Creative Commons for designers and agencies

29.7.2012    Lucie Ebnerová   

Creative Commons (CC) is an English term referring not only to a kind of licence, but also to a non-profit organization founded in 2001. The aim of the organization is to legally share and spread authors creative pieces of work (works of authorship). Moreover, CC has released many copyright licenses since its foundation.

Introducing Creative Commons

The name Creative Commons means something like a creative community. The organization's tag line is Share, Remix and Reuse Legally. In other words, the purpose of CC is to develop, launch, support and supervise legal and technical conditions to maximize digital production, sharing and innovation. For these purposes, CC has established four basic obligations and two kinds of authorizations which altogether create six complex sets of licences (see below). Given that the licences were written in accordance with the U.S. legal system, the wording of them could be incompatible with different legal systems. Thanks to those possible discrepancies about 70 foreign countries, including the Czech Republic, created a local branch of Creative Commons. The Czech CC, founded in 2009, deals with the contradictions within the Czech legal system and creates local copyright CC licenses.

The CC licence

The CC licence consists of several types of licences which allow to share, use, modify or process the particular work of authorship without it being illegal or against the copyright law.

Unfortunately, the copyright isn’t respected either by creators or recipients in the Czech Republic. The reasons vary. Therefore, using the CC licence could be a very smart solution not only because the work is branded by the licence, but also because everybody knows how to deal with it. Moreover, from the legal perspective there is no need for a special contract if the granted licence is honoured in the given extent. It is obvious that, (from what has just been said), if somebody wants to use the piece of work beyond the scope of the licence, he or she will have to ask the author for a special licence. In other words, if somebody provides his or her piece of art within the limits of the CC license it does not necessarily mean that others can use the piece totally free of charge; they only can use it within the licence extent and limits which can be found in the license itself.

The main idea of CC is not only to spread and make the pieces of art available to public, but also to protect the works against an abuse. In case you want to share and show your work to public, do not hesitate and go for the CC licence because it is the best way to protect your art free of charge. Of course you should think through carefully which licence you will go for. Do you have a piece of art that is highly valuable? Are you afraid of the fact that somebody is going to abuse it and turn it to their advantage? Place it on the Web with the note - commercial use prohibited. Unfortunately, this does not mean that your work will not be abused. However, the unauthorized user is violating the license and will be responsible for the consequences of infringing the rules.

One of the main advantages of the licensed works is that you have all the pieces of art at your disposal and that you can alter, share and use them for commercial purposes provided that you observe the license’s terms. In other words, you don’t have to worry about who the author is, or that you will have to pay lost profits and other expenses in case that somebody will claim the authorship.

Just to put it in a better picture, let’s have a look at the licence, what it is and who is authorized to issue them. In simple terms, a license means to give permission to another subject. In terms of the Copyright Act, the subject matter of the license is granting the rights to use the authorized work within the limits of the licence extent (such as place, time and methods of use) according to article 46 of the Copyright Act. Moreover, the author of the work or the licensee (another party) has the right to grant the rights to a third subject by means of a so-called “sub-license”.

The license may be granted as an exclusive or non-exclusive. In case we grant the exclusive license to a third subject we have to bear in mind that we have to refrain from all the rights of the license. Moreover, this doesn’t imply that we lose the rights, they will only be limited. Furthermore, copyright is non-transferable which applies not only to property law but also to personal law. On the other hand, in case of non-exclusive licenses both the author and the third subject are able to execute the same rights.

In order to understand the matter of licenses more, we will introduce you the separate rights and duties following the license. In addition, the name of the license expresses the extent of its limitations. In other words, “what is not mentioned is allowed.”

CC licenses

Licence CC BY, Attribution 3.0
(cite the author)

The only restriction this licence has is that we have to cite the author’s name, but besides it we can share, alter and use his or her work for commercial purposes. The licence is marked by pictograms stating that we have the rights to spread, modify it and cite the author. (see the pictograms below)

This icon (CC BY) can represent RDF/XML meta-data which will securely link you to the particular license; therefore, it is necessary to link it with the icon.

License CC BY-SA, Attribution-Share Alike 3.0
(cite the author, maintain the licence)

You can share and alter the work. However, if you modify the work, you can distribute or use the work only under the same compatible or similar license.

Licence CC BY-NC, Attribution–Non-commercial 3.0
(cite the author, don’t use the work commercially)

This license gives rights to share and alter the work which cannot be used for commercial purposes.

Licence CC BY-ND, Attribution-No Derivates 3.0
(cite the author, don’t alter or transform the work)

Within the limits of this licence people are able to share and use the work for commercial purposes but they cannot alter or transform the work in any way.

