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Creative Commons: Creative Commons

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that provides free copyright tools to help creators share their work.

Creative Commons licenses work with copyright laws to describe the terms under which creative works -- art, books, articles, music, photographs, software, and other ideas and forms of expression -- can be duplicated, altered, or built upon.

There are six combinations of Creative Commons licenses that can be created using the following set of conditions:


CC Attribution Attribution (BY) Others may use the work but must give the creator credit. All CC licenses require attribution, but the attribution does not imply endorsement of how the work is used.

CC non commercial icon NonCommercial (NC) Work may be copied, distributed, performed for any purpose other than commercial unless permission is granted by the creator.

CC No Derivatives​ NoDerivatives (ND) Work may not be modified unless the creator grants permission.

CC ShareAlike icon ShareAlike (SA) Work may be used so long as its shared under the same terms.

More than 1.4 billion Creative Commons licenses are currently in use across 9 million websites, according to the 2017 State of the Commons report on Creative Commons, and the number is rising.  

Creative Commons Certified Librarian

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Michele Nicole Johnson
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College of Coastal Georgia

Get Involved!


Creative Commons heart

This Research Guide was created by librarian Michele Nicole Johnson in Fall 2019 as part of her course requirements for Creative Commons certification. Would you like to get involved in creating a collaborative global commons? There are several ways, including:



Creative Commons License

This Research Guide is licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License 

The Creative Commons Origin Story

History shows that each revision to copyright laws has extended the terms of protection, impacting when works enter the public domain and can be used without any restrictions.


The first Copyright Act is passed and covers the published materials of the time -- books, maps, and charts. Authors could retain their copyrights for 14 years and renew for another 14 years before the work entered the public domain.


The copyright term is extended to 28 years with a possible 14-year extension.


The Copyright Act of 1909 provides for a renewal term of 28 years.


Copyright Act of 1976 is passed. It sets the terms for new copyrights as from the death of the author plus 50 years. The Copyright Act also codifies the Fair Use doctrine. 


Sonny Bono photo

Sonny Bono 


The Sony Bono Copyright Term Extension Act is enacted. It extended the term of copyright for every work in the United States from the life of the author plus 50 years to plus 70 years. Works for hire and owned by corporations were extended from 75 years to 95 years.


Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford Law Professor, represents web publisher Eric Eldred in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the constitutionality of the Sony Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. The plaintiff subsequently lost the case, the appeal in 2000, and in 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the plaintiff's argument in Eldred v. Ashcroft.


Image Lawrence Lessig

DTKindlerCC BY 2.0


In response to the unsuccessful challenges to the copyright law, and inspired by rapidly changing technology and the global internet community, Lawrence Lessig and a team of others founded Creative Commons. The nonprofit organization began publishing free licenses, tools that allow creators to keep their copyrights while letting others use their work and ideas with fewer restrictions or no restrictions at all.

Creative Commons has continued to adapt to U.S. and global copyright laws and the sharing culture of the internet. It has become more than a copyright tool. It has become a movement for free expression and shared innovation.