Understanding Creative Commons

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Understanding Creative Commons


Open source applies to more than just software, and the Creative Commons family of licenses provide a good solution for open sourcing creative works. This module helps students understand the purpose of Creative Commons licenses and be comfortable with the different license choices available.


Students should be familiar with the basics of copyright.

After successfully completing this activity, the learner should be able to:
  1. Choose, apply, and understand how to comply with a Creative Commons license.
Process Skills


* Want to let people share and use your photographs, but not allow companies to sell them?
* Looking for access to course materials from the world’s top universities?
* Want to encourage readers to re-publish your blog posts, as long as they give you credit?
* Looking for songs that you can use and remix, royalty-free?

If you answered 'yes' to any of the questions above, then you should learn more about Creative Commons.
-- About - Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that was created to provide a set of copyright licenses for creative works. Specifically, these licenses are intended to provide the legal framework so that others can easily use, share, and build upon the creative works.

This video provides a quick 3 minute overview of Creative Commons. An online learning course (currently read-only) devoted to understanding the Creative Commons model. Includes several videos as well as questions that could be repurposed.

There are many good ways to find Creative Commons licensed materials, and most of these are listed at http://search.creativecommons.org/

This activity is important because many students have the belief that anything they find on the internet can be used however they see fit. This is simply not the case. The idea of "fair use" is very limited in scope (and probably merits its own activity). Some useful reference materials for "Fair Use" are:

Creative Commons licenses allow for students (and educators) to be able to identify creative works that they can use and build upon. This is generally useful as a tool for creating new creative works, but also for leveraging creative works in assignments. They are also useful in programming projects which require art, music, and/or documentation.


  1. Choose the correct license(s) for these situations and explain why you chose the license(s) you did.
    1. Ruth is a sculptor. Using a 3d scanner, she makes a 3d model representation of her latest artistic creation. She wants people to be able to make their own copies of her art, but not to be able to sell or remix her art. What CC license(s) would be a good fit for Ruth?
    2. Steve created a series of comic strips about cynical talking dinosaurs. Several people have asked Steve about making shirts with his characters, but Steve doesn't have the time to do it himself. Steve is fine with the idea of people having shirts with his comic strips on them, but also doesn't want to see his dinosaurs doing naughty things or saying things he didn't make them say. What CC license(s) can he put on his comic strips to allow this?
    3. Sabine took an awesome picture of lightning striking the beach. She wants to put it on the internet, but she wants to make sure she gets credit anywhere it is used. What CC license(s) can she put on her picture to requires this?
    4. Carlos wrote a fantastic guide on how to track your daily diet and exercise. He wants other people to use it, but he doesn't want anyone (besides him) to make any money on it. What CC license(s) can he put on his guide?
    5. Sam is a DJ, and she finds a great sample on Jamendo that she wants to use in her new remix. The sample is licensed CC-BY-SA, what CC license(s) can Sam put her work under?
  2. In each situation, answer the question about proper CC license use.
    1. If you use a CC-BY licensed work in a school presentation, describe what you'd need to do in order to comply with the license of that work.
    2. You find an adorable cat picture, licensed CC-BY-ND, give an example of a situation where you would not be allowed to use that cat picture.
    3. If an artist makes a song that samples a CC-BY-NC-ND work, explain how this affects what they can do with their song.
    4. If you put a picture of yourself under a CC-BY-SA license, can a newspaper use it in article about student life?
  3. Make and present a short "lightning talk" presentation that utilizes creative commons licensed works, on a topic of their choice. Be sure that they correctly comply with the terms of the license(s)!


  1. Answers and explanations for the license scenarios
  2. A short lightning talk presentation that clearly illustrates a correct and attributed use of CC materials.

Notes for Instructors


Students can be graded on choosing a correct license, understanding how a license affects what can be done with a creative work, and on their ability to put that knowledge into practice.

Criteria Level 1 (fail) Level 2 (pass) Level 3 (good) Level 4 (exceptional)
Choosing a correct CC license 0-2 correct answers 2-4 answers correct, with valid reasoning (or more answers correct, but without valid reasoning) 4-5 answers correct, with valid reasoning All answers correct, with valid reasoning.
Understanding how a license affects what can be done with a creative work 0-1 correct answers 1-2 correct answers 2-3 correct answers All answers correct
Presentation Does not attribute sources at all Lists license but not full attribution Contains proper attributions, but only a few sources. Multiple sources, properly attributed. Talk itself is properly CC licensed


What should the instructor know before using this activity?

The instructor should be familiar with the six different Creative Commons licenses, as well as a general understanding of copyright. An awareness of Fair Use is helpful, but not required.

Suggestions for the Open Source Project:

If your project uses materials licensed under a Creative Commons license, explain to the students why you chose the license that you did for those materials.

Additional Information:

Area & Unit(s)

Social Issues and Professional Practice (SP) / Intellectual Property


Intellectual property rights



Estimated Time
to Complete

1) 15-30 minutes 2) 1 hour at most

Environment /

Internet access, some sort of presentation tool.


Tom Callaway


Tom Callaway


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

CC license.png

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