Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Capabilities And Limitations of Creative Common Licenses You Need to Know

Graphic DesignThe Capabilities And Limitations of Creative Common Licenses You Need to Know

If you’re an artist or content creator of any kind, you probably occasionally worry about what would happen if someone decided to just… take your work, and pass it off as their own. What if some huge, wealthy superstar heard your tunes and decided to tweak them a little and make a ton of money from your work (and give you zero credit)? 

It actually happens all the time. Chain stores copy the art of small creators (including indigenous art pieces); they mass produce them and undercut the creator on the price mark; they make a ton of money from the copied designs, and this is all without paying a cent to the original creator or acknowledging them. You can be sure they didn’t have a sponsorship contract agreement template in the works, either. 

If you’re an artist, then you probably hear the word “exposure” tossed around a lot. “Oh make these poster designs for free for us and you’ll get great exposure”. While exposure doesn’t pay the bills, it sure is better than getting zero credit for your work. 

So what can you do about people stealing your work? Well, one option is to choose a Creative Commons License for your content and creations. 

Free to use image sourced from Unsplash

What is Creative Commons? 

Creative Commons was created as an alternative to copyright in 2002. It is an American non-profit company that freely releases copyright licenses, called Creative Commons licenses, to the public. 

The Creative Commons organization provides several simple licenses that creators can use for free. The licenses are shown alongside the creators’ works, whether they’re book cover designs, autumnal logos, or whatever. These licenses explain in simple terms the ways in which people are allowed to use the content. 

What are Creative Commons Licenses? 

The purpose of Creative Commons licenses is to offer creators an easy way to choose how other people can use their work. CC licenses are also there to protect people who use others’ work so that they don’t have to worry about breaking the rules and accidentally committing copyright infringement. All they have to do is follow the rules of the license. 

A Creative Commons license allows others to freely use your work, as long as they credit you properly. You can use Creative Commons-licensed content as long as you credit the authors of the content properly. You can find the guidelines on the official Creative Commons website. In general, you should include the author’s name, the title of the work, and a link to the source and to the license.

What types of CC licenses are there? 

Free to use image sourced from Unsplash

There are six main types of CC licenses that we will cover in this section. 


This is the most liberal license, allowing any member of the public to freely distribute your work and change it (e.g. music remix), for either commercial or non-commercial purposes. Anyone who uses your work must attribute it to you.


With this license, any member of the public can distribute your work as it is, without any changes, for either commercial or non-commercial purposes. Anyone who uses your work must attribute it to you.


With this license, anyone can make various modifications to your work, and the resulting new piece of content must also be subject to this CC license. It can be either commercial or noncommercial. Anyone who uses your work must attribute it to you.


With this license, any member of the public may make modifications or build upon the work (e.g. make a new piece of music that incorporates your music). The resulting new piece of content can only be noncommercial. Anyone who uses your work must attribute it to you.


This license allows members of the public to alter, adapt, remix, and modify your work, but just for noncommercial purposes. The new work which emerges from this must use the same CC license. Anyone who uses your work must attribute it to you. 


This is the most restrictive license. Anyone who uses your work must attribute it to you, and the public is allowed to do the following: 

Download your work and share it with others

Use the work as it is without any changes

Do the above just for noncommercial purposes


As well as the six main licenses we laid out above, CC also has two public domain labels, CC0 and PDM. 


With CC0, only the authorized rightsholder can apply it to a piece of work. The CC0 symbol means that you can use the work freely and however you like, including modifying it, for any purpose whatsoever, without attributing it to the creator and without any restrictions. 

While this is a copyright-protected work, the copyright owner has chosen to allow anyone to treat the content as if it were in the public domain. 


The PDM mark shows that a piece of content is in the public domain. Anyone at all can place the public domain mark on a piece of work that they believe to be free of copyright restrictions. The PDM then is a label rather than a license. If you see content with the PDM, it’s best to research the work to see if it truly is free of copyright restrictions.

What does non-commercial mean?

Free to use image sourced from Unsplash

Non-Commercial means that the use of the content is not primarily intended for or directed towards commercial advantage or monetary compensation. So you can use a piece of music at a party, but you can’t use it in an advert to sell something. 

Even if you run a non-profit, or not-for-profit organization, you still can’t use content marked as “non-commercial” to fundraise for your organization, for example. 

Eligibility for Creative Commons Licenses

There are three criteria you need to meet to be eligible to use a CC license:

  • Copyright must exist in the work being licensed
  • You must be the copyright owner of the work to place a CC license on it. If you’ve made a piece of work as part of your employment, then you may not have any rights over the work. You may have signed agreements, such as this NDA template free, restricting what parts of your work and information you can share. Many places of work own the content you create under their employment. 
  • If you’re in an exclusive licensing arrangement you might not be able to use CC licenses. You should look at your existing licensing arrangement to see if there are any restrictions around the use of CC licenses.

How to get a Creative Commons License

Getting a Creative Commons license is totally free and fairly straightforward. All you need to do is visit the Creative Commons website, share your work page and follow the steps laid out on the site. 

You will need to enter your name, and the title of your content or work, and enter the correct link to your work. The website will suggest a license for you on the basis of the answers you gave and the options you selected. 

You will then be able to use the text, HTML code, and media so you can display your license online for anyone to see alongside your work. It’s worth remembering that while Creative Commons licenses are technically enforceable in court, you would need legal assistance from your lawyer to take legal action.

These licenses also help users distinguish which content they can reshare and under what circumstances, protecting them from accidental infringement of copyright. However, if anyone does make an error, they can use a PandaDoc release of liability template to try and get their affairs in order and avoid extra legal woes or additional legal billing. 

Final words

Creative commons licenses are a great resource for everyone. Creators can protect their t-shirt designs, music, etc, and manage how they’re used and distributed, and the licenses give them some legal backing in case someone does decide to steal or use their work without permission for whatever reason. The licenses offer some peace of mind, if not perfect legal protection – you still might struggle to protect your rights, but it’s much better than leaving your work unlicensed. 

While the world of content creation and art can be legally murky, creative commons licenses are a free and easy way to give yourself some protection, and the little CC symbol next to your work can also act as a deterrent for people considering using your work without permission. 

Written by DesignCrowd on Monday, May 22, 2023

DesignCrowd is an online marketplace providing logo, website, print and graphic design services by providing access to freelance graphic designers and design studios around the world.

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