Creative Commons Licensing

A legal tool more than a technology, Creative Commons licenses provide an alternative to the all rights reserved copyright default. By breaking down barriers to the sharing and adaptation of digital content Creative Commons licenses facilitate greater collaboration and dissemination.

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What is Creative Commons licensing? Copyright prohibits a lot of the copying, editing, and revising that could otherwise further our educational goals. It also applies to just about everything whether you want it or not. Creative Commons licenses are a set of legal tools that give creators more options in exercising their copyrights.

There are six different Creative Commons licenses that creators can use to tell the world what permissions they are granting. At a minimum each license allows for copying and distribution of the original work as long as attribution is provided. The creator gets to decide things like whether to allow sharing of adaptations of the work and whether to allow commercial use.

Why would you need Creative Commons licensing? If your version of success involves sharing your digital work in a way that maximizes access, dissemination or the impact of your work or if you want to encourage participation with or modification of your work, Creative Commons might be for you. Licensing a work with CC helps signals these wishes and gives others a legal way to use your work without you having to grant permission to every individual separately.

Alternatively, you may want to find works that others have licensed with Creative Commons to reuse, revise, or remix for your own purposes. Because Creative Commons licenses have a machine readable component, you can find these works using many of the search engines you are already familiar with.

How are faculty using Creative Commons licensing? Instructors who want to allow reuse of their own learning materials use Creative Commons licenses. Creative Commons licenses can be applied to materials of any format and any size, from a humble course syllabus to a full textbook to a multimedia extravaganza.

The Creative Commons Recipe

What do you want to do?

I want to license my own work with CC:


      1. Identify the content you would like to license. It can be in any format and could be anything from a course syllabus, a full textbook, or a multimedia object.
      2. Visit the Creative Commons license chooser. It will walk you through the questionnaire that will determine which license is right for you.
      3. Copy the text and license URL (and icon, if you’re fancy) provided by the license chooser and insert it into your document’s title page, your slide deck’s title slide, or other location appropriate to your format. For information on marking a variety of formats visit the Creative Commons wiki page.
      4. Post your work on a platform that will enable others to find it, (consult your librarian if you’re not sure where to post).
      5. Take advantage of your chosen platform’s native metadata to indicate that the work is Creative Commons licensed, (or if you post the content on your own website, use the HTML code provided by the license chooser.)

I want to find and use others’ CC licensed work:

There are many search strategies and search platforms that can be used to find OER.  If the one below doesn’t work for you, talk to your librarian about other search options.

      1. Visit the Google Advanced Search page and type in your search terms in the top box.
      2. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and change the usage rights drop down menu to “free to use or share.” Hit enter or the blue search button.
      3. Read the license deed for any work that you want to reuse. Check that it’s compatible with your intended use.
      4. Be sure to give proper credit to the authors/creators of any works that you reuse. See the wiki page for Best Practices for Attribution for more details.


Considerations to ask about: Putting a Creative Commons license on your work is not the only requirement to ensure that others can reuse your work. The work you want to share needs to have a home on the internet such as an institutional, OER repository, personal, or institutional website. A CC licensed document saved to your desktop will not be of use to anyone, and alas, Creative Commons is not a “place” (they do not host or even maintain a catalog of material licensed with Creative Commons).

Also consider that the file format you choose for your work will impact how easy it will be for others to make modifications to your work. Fear not! Your friendly local librarian can help you with both of these considerations.

From the teaching kitchen of Christin Wixson (Plymouth State University)


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The USNH Technology Cookbook by University System of New Hampshire is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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