Creative commons: open licence for copyrighted works

General info

A Creative Commons licence is an open licence. These kinds of licences allow certain, globally recognised, standardised re-use of copyrighted material. It is a so called upfront licence. You don't have to ask for permission to access, share or use a protected work, the permission is granted automatically. If you want to give people the right to share, use, and even build upon a work you’ve created, you should consider publishing it under a Creative Commons license.

When you want to re-use copyright protected material, permission should be granted by the copyright holder. Three possible scenarios exempt you from seeking permission:

  • There's an exception in the copyright legislation that allows you certain use in certain cases.
  • A contract allows you to use copyrighted material.
  • The material is available with an open licence.
  • Specific law that allows certain use.

A Creative Commons licence is a combination of 4 features, 4 conditions the copyright holder selects to open their work:

  • BY: attribution: give credit to the author
  • SA: share alike: copy, distribute, display, perform, and modify the work, as long as you distribute any modified work on the same terms
  • NC: non-commercial: the rights holder does not allow commercial re-use
  • ND: no derivatives: you can copy, distribute, display and perform only original copies of the work, but not a modification, adaptation of the work

By combining these conditions, an open licence is created. If you consider the definition of "open" as defined by the open definition only the licence CC0, CC-BY and CC-BY-SA are really free open licences. The other Creative Commons licences still hold some limits to re-use.

When you re-use a work with a CC licence you need to respect the conditions. If the licence includes SA then your work should be SA too.

Public Domain

CC0 indicates the copyright holder waives all his/her rights and opens up the work in public domain. This means none of the features above apply.

Choose a licence

Find more information and choose your open licence on the Creative Commons website.


Wikimedia content is freely available using CC licences. See the terms of use and this example.

Many open access journals use CC licences, e.g. Psychologica Belgica.

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Last modified May 5, 2024, 3:18 p.m.