A Closer Look At Creative Commons Licenses

A Creative Commons License might mean there are no costs but there are regulations you need to follow.

| General Photography

A Closer Look At Creative Commons Licenses: Creative commons

If you have searched for free images then you have probably come across the Creative Commons licenses (CC Licenses).

According to Wikipedia, a Creative Commons (CC) license is "one of several public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted work". However, just because the licenses are without cost does not mean they are without rules. These rules can alter from picture-to-picture, each allowing the image user to use the images in completely different ways. 

To help understand CC licenses, Copytrack explains all the key signs, their different meanings, and what users have to watch out for when using CC Licenses.

What Is A CC License? 

Put simply, Creative Commons licenses are licensing contracts that answer the most important questions when it comes to the rightsholder's rights. A key point to note is that CC licenses are valid worldwide. There are a lot of terms with the licenses that can be combined differently to create different contracts. All the licenses have one thing in common - they can be used for free. As well as an author and image source must always be given and the licenses are irreversible. That means, if a photo is shared once with a creative commons license, it can never be removed.

To help users quickly establish how photos can and can’t be used, multiple signs are used to represent each term. The licenses vary in three major ways. First, the permission to edit work. Secondly, the ability to pass on a modified version of the work and the last point defines if the image can be used commercially or not. The one rule that always remains is that the creators have to be named and sources have to be provided.


Creative commonsCC License Letter Codes

The four license terms can result in the following combinations and Creative Common licenses as letter codes:

CC by: This is the simplest license and the user is only obliged to give attribution. They are allowed to use, edit and use the photo for commercial purposes.

CC by-sa (Attribution & Share Alike): This license restricts the distribution of a modification of the photograph. This must be provided under the same conditions as the original work.

CC by-nd (Attribution & No Editing): This license does not allow you to edit the photo. However, it may be used for commercial purposes as long as the image is not modified in any way.

CC by-nc (Attribution & non-commercial use): This license prohibits the commercial use of images. Therefore, the use of the photo for profit-making purposes is not permitted, e. g. in an online shop or for resale of products.

CC by-nc-sa (named, non-commercial & share like): This license permits only non-commercial use of the photo. In addition, edited works may only be passed on under the same terms as the original.

CC by-nc-nd (Attribution, non-commercial use & no editing): This license allows you to use the image for non-commercial purposes; however, it is not permitted to edit the original.


Caution When Giving Attribution

All Creative Commons licenses require attribution. However, according to the license agreement, it is not enough to give only the name of the photographer. A number of assignments are required next to the name:

  • The name or, if indicated instead, the pseudonym of the copyright holder, usually the photographer
  • If the right holder has made an attribution to a third party (e. g. to a foundation, publishing house or newspaper), the name or designation of that third party
  • The title of the photograph
  • If a link to the source of the photograph or to the photographer is provided
  • The license under which the photo is offered
  • Changes made by the user to the photo


Not Everything Is Clearly Regulated

In some areas, however, the CC licenses remain unclear. For example, the license terms do not explain in detail what is meant by the term "commercial". It is only defined as quite vaguely that a commercial act is an 'act which is mainly aimed at or directed towards a commercial advantage or a contractually owed monetary disposition'. Not where the photo is used, but how.

In short, Creative Commons licenses are a way for photographers to share their photos with third parties in a controlled manner. Through their use, the photographer creates legal certainty in large parts, both for himself and for the photographer. This may also allow them to better distribute work. As the attribution must always be given, a picture passed on under the CC license can also have a considerable advertising advantage for the photographer.

To see more from CopyTrack, have a read of their 'UK Copyright Terminology Basics For Photographers' article. We also have advice on what to do if you find your image has been stolen.

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