Creative commons license vs copyright is an intricate topic. In today’s digital age, the way we create, share, and use content has transformed dramatically.

As content becomes increasingly accessible, understanding the legal frameworks that guide its use is crucial.

Enter the realms of ‘Creative Commons License‘ and ‘Copyright’ – two terms frequently thrown around but often misunderstood.

While both serve to protect creators and their creations, they each represent a unique approach to the rights and permissions associated with content.

This blog will delve into the intricacies of both, highlighting their distinctions, overlaps, and the implications for creators and users alike.

Let’s embark on this journey to demystify the world of content rights and make informed choices in our digital engagements.

What is the Difference Between Creative Commons and Copyright – Creative Commons License vs Copyright

1. Definition:

  • Creative Commons License (CCL): A set of public that allow creators to grant some rights to the public while retaining others.
  • It offers a range of permissions from liberal to restrictive, based on what the creator chooses.
  • Copyright: A legal right that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to its use and distribution.
  • It automatically applies once the work is created and fixed in a tangible form.

2. Purpose:

  • CCL: To provide a flexible range of protections and freedoms for authors and artists, allowing them to share their work while still having control over how it’s used.
  • Copyright: To give creators control over their intellectual property, ensuring they can benefit from it and decide who can use, share, or modify it.

3. Duration:

  • CCL: Duration is based on the underlying copyright. For example, if a work is under copyright for 70 years, the Creative Commons applied to that work will also last 70 years.
  • Copyright: Typically lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years, though this can vary depending on the jurisdiction and type of work.

4. Rights Granted:

  • CCL: Can vary based on the specific identity chosen.
  • The identities range from allowing almost any type of use as long as attribution is given, to more restrictive licenses that might prohibit commercial use or derivative works.
  • Copyright: Grants exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, or identity the work, and others cannot do these without the copyright holder’s permission.

5. Opt-In vs. Automatic:

  • CCL: Opt-in. Creators choose to apply a Creative Commons identity to their work.
  • Copyright: Automatic. It comes into effect as soon as an original work is created and fixed in a tangible medium, with no formal registration required in most countries.

6. Main Objective:

  • CCL: To encourage sharing, collaboration, and the reuse of creative works, while allowing creators to retain certain rights.
  • Copyright: To provide protection for creators against unauthorised use, ensuring they can monetise or control how their work is distributed and used.
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Creative Commons Copyright Law

Creative Commons (often abbreviated as “CC”) is not, in itself, a separate “copyright law.”

Rather, Creative Commons provides a set of standardised  identity that creators can apply to their works based on existing copyright laws.

These identities allow creators to communicate which rights they reserve and which rights they waive for the benefit of recipients or other creators.

Let’s delve deeper into the concept and nuances of Creative Commons in the context of copyright law.

Understanding Creative Commons:

  1. Framework Based on Copyright Law: Creative Commons identities operate within the existing framework of copyright law.
  2. They are tools that allow copyright holders to grant some of their rights to the public while retaining others.
  3. Essentially, CC licenses modify the “all rights reserved” premise of traditional copyright to a more nuanced “some rights reserved” approach.
  4. Types of Creative Commons Licenses: There are several types of Creative Commons licenses, each with a specific combination of permissions and restrictions. These identities are:
    • CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike — Like CC BY, but any new works created using the original must also be licensed under the same terms.
    • CC BY-NC: Attribution-NonCommercial — Allows others to remix, adapt, and build upon the work, but not for commercial purposes. The original creator must be credited.
    • CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike — A combination of CC BY-NC and CC BY-SA.
    • CC BY-NC-ND: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives — The most restrictive of the identities, allowing only downloading and sharing as long as the creator is credited, but no changes can be made, and the work can’t be used commercially. License Elements: Creative Commons identities are represented by icons that depict the license terms:
      • Attribution (BY): Signified by a person-shaped icon, indicating that credit must be given to the creator.
      • ShareAlike (SA): A circular, recycling-like arrow indicates that derivative works must be distributed under the same terms.
      • NoDerivatives (ND): A solid rectangle means no derivative works can be made from the original content.
      • NonCommercial (NC): A dollar sign within a circle with a line through it indicates that commercial use is prohibited.
  5. Global Application: Creative Commons identities have been ported and adapted to the legal frameworks of various countries.
  6. This ensures that the licenses are relevant and effective across different jurisdictions.
  7. Opt-In Nature: Unlike copyright, which is automatic upon the creation of an original work, Creative Commons licenses are opt-in.
  8. This means creators must actively choose to license their work under one of the Creative Commons identities.

Can Creative Commons License Help You Get Out of Copyright Infringement?

