Understanding Creative Commons licensing

Whether you are publishing open access articles, working on open textbooks, or simply securing images for use in your manuscripts, chances are you will encounter the Creative Commons licensing model at some point.

Creative Commons (CC) licensing is a set of copyright options that allow for the retention of rights without maintaining the “all rights reserved” approach to traditional copyright protections. There are six forms of CC licenses, each with varying restrictions, and all requiring attribution to the original creator: CC BY, CC BY-SA, CC BY-ND, CC BY-NC, CC BY-NC-SA, and CC BY-NC-ND.

You see some consistencies in the license types. Each license begins with CC BY, indicating the Creative Commons licensing model, and the requirement of each to identify the original creator of the work or who it was “BY”.

The remainder of each license type has some combination of SA, NC, or ND standing for ShareAlike, NonCommercial, and NoDerivs respectively. This is where the differences of licenses become apparent.

The least restrictive license, CC BY, permits the original work or any derivatives to be created and used under any licensing model and in both commercial and non-commercial applications, as long as the attribution to the original work is provided.

The two license types containing “SA” – CC BY-SA and CC BY-NC-SA – permit the creation of derivatives from the original work, as long as such new works are shared under the same license type as the original. Share alike.

The two license types containing “ND” – CC BY-ND and CC BY-NC-ND – require that the work be reused in whole and without modification.

The two license types containing “NC” – CC BY-NC and CC BY-NC-ND – permit the appropriate reuse of the work and, where allowed, derivatives of the work in non-commercial applications only.

Most search engines, including Google and Bing, make it easy to filter the results for each of these license types, although they use more user-friendly phrasing, such as “Labeled for noncommercial reuse with modification”.

Learn more about Creative Commons licensing


Eric SchmiederEric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.