Frequently Asked Question
  • How do I apply a Creative Commons license to my work?
  • Can I apply a Creative Commons license to an offline work?
  • May I apply a Creative Commons license to a work that is in the public domain?
  • How does a Creative Commons license operate?
  • What things should I think about before I apply a Creative Commons license to my work?
How do I apply a Creative Commons license to my work?
For online works, you apply a Creative Commons license to a work by selecting the license that suits your preferences. Once you have selected your license, and if you are applying it to an online work, follow the instructions to include the html code in your work. This code will automatically generate a license button and a statement that your work is licensed under a Creative Commons license, or a CC0 or public domain button if you choose to dedicate your work to the public domain or certify that a work is in the public domain via one of our public domain tools. These buttons are designed to act as a notice to people who come in contact with your work that your work is licensed under the applicable Creative Commons license or is in the public domain. The html code will also include the metadata that enables your work to be found via Creative Commons-enabled search engines.
Can I apply a Creative Commons license to an offline work?
Yes. For offline works, you should identify which Creative Commons license you wish to apply to your work and then mark your work either: (a) with a statement such as “This work is licensed under the Creative Commons [insert description] License. To view a copy of this license, visit [insert url]; or, (b) send a letter to Creative Commons, 444 Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain View, California 94140, USA.” or insert the applicable license buttons with the same statement and URL link.

The only difference between applying a Creative Commons license to an offline work and applying it to an online work is that offline works will not include the metadata and, consequently, will not be identified via Creative Commons-customized search engines.

May I apply a Creative Commons license to a work that is in the public domain?
No, Creative Commons licenses should not be applied to works in the public domain. Our licenses are intended for works protected by copyright only. Our deeds now state this unambiguously: “Public Domain — where the work or any of its elements is in the public domain under applicable law, that status is in no way affected by the license.” Applying a CC license to a work in the public domain may constitute Copyfraud. However, if you incorporate a work that is in the public domain into a collection that is itself protected by copyright, then you may apply a Creative Commons license to the work as a collection, although the license will not affect the status of public domain work. Similarly, you may apply a Creative Commons license to an adaptation of a public domain work if you hold copyright to the adaptation.
How does a Creative Commons license operate?
A Creative Commons license is based on copyright. CC licenses apply to works that are protected by copyright law. The kinds of works that are protected by copyright law are books, websites, blogs, photographs, films, videos, songs and other audio & visual recordings, for example. Software programs are also protected by copyright but, as explained below, we do not recommend that you apply a Creative Commons license to software code.

Creative Commons licenses give you the ability to dictate how others may exercise your copyright rights—such as the right of others to copy your work, make derivative works or adaptations of your work, to distribute your work and/or make money from your work. They do not give you the ability to restrict anything that is otherwise permitted by exceptions or limitations to copyright—including, importantly, fair use or fair dealing—nor do they give you the ability to control anything that is not protected by copyright law, such as facts and ideas.

Creative Commons licenses attach to the work and authorize everyone who comes in contact with the work to use it consistent with the license. This means that if Bob has a copy of your Creative Commons-licensed work, Bob can give a copy to Carol and Carol will be authorized to use the work consistent with the Creative Commons license. You then have a license agreement separately with both Bob and Carol.

You should be aware that Creative Commons licenses only affect your rights under copyright. You are not licensing your trademark or patent rights, if any, when you apply a CC license to your work.

Creative Commons licenses are expressed in three different formats: the Commons Deed (human-readable code), the Legal Code (lawyer-readable code); and the metadata (machine readable code). You don’t need to sign anything to get a Creative Commons license—just select your license with our License Chooser.

One final thing you should understand about Creative Commons licenses is that they are all non-exclusive. This means that you can permit the general public to use your work under a Creative Commons license and then enter into a separate and different non-exclusive license with someone else, for example, in exchange for money.

What things should I think about before I apply a Creative Commons license to my work?
We have set out some things that you should think about before you apply a Creative Commons license to your work here.
Which Creative Commons license should I choose?

You should choose the license that meets your preferences. The license is a statement as to what others may do with your work, so you should select a license that matches what you are happy for others to do with your work. You can find an overview of the Creative Commons licenses here.

You can find out information about how our licenses have been applied by other people to text, audio, images, video and educational works.

You can also participate in our email discussion lists and/or review the discussion archives to see if our community is able to respond to your questions and concerns and/or has already addressed them.

Finally, you can also consult with a lawyer to obtain advice on the best license for your needs. For information about how you may be able to locate a suitably qualified lawyer, please refer to this question and answer.

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