Creative Commons is a tool that allows designers, writers, videographers and web developers to use content free of charge. From text to photos to video to sound, there are a variety of different types of available content that can be used when attributed appropriately.
But where can you find this content? Who can use it? And what really is acceptable to use? Today, we have a guide to creative commons works, proper use and attribution and tolls for helping you find great (and usable) content. (As an added bonus, all of the visuals used in this article were available under a Creative Commons license.)
What is Creative Commons
Creative Commons is a type of licensed attribution where authors can specify that their work can be used in a certain way. To use CC works, you typically do not have to request advance permission or pay any type of licensing fee.
Creative Commons works are protected by copyright law. What is different about this items are that the creators of the work opted to make it available for use. The author of a work can decide how it can be reused or built on by the type of CC license chosen to accompany it.
The Creative Commons office is a nonprofit organization, supported by volunteers, that enables the sharing and use of creative tools. This mission of Creative Commons is that it “develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.” Creative Commons is the backbone behind the different licensing options available and can help both creators and people looking for content work together. While Creative Commons is chartered and based in the United States, the network includes hundreds of affiliates around the globe.
Different Types of Licenses
Creative Commons includes six different types of standard licensing that are recognized internationally. The licenses are designed to conform to international copyright treaties and are revised and updated periodically.
The types of licenses are:
- Attribution (CC BY): This license allows others to distribute, alter and build upon a created work, even commercially, as long as the original source is credited.
- Attribution Non-Commercial (CC BY-NC): This license allows others to distribute, alter and build upon a created work for non-commercial use as long as the original source is acknowledged. Derivative works do not have to be licensed in the same manner as source material.
- Attribution No Derivatives (CC BY-ND): This license allows for the distribution of a work, commercially or non-commercially, as long as the created item is used unchanged and in its original and intended format with credit given to the creator.
- Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives (CC BY-NC-ND): This license is the most restrictive of all the Creative Commons options and only allows for the downloading or use of works in a shared manner. The user must credit the original source and can’t change or distribute them commercially information in any way.
Creative Commons vs. Public Domain
So what is the difference between Creative Commons and public domain? How do you know what is acceptable to use?
It comes down to copyright. Creative Commons works are still protected by copyright and can be used under a specific license. Items in the public domain are not protected under copyright law because no one owns or controls that material in any way.
How a created work enters the public domain varies by country of origin. Copyright holders can also give up those rights using a no copyright reserved or CC0 license.
Creative Commons Works
There are a variety of creative works that can fall under the purview of a Creative Commons license. While the first thing that comes to mind is often photos, works can also include video, sound and text.
The most commonly-used type of Creative Commons work is photos. The web is full of images but you need to be sure you are following the rules before using these for your own projects. (You will note that we often use Creative Commons images here at Design Shack and provide both named credit and a link with each image.) There are a variety of places to find fully licensed photos to use in your projects, but just running a standard search engine query and selecting an image is not one of them.
In addition to images, sound can also be licensed for Creative Commons use. This can be a pretty common practice for artists looking to gain exposure or a following. Uses can vary widely but Creative Commons sounds and music can often be found in video clips and are especially popular for use among amateur videographers.
Video is also licensable under Creative Commons, including some of what you may find on YouTube. Uploaders can even select a license when using the popular video-sharing website.
The text and content of a website is even covered under copyright and Creative Commons licensing. This would allow others to replicate and use (under the specifications of the license) both the content and look of a site. Other elements and created work such as illustrations and even typefaces are eligible for copyright and Creative Commons licensing.
Creative Commons Tools
There are a large number of tools available to help you both find creative commons content and license works of your own.
Information and Use
- Creative Commons downloadable buttons
- Creative Commons guide for bloggers infographic
- Add Creative Commons search to a browser
- Guide to public domain and Creative Commons by Harvard Law School Library
10 Content Sources
- Basic Creative Commons search
- Flickr: Creative Commons
- TinEye Labs Creative Commons search by color
- Wikimedia Commons
- Creative Commons on SoundCloud
- Creative Commons on YouTube
- Vimeo: Creative Commons
- Wisdom Commons, Creative Commons text
- Open Font Library
- Open Clipart Library
Get a Creative Commons License
If you have a work you want to license under Creative Commons it is pretty easy to do. The benefit for creators is exposure for your photo or other work and attribution.
You can use the Creative Commons licensing icons showcased here and apply for a specific license type online. After licensing, you can even share your work with others that are using Creative Commons.
Certain portfolio tools, such as Behance, also give you the option to include Creative Commons licensing information with your work. Make sure to select the appropriate field when uploading each portfolio item and make sure you do own the copyright to a work before licensing it. (Meaning it needs to be something you created – and often not for hire – in order for you to allow Creative Commons use.)
Working with Creative Commons elements can be a great source of additional content for your projects. The thing to keep in mind when working with this type of content is the source. Attribute properly and if you are not sure of a work’s license or source, don’t use it.
Creative Commons can also be a way for creative professionals to license some of their work for a wider audience. It is important to remember that once this license is assigned, it is permanent. So be sure of how you want a work to be used or distributed beforehand.