A Short Guide of Creative Commons Licenses
(Aka Why didn’t they teach us this stuff in college?)

So you want to use an image that is under a Creative Commons license and have no idea to go about it, well look no further, I’m here to help! Creative Commons (CC) is a way of licensing your media that allows for its reuse and remix on various different levels. I’m an active Wikimedian/Wikipedian, so the example I’m going to use will be from Wikimedia Commons, but that is by no means the only place to find CC material. I highly recommend search.creativecommons.org which acts as a portal to a number of sites with CC licensed material.

CC licensed material such as this beautiful image that I uploaded to Wikimedia Commons last year of a yarn bombed tree that you just have to use for your next project. I really don’t blame you, I feel inspired just looking at it. Looking at the page you see that it is licensed under CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International, which sounds good but you have no idea what that means. Worry not, I’ve got your back.

CC itself is a non-profit organisation which develops these copyright licenses, and promotes the use of more open forms of licensing to allow for greater freedom of distribution, sharing, and reuse of media online. Founded in 2001, the same year as Wikipedia, they are constantly updating the CC standards to take into account changes in technology, law, and best practice. That is where you get the 4.0 from, as it is the fourth iteration of CC licensing.

Taking the rest of it step by step. Firstly the two things that you are allowed to do off the bat, you can Share this image and you can Adapt it for your own use, such as cropping, or working with the media in something like Photoshop. Attribution does what it says on the tin, if you use the image then you must indicate the original author of the image, the license under which it is being used, and if you have made any changes. This can be as simple as just using the image in a blog and providing this information in a caption like so:




By Smirkybec (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Yes, my Wikimedia name is Smirkybec, it’s a short but rather embarrassing story that can be found on my user page.
There are even buttons on the top of the image’s page on Commons which provide you with this caption within in the Download option. Or under Use this file, ready to use HTML/BCCode, so there are really no excuses.
If you using the image integrated into a larger work, you could place a similar text as an image credit within your overall design. As you can see in this caption the license has been abbreviated to CC BY-SA 4.0, which makes working with that image credit a lot less cumbersome.

Here you can see how I used an image within a Facebook banner for a Wikipedia competition we run annually:




Subtle, right? Right.

The ShareAlike element means that you need to retain the same license it was originally released under. Simply put, you can use it commercially, but you could not put a giant dirty great watermark in the centre of it, and claim that it is copy written with all right reserved. If you do so, then the terms and conditions of the CC license are void, and the original creator has a right to tell you to take down or cease distributing the work. It’s a bit like finding a hilarious online comic and scrubbing the creator’s name and replacing it with your own. It’s not big, and it’s not clever. Basically you cannot restrict other people’s use of the work going forward. This does not mean you can profit from its use, you just can’t stop other’s either!

Whilst nearly all images on Wikimedia Commons come under this form of CC licensing, some media you find elsewhere may not. It is possible to use CC licensing, but prohibit people from using the images commercially or from adapting the work, but all of the licenses do require Attribution. You can find a handy guide to each of the licenses here on the CC website. This license can be applied to all sorts of work, including podcasts and blogs (such as my own).
If you need more detail on Wikimedia Commons specifically, there is a fantastic simple guide to media reuse on Commons, the majority of which was written by the wonderful John Cummings, Wikimedian in Residence at UNESCO.
Now go forth and commonly create, or be creatively common, or something.