Why I think Creative Commons is rad

I think Creative Commons is rad because:

  • I am pro sharing
  • Creative Commons is a choice. Creators only use CC if they choose to make their work available for free. If they want to keep everything “all rights reserved” that’s their choice too.
  • I’ve explained before how copyright protection is automatic. This means that there are a lot of things out there – incidental creations – which are copyright protected, but which the copyright owner doesn’t really care about in a commercial sense. Things like those extra photos or film reels that the creator doesn’t intend to sell or commercialise. So why not make them available to others to use?
  • Creative Commons supports creativity. There are people out there making some really awesome stuff out of CC licensed works. One of my favourite examples is Remix my Lit, a literary project where established authors released short stories under Creative Commons, emerging writers “remixed” the stories into something different, and the original and remixed stories were published side-by-side in a book. Other great examples include: etcc – a touring remixable art exhibition, the many wonderful music remixes on ccMixter, and the National Public Toilet Map (never hold it in again!).
Photo of Trent Reznor by Jon Snyder for Wired.com, licensed under CC BY-NC

Photo of Trent Reznor by Jon Snyder for Wired.com, licensed under CC BY-NC

  • Creative Commons helps creators be strategic about the market. Savvy creators might release some content under CC in order to generate interest and build their reputation, and then sell the rest of their content under a traditional copyright model. For example, in 2008, Nine Inch Nails released their album, Ghosts I-IV under a CC BY-NC-SA licence. They made the first 9 tracks available to download for free and then made the full album available under a variety of price points. At the lowest end, people could download the full 36-track album for $5. At the highest end was the Ultra Deluxe Limited Edition Package, which included a four-LP set of Ghosts I-IV on vinyl, the album on 2 audio CDs, extra multitrack .wav session files, arts prints and a 48-page photography book with photographs from the recording sessions. Each Limited Edition package was signed by Trent Reznor. The Limited Edition packages were $300 and only 2,500 were made available. The Limited Edition packages sold out in only two days. This means that despite releasing their album under Creative Commons – meaning that once downloaded, users could freely and legally share the entire album with their friends – Nine Inch Nails made $750,000 in two days from the Ultra Deluxe Limited Edition Set alone. That doesn’t even include all the sales at the lower price points. Not bad. Of course, we’re not all as famous as Nine Inch Nails, but for many bands and other creators out there, employing this kind of strategy where free downloads are bundled with valuable extras could still generate substantial sales. Many musicians make barely any money under the traditional model of copyright, so for some it can be worth experimenting with new business models like this.

(Pssst like the photo of Trent Reznor above?  Wired.com has made a bunch of hi-def photos of other celebrities, including Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Jake Gyllenhaal, Chloe Moretz, Seth Rogen, J.J. Abrams and Tim Burton, and photos of other cool stuff too available under Creative Commons. Check out the gallery here.) 

  • CC users are good at cooperating. A study (.pdf) conducted a few years ago by the Creative Commons organisation found that people using CC-licensed content tend to interpret the “non commercial” licence term more strictly than the people actually applying the licence to their work. The study asked both users and creators to rate various uses on a scale of 1 to 100, with 1 meaning “definitely noncommercial” and 100 as “definitely commercial”. For uses that generated some money but were educational, charitable or by a not-for-profit organisation, creators rated the uses more “noncommercial” than users did. This means, for example, that a creator might not consider a particular educational or charitable use to be “commercial” and would happily allow it under a NC licence, but in general users would not use a NC-licensed work for that purpose if money was remotely involved. I like this because it indicates that CC users are respectful of creators and that for creators it is generally safe to apply CC licences to your work without the risk that people will misuse them.
  • If someone has used a CC licence, it indicates a willingness to share. It means that they are likely to be more open to permitting – or at least talking about – certain uses than other copyright owners. So say that someone has used a NC licence, but you want to make a commercial use of their work. You know that they’re already willing to grant permission for some uses, and you will generally know who they are from the attribution information included with the CC licence. This makes it easier to contact them and ask for permission for your commercial use. Why not? It can’t hurt to ask.

Any final questions about CC? Hit me up in the comments!

How to openly license your content

Inspired by last week’s post and think you might have some content of your own to share under Creative Commons? This week, I’m here to tell you just how to do that!

Why license your stuff under Creative Commons?

