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Library Guides

Copyright for Researchers: Creative Commons

This guide provides guidance on copyright matters for researchers

What is creative commons and why is it relevant

Creative Commons Licences are a type of open licences that you can apply to your work to indicate you are happy to share the work under certain conditions.

They are sometimes described as an alternative to copyright, however Creative Commons does not mean you give up the copyright in your work, or your right to be acknowledged as the creator of a work.

Typically Creative Commons licences are added to online content, and search engines are increasingly able to identify content that has been shared under these licences because in addition to the legal document, there is a machine readable licence.

There are six different licence types, with the most permissive being the CC-BY (Creative Commons Attribution) License and most restrictive being the CC-BY-NC-ND (Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives) licence. The licences allow you to specify if you wish your work to be used for commercial purposes and if you require the person re-using your work to share it under the same licence, or if you are happy with derivative works being created from your work. 

Adding a Creative Commons Licence to your work

It is relatively simple to add a Creative Commons Licence to your work. The first step is to visit the Creative Commons website and choose the licence that best suits your needs. The instructions on screen make this relatively straightforward to choose between the six licences types. If the work is a web page then you can copy a piece of HTML code to embed in your page, to add the licence. Otherwise, you can include details of the licence using the logos in the table  and the abbreviations, with a link to the licence online.

One thing to note about adding a Creative Commons licence to your work is that they are irrevocable, so once added to your work you cannot remove the licence as people may have started using it.  


Creative Commons licences

Creative Commons licences
Licence Type Abbreviation Description



CC-BY This licence lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licences offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.

Attribution ShareAlike 

creative commons logo

CC-BY-SA This licence lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This licence is aligned with the “copyleft” free and open source software licences which ensure that derivative works can never be put under more restrictive licensing terms than the original. All new works based on yours will carry the same licence, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for work that incorporates content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.

Attribution NonCommerical

creative commons logo

CC-BY-NC This licence lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work for non-commercial purposes, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

Attribution NoDerivatives

creative commons logo

CC-BY-ND This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you. 

Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike

creative commons logo

CC-BY-NC-SA This licence lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work for non-commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.

Attribution NonCommercialNoDerivs

creative commons logo

CC-BY-NC-ND This licence is the most restrictive of the six licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.


Credits and disclaimer

With thanks to Dr Jane Secker for authoring this guide © Jane Secker and licenced for re-use under Creative Commons  creative commons non commerical

Disclaimer: The guide in no way substitutes for formal legal advice. If you are in any doubt or require further information we recommend you consult the sources of further advice at the end of this guide.