Copyright:Support Guides/Creative Commons Guide/Creative Commons FAQs

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Creative Commons FAQs

What is a license?

In the copyright context, a license is another term for an agreement whereby the copyright owner grants someone else permission to use their work. A license need not be a formal looking document prepared by a lawyer and signed by the parties—a license can be contained in an email, or it can be permission given orally. Some licenses are given on a 'unilateral' basis, which means that the copyright owner grants everyone permission to use their work, so long as they agree to certain restrictions. This is what a copyright owner is doing when applying a CC license to their work.

If I put a CC license on my work, am I giving away my copyright?

No. You retain your ownership of the copyright in your work. By granting any of the Creative Commons licenses, you're give others permission to use your work on certain conditions. As the Creative Commons organization states: CC licenses are legal tools that copyright holders can use to offer certain usage rights to the public, while reserving other rights.

What can be licensed, and is there any cost involved?

CC licenses can be applied to any work that is protected by copyright, including all original literary, artistic, dramatic and musical works, computer programs, translations and compilations of works, as well as sound recordings, performances and communication signals. This encompasses a wide range of things, ranging from books, articles, posters, manuals and graphs, to CDs, DVDs, software, databases and websites.
Although CC licenses can theoretically be applied to software, the Creative Commons organization does not recommend it, and instead encourages software developers to use open licenses from the Free Software Foundation, such as the GNU General Public License. For more information, please see the CC FAQ on software.
The Creative Commons organization supports the application of its licenses to data and databases that are protected by copyright. For more information, please see the CC FAQs on data.

Which is the best Creative Commons license?

Choosing which Creative Commons license to use depends upon how the copyright owner of the work would like it to be reused, repurposed, or remixed. As a copyright owner, some of the questions you may wish to think about when choosing a Creative Commons License are:
  • Am I ok with other people copying and distributing my content without permission?
  • Am I ok with them changing and adapting the content? Will I allow remixing?
  • Do I want to limit how others can release their remixes?
  • Am I ok with other people making money out of their reuse of the work?
Creative Commons has an online License Chooser tool that helps copyright holders walk through the process of understanding what license to use.
The following chart provides more information on the different degrees of freedom and control that the licenses allow:

Do CC licenses apply internationally or are they location specific?

All CC licenses are designed to apply internationally, although some have been adapted to reflect the official language and legal conventions of particular countries. According to the CC FAQ, "CC offers a core suite of six international copyright licenses (formerly called the 'unported')," and "also offers ported versions of its six, core licenses for many jurisdictions (usually jurisdiction = country, but not always)."
This might seem complicated, but the take-home point is that both "[t]he ported licenses and the international licenses are all intended to be legally effective everywhere." So, if the work you want to use is covered by a CC license that has been "ported" to a country other than Canada, you should feel free to use it.
CC also has an FAQ for users who are wondering whether to choose an international or a ported license, if you are concerned about which to apply to your own work.

What is considered non-commercial? Is use by an educational institution considered to be non-commercial?

Creative Commons states that non-commercial (NC) licenses prohibit uses that are "primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or monetary compensation." Whether a use of a work is commercial will depend on the specifics of the situation and the intentions of the user, but not the type of user. Thus, it is possible that a non-profit, public universities' use of a work may be considered commercial.

If you have any questions about if you are appropriately complying with the terms of a CC licensed work, Copyright at UBC can provide guidance.

What is the difference between Creative Commons and Fair Dealing?

Copyright exceptions (aka user rights), such as fair dealing allow the public to use copyrighted works in certain ways without the permission of the copyright owner. These exceptions are generally limited to using works for specific purposes, and you often need to meet various requirements in order to qualify for them.
CC licenses, by contrast, are a form of permission granted by the copyright owner.
CC licenses do not limit or restrict fair dealing or other exceptions in the Copyright Act, so you can use these exceptions to make use of a CC-licensed work, even if your intended use does not comply with the terms of the license. Equally, as long as you comply with the terms of the license, you can use a CC-licensed work without needed to meet the requirements for fair dealing or other copyright exceptions.

Can you apply a Creative Commons license to materials that also includes third-party copyrighted works (which have been used with permission)?

If you want to apply a CC license to a work that includes other copyrighted works (which you've used with permission), then you need to be specific about what aspects of your work you are licensing.
You can do this by editing the CC legal notice that you apply to your work. The first step is to choose an appropriate license using CC's Choose a License tool. Once you've selected a license, the tool will provide a general legal notice for you to apply to your work. For instance:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
If you've written an article that includes copyrighted images that you did not create yourself, then you might modify the above notice to read:
The text of this article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Alternately, if your article includes some images that you did create and others that you did not, then you could modify the notice to read:
Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. [Image A] is copyrighted by [Person A] and used with permission. [Image B] is copyrighted by ... [etc.]
Finally, if your work includes trademarks or other branding elements (such as the UBC logo), then you can add a statement at the end of the legal notice to indicate that the license does not apply to these elements. For instance:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The UBC logo is a registered trademark of the University of British Columbia. For guidelines on the permitted uses of UBC trademarks, please see
The key thing to remember is that the terms of a CC legal notice can be amended as needed to clarify what aspects of a work the license applies to.

What happens if I use a CC work inappropriately?

CC licenses only permit you to use the work if you comply with the terms. If you breach those terms, you could be held liable for breach of contract.
For this reason, it is very important to ensure that you read the terms of CC licenses carefully, and that you make every effort to comply with their conditions. If you have any questions or concerns about the terms of a CC license, or if you would like assistance with determining whether you are using a CC-licensed work appropriately, please contact the Copyright at UBC.

Where can I get more information or help on Creative Commons Licenses?

Copyright at UBC can provide guidance on copyright and Creative Commons.