In most of the world, a work is given copyright protection as soon as it is created. This means it cannot be copied, distributed, performed, posted, or altered/used to create derivative works of it without express permission from the creator or rights holder.
However, there are many creators who are happy to have their work shared in such a way or used to create new works...but they have no easy way to indicate that they give their permission to do so.
This is where Creative Commons licensing comes in. The Creative Commons Organization is a nonprofit organization that "enables the sharing and reuse of creativity and knowledge through the provision of legal tools". Creative Commons licenses are legal tools that creators and other rights holders can use to offer certain usage rights to the public, while reserving other rights. It also allows creators to mark their works with the CC0 license or with the Public Domain Mark, which can make a work available for worldwide public use
So that means they're copyright-free, right?
No. It's important to understand that Creative Commons works are NOT without copyright.They are still copyrighted to their creators. However, what Creatives Commons DOES permit is for creators to give permission to use/post/alter their works, without requiring you to ask them specifically for their permission, which saves both you and the creator time and effort. It also outlines how the work may be used and how it may NOT be used without you having to ask.
Do I still have to give credit/cite the image or work if I use it?
Yes. Creative Commons does not equal public domain. It is still a form of copyright license, and you're still expected to give credit to the creator(s), according to whichever of the 6 Creative Commons licenses the creator has licensed their work under. To not do so is theft/copyright infringement.
There is one exception: works licensed under CC0 or the Public Domain Mark are available for worldwide public use.
To learn more about Creative Commons and the different Creative Commons licenses, please visit the official Creative Commons website.
Visual examples of Creative Commons license icons and symbols
For more information on the acronyms and symbols involved in marking Creative Commons, please visit the official Creative Commons website.
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Sources and image credits:
Bailey, J (Ed.).(2018, July 24). What is Creative Commons anyway? Plagiarism.org. https://www.plagiarism.org/blog/2018/07/24/what-is-creative-
Creative Commons. (n.d.). What we do: About CC licenses. https://creativecommons.org/about/cclicenses/