How to use Creative Commons


What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons is a not-for-profit organisation that allows content creators to share their work with other people who wish to use or redistribute that content.

When any piece of work is uploaded to the Internet, it is automatically protected by copyright law, which prevents anyone else besides the content creator or publisher from being able to use it. A Creative Commons license allows the content creator to specify the level of copyright rules on their images to allow others varying degrees of use, without sacrificing their copyright entirely.

It may come as a surprise for some to learn that a content creator needs a license to distribute their content and allow others to use or redistribute. You may have thought if someone puts a picture they drew or a song they recorded out on the Internet then it’s free to use unless they’ve clearly specified otherwise? In fact, it’s the exact opposite!

Because all uploaded content is automatically covered by copyright, you have to be very careful and mindful of the copyright rules on any content you are planning to use or redistribute, even for Creative Commons.

Creative Commons is not a replacement or alternative to copyright and it does not allow completely free-use. In order to use Creative Commons you must abide by the obligations in the specific Creative Commons license.


Rights and rules

All content licensed under Creative Commons can be distributed without modification for non-commercial uses.

For more specific uses, there are 6 main Creative Commons licenses comprised of 4 license elements:

  • Attribution,
  • Non-commercial,
  • No Derivative Works and
  • Share Alike.

Each of these elements has their own handy symbol and you will know the rights of the specific Creative Commons license by the symbol displayed. Below are the different elements and their symbols so you can identify them next time you want to use Creative Commons material.



The core element that applies to all 6 licenses is Attribution. Attribution simply states that you must credit the content creator wherever you have used their material. You can do this by providing the title of their work or the URL where it is hosted. If you want to be extra cautious you should state the type of license the material is protected under and provide a link to the license terms.

Non-commercial (NC)


A non-commercial label means the content cannot be used primarily for commercial purposes. Non-commercial purposes can be difficult to define, but they’re described as any use of the content intended for monetary gain or advantage. In a perfect world, this would mean the content itself couldn’t be used in a way to sell something or gain money, but it’s more complicated than that.

Unfortunately the rules of this element can be grey and often very stifling: the content cannot be hosted on a site with ads or links (even if you don’t own the site), and the content can’t be used if you have been paid for doing anything involved with the content. The only way you’re safe is if you’re using it for a completely personal purpose with no money changing hands anywhere, like a school assignment.

Non-commercial is so muddy and complex that Creative Commons released a 255-page report about how to use it. As a content creator it is important to realise the implication of choosing a license with a non-commercial clause as it may put people off using your content entirely.

No Derivative Works (ND)

non derivative

This condition is much simpler: it dictates that the content cannot be modified or adapted when it is used. This means any kind of edit, including a little crop on a photo, is off-limits. The work has to be used in its entirety, unchanged, or not at all.

Share Alike (SA)


Share Alike requires the user of the content to license the work they produce with the content with the same license as the original creator. For example, if the creator licenses their content as an Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike, the user must then also license their material as Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike wherever they distribute it.

Why get a Creative Commons License?

As a content creator, you may want to allow people to copy, use or distribute your work, without sacrificing your copyright. It enables your work to be shared, seen by many more people or reworked while always crediting you as the creator. Creative Commons licenses let you decide how your work is used – it’s all on your own terms.

As a content creator myself, I know it can be annoying when people only want to offer you “exposure” for something that has taken your time, effort and creativity. However, when you’re just starting out in a creative role like a DJ or photographer or graphic designer, exposure is valuable, and a Creative Commons license is a very easy way to get your work out into the world.

Creative Commons can be very useful to teachers for educational purposes. They’re also valuable to students doing their assignments. Even bloggers need Creative Commons to make their articles shine. You might be surprised by all the ways your work can be used and how many people will be grateful to use it.

Many websites that feature original content allow you to search and find Creative Commons material. For example, Flickr, which iiNet occasionally sources blog images from. However, most images we source come from Pixabay: a website where all images and video are free of copyrights under Creative Commons license CC0 (public domain – content without restrictions), meaning they can be used for commercial purposes, modified and do not even require attribution. If you are a budding young blogger yourself, I highly recommend Pixabay as it has hundreds of thousands of high quality images ready to use fresh off the page!


Do you use Creative Commons in your work or hobbies? Let us know in the comments below.


  1. I do and thanks for the post

  2. JohnB says:

    This has to be one of the most confusing, ambiguous infoblogs I have ever read.

  3. Rob says:

    A very simple explanation – I like it and the info re Pixabay

  4. Knut Hooge says:

    Thank you for this article on Creative Commons. It was clear and most informative.
    I upload a lot of small videos of my kayaking hobby and adding a audio soundtrack has sometimes caused copyright issues with music I chose.
    So now I am that much the wiser.

  5. Mostafa Azad Kamal says:

    Yes I use and also I promote this open culture in my society at institutional and national level. I will check pixbay..I never tried yet! Great to be open for ourselves and for the whole humanity .. We can avoid many obstacles in education and research by being open.

  6. Peter Brown says:

    So now I know about it and can understand it! Thanks Cahli

  7. David King says:

    Thanks for this article. Makes understanding copyright all the more easier wihile using web content.

  8. Brian Holland says:

    Great article. I’ve never taken the time to understand Creative Commons but this was easy to read. It’s very good to know. Thanks for simplifying it.

  9. LC says:

    Well done in presenting a simple explanation of a very important topic. Its not just digital photos that can be licenced, but all material (digital and non etc ). Clear licencing saves so much time and allows easy reuse. Only additional thing would be to consider the Creative Commons version, which has been updated through the years.