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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Course Materials and Copyright for Professors: Creative Commons

This LibGuide will assist Professors in making determinations regarding how they can make accessible course materials as needed for students.

Creative Commons Licensing

When using materials for your courses or even for academic research and publication, you may see work designated with at Creative Commons License. What does it mean?

A creative commons license is a grant of permission from the author to the public (or a segment of the public) to use portions of work otherwise protected by copyright without first obtaining permission from the author (within certain established guidelines).

This may be a good way for educators, as well, to share their work freely if they wish to do so. Just remember, though, that if you put a creative commons license on your work you are waiving copyright protections for the uses designated in the license.

The creative commons website contains a great description of the types of licenses. Depending on the specification in the license, the user may be permitted to do only certain things with the work (for instance a CC-NC license designates that only non commercial uses are permitted).

The Creative Commons website is located at

Copyright Questions?

Copyright law can be difficult and confusing. This webpage is meant to provide you with guidance, but not legal advice.

Should you have further questions, please do not hesitate to ask Sara Benson, the Copyright Librarian, for assistance. Sara can be reached at 217-333-4200 or

Scholarly Communication and Publishing


If you are considering licensing works that you create under Creative Commons, be sure to browse through's FAQ page. This page addresses questions regarding international rights, dual licensing, print works, and more. Once you have decided that a Creative Commons license is right for you, adding one to your work is actually very simple. You simply have to decide what rights to your work you would like to grant to users. Do you want them to be able to remix your work? Share it? Use it commercially? provides a license chooser tool that walks you through these decisions. For more information about each, look through the About the Licenses page on

Where can I find more information on Creative Commons?

Visit for a basic overview. If you're looking for in-depth information or have a specific question, visit the Creative Commons FAQ page.

What types of works use Creative Commons licenses?

Any work that can be copyrighted can be licensed under Creative Commons. However, there are a few types of works that might be better served by a different type of license (e.g., computer software). For more information, see the General License Information.

What are the parts of a Creative Commons license?

When you use choose a license using the Creative Commons website, the resulting license is made up of three layers. The first layer is legal language; it is the legal description of the permissions you are granting to users of your work. Typically, people can access this layer by clicking on a Creative Commons image located within your work. The second layer is an image with symbols and letters that are easily recognizable by users. Here is an example of an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike image:

Creative Commons License
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike.

The final layer is not visible to the user, only to computers. This machine-readable portion of the license allows your image to be categorized as Creative Commons by search engines like Google. That way, when someone searches for images that are licensed, your work is quickly recognized and returned in that search. To read a more complete explanation, visit the About the Licenses page on the Creative Commons website.

Can Creative Commons licenses be revoked?

No.  CC licenses are irrevocable, so you should be sure that the license you select is the one that best suits your needs.

What constitutes a derivative work?

It largely depends on which local copyright laws apply to the work. Under US law, a derivative work is defined in Section 101 of copyright law. In general, if you have changed a work so much that it would warrant its own copyright privileges, it is considered an adaptation or derivative work, which would generally require permission of the original author (note, however, that if the cc license does not contain a "no derivatives" prohibition, derivative works are permissible).

How does Creative Commons work internationally?

There are two general types of Creative Commons licenses: unported and ported. Unported licenses are broad and considered acceptable for international use. The Creative Commons organization has worked with a variety of jurisdictions and examined international agreements regarding copyright to ensure that these licenses allow creators to grant permission to use their works. Unported licenses are great for granting use privileges to as many people as possible all over the world.

What about public domain?

Works that are in the public domain are not copyrightable and therefore cannot be covered by Creative Commons licenses. Should you find a work that is in the public domain and want to make sure others know, Creative Commons has created a public domain mark that can be applied to the work. However, this mark is not intended for works that are under copyright that you wish to waive your rights to.

When you apply a Creative Commons license to your work, some of your rights are reserved. If you wish to give up all of your rights and place your work directly into the public domain, Creative Commons offers a public domain license, known as a CC0.

Creative Commons Resources

The following websites have the option to search for Creative Commons works or are largely devoted to freely useable works.


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