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Creative Commons licenses, explained for dummies

24 mayo, 2021

Despite the controversial new European copyright directive, not all content that can be found on the web is protected. Some people like to release their work so that other users can use it under some conditions. These conditions are precisely those contained in the Creative Commons licenses.

These licenses, widely used online on sites such as Flickr and image banks, serve to guarantee the creator (or licensee) a series of rights over their products, while allowing share and use content completely free. In total there are six types, and each of them imposes a series of different conditions.

Understanding license types and conditions

CC licenses

Creative Commons contemplates four limitations that can be combined with each other to make licenses more or less restrictive. You can see their symbols in the image above and these are:

  1. Attribution (BY): to use a work in any type of medium it is essential to explicitly cite the author.
  2. ShareIgual (SA)– One work can be used to create another, as long as it is published under the same license as the original work.
  3. NoDerivatives (ND)– You can use a work for anything, as long as you don’t modify it. An example would be taking a photo of a sky and editing it to add an airplane passing overhead, or change the speed of an audio clip.
  4. NonCommercial (NC): You can use use a work to generate another work, as long as you are not going to make money from it. It is very common in Flickr photos.

This series of conditions generates a total of six different licenses. All of them have in common the attribution to the author, but depending on which the licensee chooses, the user will be able to do some things or others. These are as follows, ordered from least to most restrictive. To see

Attribution (CC-BY 4.0)


It is the simplest. A work with this license can be used for whatever you want, including or not modifying it, whether commercial or not, as long as the author is cited.

Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA 4.0)


If a work has this license it means that it can be used for any project, commercial or non-commercial, whether or not it is edited or modified, as long as the author is cited and is published under the same license CC BY-SA 4.0. That is, anyone can use your work for their own projects, and so on.

Attribution-NoDerivatives (CC BY-ND 4.0)


You can use a work with this license, whether or not for profit, as long as cite the author and do not make a derivative work of it. As an example, you could take a photo of a sunset to illustrate an article, but not edit it to add text, other images, etc.

Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC 4.0)


The CC BY-NC 4.0 license is a derivative of the first one which means that you can use a work if you quote the author and always in non-commercial projects. It can be, for example, a photo for a class presentation or to illustrate a university work.

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)


This license is a mix of the first two with a small addition. You can use a work as long as it is for a non-profit project, cite the author and publish the result under the CC BY-ND-SA 4.0 license.

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


Like the previous one, it is a mixture of the first and third with the exception that must be used for non-profit works. You can use a work while citing the author, be it for non-commercial projects and do not modify it in any way. TED talks, for example, have these licenses.

The CC0 or public domain license

Public Domain License

To these six licenses must be added a last one that is CC0, better known as public domain license. The author who uses this license releases his work for use in any condition and context without the need for attribution. This does not mean that a work does not have authorship, but that the author has renounced the rights derived from it, such as economic exploitation or recognition. It is, for example, the license that photos and videos from Pixabay or Pexels have.

How to cite Creative Commons works

Example licensed photo

Now that you know what each license means, you should know how to cite. It is not complicated. Usually enough put a link to the website from which you got the file and another to the license. The top photo is licensed CC BY-ND 2.0, that is, it can be used for any project, commercial or non-commercial, as long as it is not modified.

To cite it, it would be worth putting the name of the author, a link to the source (Flickr, in this case), the name of the license and a link to it. That is: “Image credits | ZexonaZ licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0”. On the other hand, and although it is not necessary in works with Creative Commons licenses, it is always recommended to notify the author that your files have been or will be used in a project.

Image Credit | TilarX licensed CC BY 2.0
In Genbeta | Creative Commons publishes version 4.0 of its licenses