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Breaking down the CC licenses

Distinguish between the different parts of a CC license and what they mean.


Creative Commons licenses are made up of four conditions that can be mixed and matched to create six different license combinations. The licenses also come in three formats: human-readable, lawyer-readable, and machine-readable. 

The following video from CC New Zealand is a great five minute introduction to all the parts of a CC license. 

After watching the video, if you still want more detail about how the licenses work and what the spectrum of licenses looks like, CC has a simple, concise page that explains it all in text


Here is a quick exercise to test your understanding of CC licenses. Below are a few different kinds of icons that all mark works with different CC licenses. For each one, explain in a sentence or two what you can and cannot do with works that someone has shared under that license. Share your sentences, and any questions that come up, below.



Don't know which icon represents which license? Try selecting different options with CC's license chooser tool.

Task Discussion

  • Libofoz said:


    1. You must attribute the work - give credit and you may NOT change the work.

    2. You must attribute the work, cannot use it for any commercial purposes and must share the same rights as the original work.

    2. Only attribution is required.

    on May 22, 2013, 2:39 p.m.
  • Megan Egbert said:

    1) You can use the image for any purpose but you cannot change it and you must give attribution.

    2) You can use this work non-commercially and you can change it, as long as they credit you and license their new work under the same regulations.

    3) You can use this for anything but must offer attribution.

    on May 4, 2013, 1:10 p.m.
  • Stephanie said:

    1. CC BY-ND, Attribution, No Derivs

    The only restrictions for the use of the content is that it must stay in its original format and credit must be given to the creator.

    2. CC BY NC-SA, Attribution, Noncommercial, ShareAlike

    The user many not use the content for commercial means, and if the context is remixed or shared again, it must be shared using the same licence as the original creatiion (CC BY NC-SA).  The user must give credit to the creator.

    3. CC BY, Attribution

    The only obligation a user has is to credit the work to the original creator.  This is the most generous license.

    on March 30, 2013, 9:35 p.m.
  • jbalen said:

    1. Attribution Non-derivative. Allows for commericial and non-commercial use as long as the work is unchanged and creator is credited.


    2. Attribution Non-commercial-Sharealike. Users may use in whole or in part, only non-commercially. Must give credit to creator and share new work with the same terms orginal work is licensed under. 


    3. Attribution only. Most liberal, open license. Allows for use in whole or in part, even commercially as long as credit is given to the original creator of the work. New work or remix can be shared with any license.

    on March 30, 2013, 3:35 a.m.
  • Mary Lee Newman said:

    1. Attribution, non-derivative license.  Anyone can use your work and they can use it for commercial purposes; however, they must use it in it's original form. The work can't be remixed or altered without your permission.  You must be given credit for the work.

    2.  Attribution, non-commercial, share alike license.  Anyone can use your work, but must give you credit, and license their work as you did yours.  You are the only one who can make money from the work.  The work can be altered or remixed.  

    3.  Attribution only.  Anyone can use your work.  It can be used for commercial purposes.  It can be altered or remixed.  It can be shared with whichever license is wanted.  This is the least restrictive license.  

    I have been thinking mostly in terms of Creative Commons licenses of images when my students are doing searches on the internet.  I want them to be able to find the real source of an image (not Google) and attribute it properly.  Now, I am also wondering about the benefits to students of licensing their own images.  Aside from the philosophical benefit of contributing to open educational resources and keeping money out of the hands of the internediaries, students might be able to Google themselves and find out that their name has been credited to an image somewhere.  Someone might contact them to see if they could use an image for a commercial purpose.  I had not considered this from the perspective of the student creator before.

    on March 24, 2013, 1:27 a.m.

    Jane Park said:

    Yup! And going through the process of CC licensing their own work really gets students understanding how CC licenses work.