Licence CC BY-NC-SA, Attribution-Non-commercial- Share Alike 3.0
(cite the author, don’t use it commercially, maintain the licence)

You cannot use the work certified by this licence for commercial purposes.

Licence CC BY-NC-ND, Attribution-Non-commercial-No Derivates 3.0
(cite the author, don’t use it for commercial purposes, don’t alter or transform the work)

This license has the widest restrictions of the work’s use. You can only share the work but you are prohibited to alter or use it for commercial purposes.

You can find detailed information about the licenses at Creative Commons’ website.

Creative Commons

The basic scope of the work of authorship’s handling

According to section 12, number 4 of the Copyright Act (which grants the property rights), the right SHARE means to share, distribute or transmit the work not only by performing or displaying the work publicly, but also by renting, reproducing and producing copies of it. This right does not imply any altering or transforming of the work, therefore, the work might be included in collected works. Nevertheless, the work’s scope is limited to not to use it for commercial purposes. Moreover, the element SHARE is a part of all the CC licences.

According to section 11, article 3 of the Copyright Act, the right REMIX means to alter or transform the work. On the other hand, this right causes an intervention into author’s personal rights by which he or she agrees on work’s altering, therefore, it is advised to think over its possible impacts before granting this right (e.g. a creation of a new piece of work).

These two elements are not displayed on the license’s icon connected with RDF/XML meta-data because they automatically are a part of the licence itself. Furthermore, the opposite of the element REMIX is NO DERIVATES meaning not to alter or transform the work in any way. The element SHARE does not have any adequate opposite; it only states what the authorization provides.

The basic conditions of the CC licence

Cite the author (abbr. BY)

This element is a part of every single CC licence. It means that the author has to always be cited even if the work is only being altered. Simply, always cite the author using the information provided in the licence. In case the citing style is not mentioned, the adequate style which determines the authorship sufficiently should be used. Besides the author’s name, it is necessary to cite the work’s title, when known, and also the reference to the original licence which the work is under.

Concerning the ATTRIBUTION element, certain complications might occur, especially with the citation of the work’s altering method. It is sufficient to label the work with terms such as “translation” or “cut-out,” it is not necessary to describe the whole method of it. Generally speaking, the reference to the original work is sufficient.

The element SHARE ALIKE
Maintain the licence (abbr. SA)

Due to this element the licensee can use derivate works only under a license identical to the license that governs the original work (e.g. under the licence GNU-FDL). This element means the same as copyleft.

Do not use if for commercial purposes (abbr. NC)

This element grants the right to distribute the work only for non-commercial purposes. It means that you cannot both distribute the work and profit from it or that the newly altered work cannot be used commercially. On the other hand, if this element stands alone without the SA element, the derivate work might be used for commercial purposes but under a different licence. In simple terms, some third subject might use it for commercial purposes if he or she wishes it on condition of no profits from it.

Don’t alter (abbr. ND)

This element prohibits users to alter, transform or make any derivates from the original work. In case that the element NC is a part of this licence, you may not use this work for commercial purposes.

The terms of use of the CC licence

Not only things have restrictions and limits, the CC licenses also do. In order to be able to apply and use the CC license the most important precondition is to be the author of the work or if it is a multiple authors’ work it is essential to have an approval of all the authors. In addition, all the conditions and requirements of what the work of authorship is can be found in the Copyright Act and it is necessary to be aware of them.

If you make the piece of work within your occupation (so called employees’ work), you have no rights to remix or share it, not even under the CC licence.

CC licences (when they are obtained by other contracts) do not limit the licensees; on the contrary, their authorizations can be widened by them.

If you grant an exclusive licence of your work contractually, you have no authority to grant the CC licence, (see the licences above).

However, if you want to make your work available under the CC licence, it is essential to mention the licence. There are several ways to do it.

  • Textually: “This work is available under the licence CC BY-NC."
  • By a link to a particular licence (see the CC licences)
  • By using the CC licence icons (they can be downloaded here)
  • By placing the licence on the web using the generator

As the work’s user you can use it freely provided that you won’t break the granted licence. If violating the license, you risk a criminal prosecution or a legal dispute as in other cases of infringing the copyright.


I hope that the subject matter of the CC licences inspired you and you found interesting information not only as the user but also as the author. Sharing works is absolutely common in the information age so it is essential to think of the authors’ rights and also of that not all the works are great. It takes time, effort but as well as education or investing into tools to create valuable works, therefore, respect the authors and their rights.

The CC licences are great. They provide opportunities to make the works available to general public and also they may inspire people and improve their creative ideas. Concerning the legal aspects, the CC licences allow the users to cite the part or the whole work (without the licence) in a legal way. So if we want to use and find pieces of art on the Internet, we should definitely respect the authors and their rights.