There are many reasons why you might choose to use CC licences to share your content. If you have content that you’d like to get out in the world but you don’t intend to commercialise, then Creative Commons is a good way to do that while still retaining some control over your work. The CC licences require anyone who copies or shares your stuff to give you attribution, which ensures that your name stays out there with your work. You can also place other restrictions on the use of your work if you choose.

Sharing your work under Creative Commons can also give you great reputational gains. As Tim O’Reilly famously said, “Obscurity is a far greater threat than piracy”. Sharing your work widely and openly is one of the best methods around for building your reputation and building an audience and community around your works.

-Obscurity is a far greater threat than


What to think about before you licence

There are three basic decisions that you need to make before you attach a CC licence to your work.

(1) What kind of licence do you want to use?  There are six different Creative Commons licences, which make use of four main terms in different ways. I explain what each of the terms mean in this post.

(2) Do you have the rights to license the work? You can only share content under CC if the copyright belongs to you. Generally, this means that you must have created the work. If your work incorporates content created by someone else, then you have to contemplate your choices. The first is to get permission from the other copyright owner to put a CC licence over your work as a whole, including their elements. The second is to make explicit that only the parts you created are licensed under Creative Commons. For example, if I didn’t own copyright in the above graphic but I wanted to licence this blog post under Creative Commons, I might say: “The contents of this blog post are licensed under CC BY, except for the image file which is All Rights Reserved to [copyright owner]”. Lastly, if neither of these options are available to you, you may need to refrain from using Creative Commons for the particular work in question.

[Note: you may wish to see my earlier post on navigating these kinds of questions in collaborations with others]

 (3) Are you comfortable with the fact that CC licences are irrevocable? Once you apply a CC licence to your work, it cannot be undone. Or more accurately – if you change your mind, you can take down your content from your website, or place a more restrictive licence on your work from a certain date. But for anyone who accessed and used your work under the earlier, more permissive CC licence, they are free to continue to use the work under that licence. You cannot call it back. The reason for this is simple. Imagine if someone spent a lot of their own time, energy and money creating something – a piece of music, or a short film or a painting – that included some CC licensed content, including some of your content. It really wouldn’t be fair to tell them that they couldn’t use, display or sell their own work, or that they now have to pay you for the privilege, just because you changed your mind about your licence. (And to make it even more complicated – imagine if dozens or hundreds of people used your CC-licensed work? Trying to claw back the rights would be a mess). So be comfortable with Creative Commons before you use it (or experiment with it in the beginning using content that’s not very important to you).

How to apply a licence to your content

Using Creative Commons is very easy. Simply visit the licence generator on the Creative Commons site and answer two very basic questions. Do you want to allow people to make adaptations (modifications) to your work?  And do you want to allow others to make commercial uses of your work? [My earlier post on Creative Commons explains the significance of these choices]

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Then you need to enter some simple information to make sure that people know how to attribute the work to you and where you want them to link to when they do:

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 6.25.38 PMAnd voila! You’re done. The page will then automatically generate a licence for you with the terms you selected. Here’s what the licence generator page looks like in full:

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You can see in the lower right quadrant that the website provides you with the code to insert the licence link and graphical button into your web page.  If you’re applying the licence to a static work, you can simply copy and paste the button, or write down the name of the licence you have selected and the URL address to its full terms.

The people who built the CC licences were pretty clever, because they built three different layers to the licences.  The first is what we call the “human readable code”. This is the landing page for each of the licences, which set out the basic licence terms in ordinary language and graphically. This is what people will see when they click the link you provide with your licensed work.

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Then if you click through again from this page, you get to the “lawyer readable code”. These are the terms of the licence set out in full legal lingo. It’s what makes the licences binding under law and enforceable in the courts. Here’s just a snapshot (the legal code is long):

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Finally, if you use the computer code to embed the licence into your website or digital object, then this “computer readable code” is indexed by computers and your object is searchable by licence term. This is what makes your content discoverable on sites such as Flickr, Google and Vimeo. For more information, see my last post, Where to find free and legal content online.


Where to find free and legal content online

Since I started this blog, or even started thinking about starting this blog, I’ve had many people ask me about where to find free content that they can use on their blogs and websites without having to worry about legal liability. This is a legitimate concern – I know several people who have received angry emails from copyright owners – and even threats of being sued – after they used a copyrighted image that they found on a website. You’ve got to be careful. That’s what this post is all about. It’s the post you’ve been waiting for! And it’s a mammoth one!

Below I’ve listed just some of the places that you can find openly licensed content – images, photographs, music, sound files, video files and text – that you can use legally and for free. If you missed my post explaining what Creative Commons licences are, make sure you track back and read it first because you’ll need that information to properly understand this post.

