Center for Learning, Experimentation, Application, and Research

Understanding Creative Commons Updated: 07/14/2020 12:00

Creative Commons gives creators a simple, standardized way to selectively license copyright permissions to their creative work.

License Types

Creative Commons offers creators a wide range of licensing terms.  Some are very permissive, and others are restrictive.  The following are the primary types of licenses Creative Commons offers:

CC0  Creative Commons Zero Icon

Creative Commons Zero attempts to commit the work to the public domain, without the formal procedures required for such commitment.  The creator has reserved no rights in the work.  A third party may copy, distribute, display/perform, sell, and create derivative works of the original creation.

CC BY  Creative Commons Attribution Icon

For the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license terms, one of the major restrictions on the use of the work is that it must be attributed to the original author whenever copied, distributed, displayed/performed, sold, or made a part of a derivative work.  Best practices for crafting CC attributions include captioning an image or ascribing another type of work with the title of the work as a link back to the original web site, the name of the creator, and a linked name of the license term abbreviation.  An example would be:

Captions usually appear directly below or above the image.

CC BY-SA  Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike Icon

The first major restriction of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) license terms is to include attribution to the original author, just as above with the CC BY terms.  The second restriction is that whenever a derivative work is created, such as when someone remixes, tweaks, or builds upon the original author's work, the person who modifies the original work must license their new creation under the identical terms.  This gets complicated when combining works that are unlicensed and licensed under different Creative Commons terms.  Fortunately, guidance on how to combine and remix diversely licensed works can be found at the Creative Commons FAQ page

Whenever you need to use a CC BY-SA licensed work, such as an image, it is important to include the following attribution line directly below the work as a caption.  The only things that should be changed to the line are the title of the work in quotes (with accompanying link), the author's name, and the version of the CC BY-SA terms, where applicable:

  • The above image, "Inspiration" by Patrick Verstappen, is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.  All other content herein is licensed and copyright under different terms and by different parties.

CC BY-ND  Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives Icon

The Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives (CC BY-ND) license terms carry the same attribution requirement as the CC BY terms, plus the additional restriction against the creation of derivative works.  Derivative works are modified versions or "new" versions of the creative work.  A derivative work can be created through dramatic changes, or subtle ones, such as cropping, color corrections, or the addition/removal of elements of the work.  The only permissible methods of modification are: (a) conversion of format, such as from a JPG to a PNG, or a DOC to a PDF; and (b) resizing of the image.  As such, if you use a work licensed under these terms, you must not modify it in any other way beside these two mentioned here.

CC BY-NC  Creative Commons NonCommercial Icon

The Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC) license terms carry the same attribution requirement as the CC BY terms, plus the additional restriction against the use of the work for "commercial advantage or monetary compensation."  Since this institution is a non-profit, accredited institution of higher education, our uses should qualify as NonCommercial.

All Other Licenses

All other Creative Commons licenses are a combination of the above sets of terms.  As of 11/8/2019, UNT representatives are permitted to utilize works in their courses under any of the above license terms, or any combination thereof.   

Common Sources of CC Media

The three most common sources of CC media are, the Wikimedia Commons, and TED talks.  Below are guides to quickly finding the information you need to write your own attribution caption.

To locate CC attribution information in Flickr, when viewing the image, you will find the photographer/author of the image just below the image on the left.  Underneath that will be the title of the work, and on the far right just below the image you will see text that either says "All Rights Reserved" or "Some Rights Reserved."  If it says "All Rights Reserved" then you may not use it.  It is not licensed under the Creative Commons.  However, if it states "Some Rights Reserved," click those words and your browser will open a page on the Creative Commons web site with the license version.  The example screen capture of Flickr below shows the locations of each of these pieces of information:

Screen capture of, showing where the attribution caption information is located

I also does not hurt to link back to a photographer's work, even when it is not required, as a matter of academic best practice and good will.

Wikimedia Commons

Likewise, all the information you require for a Creative Commons attribution caption can be found just below the image on Wikimedia Commons.  The title, followed by the photographer/author, are just below the photo on the left, and the Creative Commons license type and version are just below the image on the right.  The screen capture image below shows their exact location.

Screen capture of Wikimedia Commons showing location of CC information

To form your own caption, copy the example above under CC BY.  Replace the title with your image's title, then replace the photographer/author's name, and then, if necessary, replace the CC type and version with the appropriate one listed for the source image.  And for good measure, link the title back to the original web page, and the license to the license page.

TED Talk Attribution Caption  TED Talk logo

All TED and TEDx talks are licensed under the CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license terms. Any time a TED or TEDx talk is embedded in a UNT page, please include a Creative Commons attribution caption, regardless of whether the TED talk is in YouTube or directly on the web site.  However, if you link out to a TED video, no caption is needed.  A good example for the format for a TED talk attribution caption would be:

Additional Reading

What do Public Domain & Creative Commons Mean?
Learn about the differences from the Harvard Law School Library and learn where to find media.
Creative Commons— Best practices for attribution
One condition of all CC licenses is attribution. This article includes good examples of attribution.
Understand the types of Creative Commons licenses
Peruse the “human-readable” version of the CC license terms and conditions.
Attributing Creative Commons Materials
The CC Australian team developed this helpful guide to attributing works in different formats.
Creative Commons— License Versions
Compare license versions.
Creative Commons License Creator Tool
Search reliable sources for creative works including media, images, video, audio, music, web.
Creative Commons FAQs
This contains basic and detailed information.
Creative Commons Search
Search reliable sources for creative works including media, images, video, audio, music, web.

Research in-depth information from other external sources in Resources.

Search these multiple sources to Locate Usable Work — text, images, videos, and audio.