Sat 6th May 2017 - 14:03

The teacher's guide to Creative Commons licenses

The Creative Commons licenses are crucial tools for making and using Open Educational Resources (OER). They provide authors and makers with the legal means to allow their work to be redistributed and even modified. So what can you actually do with them?

How do you use them correctly and what do the different licenses mean? In this blog, we’ll give you an overview of the six license types and what each one lets you do. We will also look at how to attribute other authors' work and how to license your own work (it's surprisingly easy). 

The 6 Creative Commons licenses

1) Attribution


What can you do? Almost anything! This license lets you change or build on the material and redistribute it, even for commercial purposes. The only thing you have to do is credit the original author. 

Example: If you find a lesson plan online that has a CC BY license, you can change the lesson plan and adapt it to your needs and share your new version with other teachers. 

2) Attribution-ShareAlike


What can you do? Similarly to the CC BY license, this one lets you make changes to the original work and redistribute it, even for commercial purposes. You must credit the original author and license your work under identical terms. 

Example: Wikipedia uses the CC BY-SA license, so if you are using content from Wikipedia to create something new, your new work should also be licensed CC BY-SA. 

3) Attribution-NoDerivs


What can you do? This license lets you re-use the content and share it with others, but you can’t make any changes to it. 

Example: You could add CC BY-ND photos or videos to a presentation to be used and shared freely, but you would not be able to edit or change them. 

4) Attribution-NonCommercial


What can you do? You can make changes or build on it and share it with others, but only for non-commercial purposes. 

Example: For instance, you could not use works licensed under CC BY-NC for promotional materials. 

5) Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike


What can you do? You can make changes and redistribute the material, but only non-commercially and you must license your new work under the same terms. 

Example: Many open courses are licensed under CC BY-NC-SA. You can download the course materials, modify them, and share them, but you also have to license them as CC BY-NC-SA. 

6) Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs


What can you do? This is the most restrictive of the licenses and is just for redistribution and sharing. You cannot make any changes and you can only use the material for non-commercial purposes. 

Example: The CC BY-NC-ND license is often used for creative works like music, films, etc. whose authors want to widely disseminate their work but they don’t want others to change it or make money from it.

 Creative Commons Licenses for Flipped Educators

Infographic: "Creative Commons Licenses for Flipped Educators" by OERRHub | CC BY

How to attibute other authors' work

There’s a handy acronym for the key ingredients of a perfect attribution:

T – Title. The title of the original work

A – Author. The name of the original author

S – Source. A link to the source of the original material

L – License. The name of the license and a link to its description.

How to license your own work

Say you create something really fantastic and you want to share it with others and contribute to the body of open educational resources in the world. How do you do it with a CC license?


If you are posting your materials online, you can use the License Chooser on the Creative Commons to select the license you want and get the HTML code for it. When you copy and paste the code to your website you’ll see the image for the license, the description, and the link to the license deed. What you don’t see is the metadata for the content which allows it to be found by Creative Commons-enabled search engines. If you can’t embed HTML code, you can still mark your work with a text description (hint: you can copy/paste the text from the Offline option in the License Chooser).


Basically, all you need to do is mark your work either with text or an image indicating the license you’ve chosen for your work. You can use the License Chooser on the Creative Commons website and select the “Offline” option to download the images and text to copy and paste. You can modify the text for your own needs.

If you’re using Microsoft Office, you can install a Creative Commons add-in that lets you embed the licenses directly into Word, Powerpoint, and Excel documents.

On CC-compatible websites:

Many websites have built-in options for you to license your work with Creative Commons licenses. For example, YouTube, Flickr, and SoundCloud all allow you to do this directly when uploading your content. This makes it easier for people to find your content, like on the Flickr Commons gallery. 

Where to find open content

Now that you know your way around the licenses (if not, check the FAQs), it's time to find some great open content! Luckily, you have plenty of options to search for openly licensed materials. 

Google images is a great place to start, just go into the search tools and filter by the different types of labels. 

YouTube also allows you to filter videos by Creative Commons, once you enter your search terms you'll see an option to add filters to your search results and Creative Commons is under 'Features'. 

Wikimedia Commons has a database of over 21 million freely usable media files. 

Flickr Commons has over 300 million openly licensed and searchable images, sorted by license type. 

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