Creative Commons (CC) identities offer a way for creators to grant permissions regarding the use of their work.

However, using something under a Creative Commons license does not automatically shield you from potential copyright infringement claims.

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Whether a CC identities can help you avoid copyright infringement largely depends on how you’ve adhered to the terms of the identities. Let’s explore this in detail:

When Creative Commons Licenses Can Help:

  1. Compliance with License Terms: If you’ve used a work in a manner that strictly adheres to the terms of its CC license, then you’re generally protected from claims of copyright infringement for that work.
  2. For instance, if a photo is licensed under “CC BY” (Attribution), and you’ve given appropriate credit to the creator, then you’re using it within the allowed terms.
  3. Clear Licensing: If the creator has clearly and correctly applied a CC license to their work, and you follow the license terms, you should be on safe legal ground.

When Creative Commons Licenses Cannot Help:

  1. Non-compliance: If you don’t follow the specific terms of the CC license, you can be liable for copyright infringement.
  2. For instance, using a “CC BY-NC” (Attribution-NonCommercial) licensed work for a commercial purpose would be a violation.
  3. Unclear Rights: The person applying the CC license to the work must have the rights to do so.
  4. If someone wrongly identities a work they don’t have rights to (e.g., they didn’t create it and don’t have the copyright holder’s permission), and you use it, you might still be liable for copyright infringement.
  5. Non-CC Elements: Sometimes, a work under a CC license might incorporate elements that are not under that license or any CC license.
  6. Using those specific elements might still lead to copyright infringement.
  7. Different Jurisdictions: While CC identities are designed to be globally applicable, nuances in copyright law from one country to another might affect the validity or interpretation of these licenses.
  8. Moral Rights: Some jurisdictions recognise “moral rights,” which might not be covered by a CC license. This could include rights of attribution or the right to object to derogatory treatment of a work.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Understand the License: Before using a work under a CC license, carefully review and understand the terms. Ensure that you’re complying fully.
  2. Validate the Source: Make sure that the person offering the work under a CC license has the right to do so. When in doubt, seek permission or clarification from the original creator.
  3. Seek Legal Advice: If you’re unsure or if the usage is for a high-stakes project, consider consulting with a legal expert specialising in copyright and intellectual property.


In the ever-evolving landscape of content creation and distribution, understanding the nuances between Creative Commons identities and traditional copyright is paramount.

While both mechanisms aim to protect the rights of creators, they operate on distinct principles. Copyright, with its “all rights reserved” approach, provides an umbrella of protection that allows creators exclusive control over their work.

In contrast, Creative Commons identities, grounded in the foundation of copyright, offer a more flexible “some rights reserved” model.

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This enables creators to tailor the permissions of their work, promoting a culture of sharing, collaboration, and accessibility.

For users and creators alike, being aware of these distinctions ensures respectful and lawful engagement with content, fostering an environment where creativity can thrive while being protected.

As the digital realm continues to expand, striking a balance between protection and freedom becomes all the more critical, and understanding the tools at our disposal is the first step.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the primary difference between Creative Commons identities and traditional copyright?

Traditional copyright reserves all rights to the creator, meaning without explicit permission, others cannot reproduce, distribute, or modify the work.

Creative Commons identities, on the other hand, allow creators to specify which rights they reserve and which they waive.

This provides a more flexible approach, enabling varying degrees of sharing and reuse based on the particular Creative Commons license chosen.

Can a work be under both Creative Commons and copyright?

Yes, in fact, all Creative Commons identities work within the framework of existing copyright laws.

When a creator applies a Creative Commons license to their work, they are essentially choosing to grant some of their copyright rights to the public while retaining others.

The work remains copyrighted, but certain permissions are granted upfront through the CC license.

How do I know if I’m using a Creative Commons licensed work correctly?

To use a CC-licensed work correctly, you must adhere to the terms specified in the license.

This might include giving appropriate attribution, not using the work for commercial purposes, or not creating derivative works based on it.

The exact requirements vary by license type, so always refer to the specific Creative Commons license applied to the work for guidance.

Does a Creative Commons license expire?

A Creative Commons license lasts for the duration of the underlying copyright. Once the copyright of a work expires (which typically occurs many decades after the creator’s death, depending on the jurisdiction), the work enters the public domain, and the CC license would no longer apply.

If a work is licensed under Creative Commons, does that mean I can use it however I want?

Not necessarily. While Creative Commons licenses do grant certain permissions, they also come with conditions.

The permissions you have depend on the specific type of CC license attached to the work.

Always ensure you’re complying with the license’s requirements, whether it’s providing appropriate attribution, not using the work for commercial purposes, or other stipulated conditions.