decreases financial barriers to access. It can also help decrease technical barriers. Organizations working to increase access will be able to aggregate and reformat your work.

Others can build upon your work.

When others can copy your work freely, it's easier for them to build on it. If you choose a license that permits derivatives, users can also distribute adaptations they make of your work.

Checking That You Hold the Copyright

Before applying a license to a work, be sure that you hold the copyright. Under US law, the initial copyright holder is the author of the work. In most cases, copyright law treats the creator(s) of the work as the author(s). Authors who create a work jointly share copyright in it. If someone creates a work as an employee (or in certain cases, as a contractor), that person’s employer is considered the author of the work. More information about who holds copyrights is available in our Copyright Basics guide.

If you were the initial copyright holder, consider whether you have transferred or licensed your copyright to others. If you have, the terms of that agreement may impact your ability to license the work now under the Creative Commons license you have selected.

University of Michigan Standard Practice Guide 601.28 governs who holds copyright in works created at or in affiliation with the university. More information about SPG 601.28 is available in our Copyright Basics guide.

Selecting and Applying a Creative Commons License

The Creative Commons License Chooser can help you select a license for your work. It asks you about your licensing preferences. Based on that information, it selects a license. It also provides HTML code or text that you can use to mark the work with the license. If you provide attribution information for the work, the HTML code includes that information as machine-readable metadata.

Marking Works Online

If you will be posting the work on a website you edit, mark your work with HTML code generated by the License Chooser. This makes the license machine readable. It also includes the icon associated with the license and a link to the License Deed.

Marking Works Offline

To use the License Chooser to generate text you can use to mark offline works, click on "Help Others Attribute to You!" For "License Mark," select "Offline" from the drop-down menu. This will generate text that includes a URL for the License Deed. It will also give you a link to download the license icon, which you can include when you mark the work.

To mark other types of works offline, follow the examples laid out on Creative Commons's page on Marking your work with a CC license.

Marking Works on Online Platforms

Creative Commons maintains a list of Publishing Platforms that allow users to upload their work and mark it with a Creative Commons license. These licenses are usually machine readable.

Marking Works with the Public Domain Dedication

CC0, the Public Domain Dedication, is not included in the License Chooser. To mark a work with the Public Domain Dedication, use the CC0 Waiver Tool.

U-M Unit Licensing a Work Under One of the Creative Commons Licenses

In many cases, University of Michigan SPG 601.28 permits the unit most closely associated with the creation of a work to authorize use of that work. This includes licensing the work under a Creative Commons license of the unit's choice. The exceptions are for "software intended to be revenue generating; software funded under a sponsored activity agreement; and any [deliverables] funded under a sponsored activity agreement," all of which are handled by the Office of Technology Transfer.
If you work in a University of Michigan unit, you may not be sure how to signal to the public that your unit has applied one of the Creative Commons licenses to a given work. There is no one required way to communicate this information to the public, but here's an example.
Suppose the University of Michigan Library Copyright Office decides to apply a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC-BY) license to a work. Suppose also that (1) the work was created by an employee of the office as part of its annual Copyright Camp activities, (2) the Regents of the University of Michigan hold the copyright in the work, and (3) the office wants to share a preferred attribution, so that users know how to provide the attribution required by the license. They could label copies of the work with the following text:
© 2017 Regents of the University of Michigan. Please attribute this photograph of the 2017 Copyright Camp to the University of Michigan Library Copyright Office. It is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.