Creative Commons Licenses

Finding great images for your website can be challenging. Not all of us have the talent, time, and equipment to take and edit our own photography, and buying stock can get expensive really fast. So what’s the alternative? For most, it’s finding images that are being shared through Creative Commons licensing, which allows them to be used for free, so long as you follow the rules.

The trouble with Creative Commons licensing is that they can be a little confusing. There are a handful of different types of licenses that the creators can choose from, and the language isn’t always clear. So here’s a helpful little reference for the various license agreements that are out there.

Creative Commons Licenses in Plain English

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that empowers the creators of content to license their creations without a lot of legal hassle. Essentially, it tweaks the traditional “all rights reserved” formula to something closer to “some rights reserved”. For instance, some artists might allow anyone to use their work, so long as they provide credit, while others do not want their work used for commercial purposes.

By using these predefined licenses, they can do their easily and free of charge. Not only does this allow the artist to share their creations more easily, it also helps others find appropriate imagery, music, and much more to help enhance their own creations.

So what are these licenses? There are six, read on to learn more.


The most basic and open of all Creative Commons licenses is the Attribution license. This allows you to freely use, edit, and distribute the work, so long as you give proper credit to the original artist. You can even use the work for commercial purposes.

The important thing to understand about the Creative Commons Attribution license is that you have to give “appropriate credit” to the creator of the original work. This is the base requirement in every license agreement, so it’s important to get right. Here’s what is required to meet the standards of appropriate credit:

  • The name of the creator
  • A copyright notice if provided
  • A license notice if provided
  • A disclaimer notice if provided
  • A link to the original work

Now that sounds like a lot, but I rarely see copyright, license, and disclaimer notices included. That means you’re usually just giving credit and linking back to the original work.

The Attribution license is the base on which all Creative Commons license are built. No matter what other terms are involved, you are always required to give proper credit to the creator of the original work.


This license gives you all the same rights to use the work as the standard attribution license, with the additional caveat that you also license you work under the same terms. That means that you can use the initial work, and other people can use your work in the same way.


This license is a little more restrictive. While you can still freely use the work in both commercial and non-commercial work, you must not edit it in any way, in addition to giving proper attribution to the creator.


With the Attribution-NonCommercial license, you can use, edit and distribute the work so long as you properly credit the work’s creator. The difference here is that the work cannot be used for a commercial product.


NonCommercial-ShareAlike licensing builds on the standard Attribution-NonCommercial license, with the addition that you work will be licensed in the exact same way.


Finally we have the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license, which restricts the work from commercial projects, and does not allow any edits to the original work.


Creative Commons allows artists to share their work while maintaining a degree of control over how it’s used. It’s a fantastic way of finding imagery, music, and other assets for your project free of charge. Just make sure you follow the licensing terms, and always give proper credit to the creator of the original work.

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