    In Week 2 of cc4k12, see the Suggested activities for the classroom, esp the activity on p. 22 of Shared Creations: Making Use of Creative Commons which is designed to get students to think about how they might license their own works.

    on March 25, 2013, 7:34 p.m. in reply to Mary Lee Newman
  • Isobel said:

    1. Atribution + Non-Derivative license: anyone can use your creation in a commercial or non commercial way, but the work has to stay without changes and they must give you credit for having created it.


    2. Atribution + Non Commercial + Share Alike: people have permission to use and modify your work, but only if they won't profit from it and they share it with the same licensing you used. They must also give you credit for it.


    3. Atribution license, the most flexible one because it allows people to modify the content, profit from it and share it with whichever license they want, as long as they give you credit for its creation.

    on March 23, 2013, 2:01 p.m.

    Jane Park said:

    Re 2: I would add "if they make a derivative work from it, they must share it under the same CC license..."

    on March 25, 2013, 7:30 p.m. in reply to Isobel
  • Chilebean said:

    1. Creative commons license, where anybody can use the work, commercially or not, as long as it is not changed and credit is given to the person that made the work.

    2. Creative commons licences, where anybody can use the work, but not commercially. If you alter the work, you may share it under an identical license as the original work.  You must give credit to the person that made the work.

    3. Not sure here.

    on March 22, 2013, 6:48 a.m.

    Jane Park said:

    3 is the symbol for attribution, to signal the CC BY license. Hope that helps!

    on March 25, 2013, 7:28 p.m. in reply to Chilebean
  • TK said:

    1. Anyone can use and redistribute this work, even for commercial purposes, but it must be left unaltered.


    2. This work can be used, redistributed, and modified for non-commercial purposes only. It must be attributed to originator, but modified versions can be licensed differently than the original work.


    3. Others can do whatever they like with this work, for whatever reason, so long as they attribute it to you. 

    on March 21, 2013, 3:41 p.m.

    Jane Park said:

    Hey TK - close! Re #2, the SA condition requires that derivatives be licensed under the same license - so CC BY-NC-SA for derivative works.

    on March 21, 2013, 5:43 p.m. in reply to TK
  • Susan said:

    The question that I'm wondering is where do I tell my students to look for these codes?  Is there a specific place that these are usually positioned?  What's the assumption when there is no CC or C on it?

    I know, that's more than one question, but I want to make sure that I'm clear on this.

    on March 19, 2013, 3:56 p.m.

    Jane Park said:

    Hey Susan, you're ahead of the game! We were going to go through this in Week 3 as part of the Teach someone something with open content challenge. However, here's a sneak peek at where people usually look for the CC license mark:

    on March 19, 2013, 4:30 p.m. in reply to Susan
  • Susan said:

    1. Attribution (must acknowledge the original creator). It cannot be changed without permission of the creator.
    2. Attribution (must acknowledge the original creator.) It cannot be used to make a profit of any sort.  The work must be shared with others.
    3. Attribution (must acknowledge the original creator.)
    on March 19, 2013, 3:50 p.m.

    Jane Park said:

    Hey Susan, re 2. You almost have it right. If a derivative work is made from this work, then that work must be shared with others under the exact same license (so CC BY-NC-SA).

    on March 19, 2013, 4:28 p.m. in reply to Susan
  • Popi said:

    1. Attribution give credit to the creator, can not change the work without permission of the creator.

    2. Attribution - give credit to the creator,non commercial- can not make money, share alike -mention the same licenses as the creator.

    3. Attribution- Give credit to the creator.

    Very good excercise.

    on March 19, 2013, 2:18 p.m.
  • Tony said:

    1. Attribution and no derivatives for content = cite it and don't change it.

    2. Attribution, Non-commerical, and Share Alike = Cite it, don't sell it, and pay it forward

    3. Attribution = Cite it - feel free to sell it and change it though.

    on March 18, 2013, 7:29 a.m.

