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Open Image Collections & Image Use Guide

This guide is to assist you in better understanding the various license agreements available when accessing images on the internet. Here you will find information on licencing, how to cite images for your papers and presentations, as well as an ever-growi

Creative Commons Licenses


Get Creative!

Want to know about creative commons and how we use CC licenses to balance copyright and give individuals the ability to use copyright works without seeking permissions directly from the copyright holder? Find out by watching this short video.

Understianding Creative Commons

Creative Commons

Creative Commons (CC) is an American non-profit organization and international network devoted to educational access and expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share. The organization has released several copyright licenses, known as Creative Commons licenses, free of charge to the public.

These licenses allow authors of creative works to communicate which rights they reserve and which rights they waive for the benefit of recipients or other creators. An easy-to-understand one-page explanation of rights, with associated visual symbols, explains the specifics of each Creative Commons license. Content owners still maintain their copyright, but Creative Commons licenses give standard releases that replace the individual negotiations for specific rights between copyright owner (licensor) and licensee, that are necessary under an "all rights reserved" copyright management.

What you need to know

  1. Creative Commons licenses are agreements between the creator and user(s), and may be enforceable in a court of law. To benefit from a Creative Commons license (“CC license”) you must understand and follow the requirements and conditions of the license. Failure to follow the license terms can have financial and legal consequences.  
  2. Remember that Creative Commons licenses are a copyright tool. There may be other rights attached to a work such as trademark, patent, or publicity and privacy rights that you need to consider when reusing materials as well.
  3. With all Creative Commons licences you must minimally attribute the creator (either under the licence or for ethical reasons), and include the license the work is distributed under with a link back to its text on the Creative Commons Website.
  4. Creative Commons licenses can only be applied by the creator or copyright owner of a work. If someone without the necessary rights places a Creative Commons license on material, the license will not be valid.
  5. When locating Creative Commons licensed materials online, it is important to think critically about the nature and source of the work. It is common to find Creative Commons licenses on Open Educational Resources; it would be a lot less common to find a Creative Commons license on novel on the bestseller list. Take a common sense approach when locating materials with Creative Commons licenses online, and when on doubt, research the source of the work so that you feel confident the Creative Commons license applies.  
  6. Not all licenses allow the reuser to make adaptations or changes to a CC work. with some licenses creators have the exclusive right to create adaptations or derivative works (works based on a pre-existing work, such as the film adaptation of a book).

    It can be difficult to determine what is or is not an adaptation. Some things that are not considered adaptation or derivative works are:

  • Technical format shifting (changing a work from digital to print) does not qualify as an adaptation under a Creative Commons License

  • Making spelling or punctuation corrections is not an adaptation

  • Syncing a Creative Commons licensed musical work with a moving image is not an adaptation under the license

  • Creating a collection of Creative Commons licensed works is not an adaptation of the individual works

  • Including an unmodified image in a work with text (i.e. a Creative Commons image in an article) is not an adaptation