Images cc label


Flickr is a photo-sharing website that gives people the option to share their uploaded images under a Creative Commons licence. It then allows users to search through photos for only those images they can use legally and for free. I love it. I source nearly all of the images I use on this site and that I share on Facebook from Flickr. Here’s how you can do it too –

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Step one: On the Flickr homepage you can enter your search term in the box on the top right. For illustration, I’ve entered ‘tree’.

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Step two: You will be taken to an image results page. There, you can select from a drop-down menu to only search Creative Commons licensed photos.

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Step three: Your search results will be updated, and you can click through to the photos you like. Here’s one that I’ve selected. You can see the attribution information at the bottom left of the image and the licence information (with a link through to the full terms) at the bottom right. Don’t forget to follow the attribution requirements and other licence requirements when you use the image.

Google Image Search

You can also find CC-licensed images using a basic Google search.

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Step one: Enter your search term and select the images tab.


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Step two: Click on the little cog wheel symbol on the right hand side of the page. A drop-down list will appear. Select ‘Advanced search’.

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Step three: This will take you through to another page with more search options. Go to the ‘usage rights’ option and select the licence terms that you need.

Hint: You can also do this with a normal Google search to find CC-licensed text.

Images - pd

There are also some websites that provide access to free, public domain content. ‘Public domain’ generally means that the content is not protected by copyright, usually because the copyright term has expired. This means that you can use the content for free however you like.

Pixabay – public domain images (mostly photographs)

Open Clip Art – free, public domain clip art files

Music - cc

There are some absolutely wonderful legal sources of music and sound files online. Here’s just a sample:

ccMixter is a community music remixing site featuring remixes and samples licensed under Creative Commons licences. For example, this track is called “Late Nigtht Tribe” by earritation and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial Licence (CC BY-NC). It’s ambient music with a bit of a Massive Attack vibe. It’s pretty cool.

Jamendo – this is a music website where you can stream and download music files for free. Everything is licensed under Creative Commons licences for non-commercial use. It is truly comprehensive too – Jamendo currently features over 35,000 independent artists and is the largest royalty-free music catalogue in the world. Jamendo also offers affordable options for commercial use – what it calls its “Jamendo PRO licence” – for people who want to use the music in advertising, TV, films or other commercial multimedia projects.

Soundcloud – this is a social sound platform where people can record and upload sounds and share them privately with friends or publicly to blogs, websites and other social media. It’s a little bit like Spotify for sounds. Not everything on Soundcloud is licensed under Creative Commons but, like Flickr, you can search for CC-licensed content. Soundcloud provide a handy little image file showing you how to this, which I’ve reproduced here:



These are just three of the larger sources for openly licensed music and sound files. You can find more CC music resources listed here.

Video CC

Video files can be CC-licensed too!

Vimeo allows you to search for licensed content, in two easy steps : –

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Step one: Enter your search term and run the search. Then click on the ‘Advanced Filters’ menu option on the right.

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Step two: Select the licence terms you need.  It’s that easy!

Vimeo also runs a music store where you can also filter music tracks by licence terms.


YouTube, the most popular video sharing website, also has a Creative Commons filter. Below, I’ve searched for a healthy kale recipe to demonstrate how to find CC licensed videos:

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 10.23.56 AMStep one: Enter search term. Click on the ‘Filters’ drop down menu.

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Step two: Select the Creative Commons option. Unfortunately, YouTube doesn’t appear to allow you to search by licence terms, so you will need to check the CC-licensed results yourself to make sure you’re allowed the make the uses you want (such as commercial uses or modifications).

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So for example, I’ve clicked through to a kale salad recipe. You can see here that this is licensed under CC BY.

ABC open archives

For the history buffs, in 2012 the ABC released some of its archival news footage under CC licences. The short video files are available here. They include clips such as an ABC reporter explaining how ATMs work upon their introduction to Australia, Jean Shrimpton at the Melbourne Cup and a news report on the release of Lindy Chamberlain from prison upon the discovery of new evidence relating to her missing baby girl.

Other CC content

Did you know that all of the content on Wikipedia is either in the public domain or licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike (CC BY SA) licence? Additionally, the Wikimedia Commons is a database of freely useable media files (images, sounds and video) that are public domain or licensed under Creative Commons.

I hope you enjoy exploring all these wonderful sources of free and legal content! What a treasure trove!