    David Boxer said:

    Ditto what Tony said.

    on March 18, 2013, 3:04 p.m. in reply to Tony

    Aimee said:

    Well said Tony.

    on March 19, 2013, 6:12 a.m. in reply to Tony

    Susan said:

    I like that you mentioned  on number three that you call sell it and change it--I forgot that when it's not stated otherwise, you can assume that it's free game.

    on March 19, 2013, 3:54 p.m. in reply to Tony
  • Cheryl H. said:

    1. You give credit to the author (attribution), no changes (no derivatives) to content.

    2. You give credit to the author, can't make money (noncommercial) from content, and must use the same licenses of the original.

    3. You give credit to the author; however, that is the only requirement. Changes can be made, money gathered, and you can change licenses if you so choose.

    on March 16, 2013, 9:50 p.m.
  • mixmaxmin said:

    While the most open approach is CC-BY if one uses the material and does not give attribution it must be clear that it would be breaching copyright. In fact, all combinations of CC licenses are simply rules that the copyright owner wishes the user to follow when using that material. If any of those rules are not followed then copyright not CC is breached.

    on March 12, 2013, 11:41 p.m.

    Jane Park said:

    Hi mixmaxmin, you are partially correct in stating that copyright is breached. But the CC license is also breached. Attribution and ShareAlike are license conditions that are triggered when the user exercises the right to publicly share the work in the first place. Noncommercial and NoDerivatives are limitations on the permissions the licensor is granting.

    More info on how the CC licenses operate here and here.

    on March 19, 2013, 5:22 p.m. in reply to mixmaxmin
  • v4lent1na said:

    1) Attribution-NoDerivs: you have to give credit to the original creator; you can't alter without permission.

    2) Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike: credit to the original creator; non commercial use; share the work under the same conditions.

    3) Attribution: credit to the original creator.

    I use BY-NC-ND and BY-NC-SA for my works across my blogs.

    on March 6, 2013, 12:55 p.m.
  • Corey Mardix said:

    I always use Creative Commons Zero (CC0 1.0) for my works. Unfortunately, so few content distribution networks even support it that I end up having to set my works to CC-BY and then specify in a textual description that it's not really CC-BY, but rather CC0.

    on March 3, 2013, 9:01 a.m.
  • Brad said:

    1)  You must give credit to the origional work and can not alter it without permission.


    2) You must attribute the origional work, usi it for non comercial purposes, and share your work with the same licence.


    3) You must give credit to the origional creator. 

    on Feb. 27, 2013, 7:58 p.m.
  • emmajayneyoung22 said:

    1. You must attribute the work to the autho and you not allowed to adpat the work in anyway.

    2. Must attribute the author, it cannot be used commercially and any work that is created using it must be shared under this same license (shareAlike).

    3. Must attribute the author - all uses of the work is permitted. This is the most liberal of all licenses.

    on Feb. 3, 2013, 6:51 a.m.

    malicke said:


    Bonus question: What are some popular websites that use the CC BY-SA license?

    on Feb. 3, 2013, 12:20 p.m. in reply to emmajayneyoung22
  • Aiden Drake said:

    1) I can't remix the work and must credit the author. I can still profit from it.

    2) I can't profit from this work. If I remix it, I must use the same license, and credit the author.

    3)Gotta credit the author. I can still remix it, profit from it, and change the lisence of the remixes.

    on Jan. 8, 2013, 9:19 p.m.
  • Priya said:

    1) Under the first license I can use a work provided I attribute it to the author. I cannot adapt the work or create a derivative.

    2) Under the second liecense I can use a work provided I attribute it to the author. I can adapt the work but I must share it under the same license. I can't make any money off my creation.

    3) This is the freest of licenses. All I have to do is attribute the work author. I can create a new work, make money off my work, and license it any way I want.

    The spectrum graphic in the video helped me conceptualize the different licenses. I also like how the format differed from the first video (regular animation vs. watching the person draw). This kept the video entertaining.

    on Oct. 26, 2012, 2:28 p.m.