Examples of Creative Commons License Use

There’s no right or wrong Creative Commons license. That said, some licenses are more appropriate for some applications than others–for example, only the free licenses (CC0, BY, BY-SA) should be used for public sector information. Sometimes licensors mistakenly think that the license they’re using allows types of reuse that it actually restricts, or vice versa. For more information on this problem, see our page on the differences between free and non-free licenses.

When deciding which license to apply to your work, ask yourself what types of reuse you’d like to encourage, and license accordingly.

We’ve chosen examples of users of each CC license, as well as the CC0 Public Domain Declaration, with information about why each licensor selected the license she did. While there are always arguments to be made for different licenses, we think that these examples serve as good illustrations of the various factors that licensors often take into account when choosing which license to use.

Creative Commons Licenses


CC0 Public Domain Declaration

CC0 Public Domain Declaration

By using CC0, you waive all copyright and related rights to a work to the extent possible under the law.

Europeana logo


Europeana — Europe’s digital library — releases its metadata into the public domain using CC0. This massive dataset consists of descriptive information from a huge trove of digitized cultural and artistic works. By removing all restrictions on the use of the metadata that describes these cultural works, Europeana creates opportunities for developers, designers, and other digital innovators to create applications, games for mobile devices, and websites that visualize and represent the diverse collection of artistic works in Europeana.


figshare allows researchers to publish all of their research outputs in an easily citable, searchable, shareable manner. Figshare has adopted CC0 as the default tool for researchers to share their datasets. In many cases, it can be difficult to ascertain whether a database is subject to copyright law, as many types of data aren’t copyrightable in many jurisdictions. Putting a database or dataset in the public domain under CC0 is a way to remove any legal doubt about whether researchers can use the data in their projects. Hundreds of organizations use CC0 to dedicate their work to the public domain. Although CC0 doesn’t legally require users of the data to cite the source, it does not affect the ethical norms for attribution in scientific and research communities.

Open Goldberg Variations

Before the Open Goldberg Variations, public domain recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations were hard to find, even though the scores themselves were in the public domain. Open Goldberg Variations wanted to change that, so it teamed up with professional musician Kimiko Ishizaka and started a Kickstarter project to create studio-quality recordings, promising to release them into the public domain using the CC0 public domain dedication tool. According to the project founders, “Musicians are usually not willing to withdraw their copyrights and their control over usage, but we feel that they thus miss opportunities to contribute to the greater good and benefit from wider distribution of their works. If this project succeeds, we hope that the recording will be available to everyone forevermore, and that it will be a truly widely known and enjoyed artistic work.” Sure enough, the project was funded at nearly double its original funding goal, and as a result all 30 variations performed by Kimiko Ishizaka are now available for free download via CC0.

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CC Attribution (CC BY)

This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.


In 2003, the Public Library of Science (PLOS) launched a nonprofit scientific and medical publishing venture that provides scientists and physicians with high-quality, high-profile journals in which to publish their most important work. Under the Open Access model, PLOS journals are immediately available online, with no charges for access and no restrictions on subsequent redistribution or use, as long as the author(s) and source are cited, as specified by the Creative Commons Attribution License. PLOS publishes approximately 50,000 CC BY articles every year. Says former PLOS CEO Peter Jerram, “The work of Creative Commons ensures that [other projects] can use the papers we publish without requiring the additional time and cost that asking special permissions would require.”


Saylor.org is dedicated to the development of free, openly licensed courses on a variety of subjects. Saylor is unique in that it builds on the best existing open educational resources on the web to develop high quality courses for self learners. Saylor has also run textbook competitions with $20,000 awards for the production (or buyout) of openly licensed textbooks under CC Attribution. All Saylor-hosted content is under a CC BY license, which means that other CC BY-licensed OER may be incorporated into its courses.

Chris Zabriskie

Chris Zabriskie / Chris Zabriskie / CC BY

Chris Zabriskie

Chris Zabriskie is an artist who specializes in cinematic soundscapes, ambient piano compositions, and minimal synth music. Originally a user of the the CC Attribution-Noncommercial license, Chris decided to drop the Noncommercial clause from his work, opting for CC BY. He explains his reasoning: “There are 48 hours of new video being uploaded just to YouTube every minute. Somebody, somewhere, always needs music for their project. Let people do what they want with your music, and they’ll promote you.” Zabriskie describes how his decision paid off in ways he never expected: “I’ve scored several feature films, a number of shorts, and am doing a bunch of other contract work for people and projects all around the world.” His inbox was flooded with requests from fellow creators, and he keeps a list of clients that includes the Cartoon Network, New York Public Library, Gizmodo, and Mashable alongside independent feature films and shorts.

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CC Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA)

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.

Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia and other Wikimedia sites allow content to legally flow in and out with ease, enabling one of the great cultural resources of the digital revolution to legally interact with an endless array of works from similar cultural institutions. Says Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, “Creative Commons is about building infrastructure for a new kind of culture — one that is both a folk culture, and wildly more sophisticated than anything before it.” Much of the media that accompanies Wikipedia articles, such as photos and illustrations, are also licensed under CC BY-SA or a more liberal license.


Arduino is an open-source computing chip “that can sense and control more of the physical world than your desktop computer.” It consists of a microcontroller board (the hardware) and the language that programs the board (the software). The software is under an open source software (OSS) license, and the reference designs for the hardware are under a CC BY-SA license, because Arduino creators believe “that people should be able to study our hardware to understand how it works, make changes to it, and share those changes.” Thanks to CC BY-SA, anyone can modify the designs, reproduce as many microcontroller boards as they like, and make money off of the modifications — as long as the derivative designs are published under the same license. Because everything about Arduino is open, Arduino chips have become the de-facto computing chip for open-source hardware makers and have become the processing power behind numerous creations, including open source synthesizers, MP3 players, guitar amplifiers, and even high-end voice-over-IP phone routers.


The Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) is a grassroots open education project that organizes learning outside of institutional walls and gives learners recognition for their achievements. By leveraging the Internet and open educational resources (OER), P2PU creates a model for lifelong learning while enabling high-quality, low-cost education opportunities — in everything from web programming to copyright for educators. The P2PU community chose CC BY-SA as the default license for its platform in order to enable maximum reusability and simultaneously encourage participation and contributions back to the community. P2PU produced a report on its commmunity process and reasoning for choosing the CC BY-SA license.

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CC Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND)

This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.

Drupal Security Report

Drupal, a free and open source software package for publishing and sharing content, released its security report under a CC BY-ND license. The report is written by experts in Drupal security and “handles the important task of maintaining security in systems that are built to take input from a variety of sources.” Drupal cites several reasons for choosing BY-ND, including protecting the credit of its sponsors and maintaining the appropriate context for the security report.


Behance logo

Behance logo

Behance is a major platform and community for designers and other creatives to be seen; its testimonials page has dozens of stories, both of designers who got work by sharing their portfolios on Behance and of big-name companies who used it to find talent. Most interestingly, Creative Commons licensing is the default on Behance. When you select “All Rights Reserved” for a project, you’re warned that “This will limit your exposure.” Many creatives opt to license their works under CC BY-ND, including this set of labels and packing for an exclusive line of white wines, and several typefaces. Says Founder and CEO Scott Belsky, “Over 75% of content published on Behance is CC-licensed… the power is shifting away from agencies and middlemen to the creatives themselves. It’s an exciting trend, but it depends on a continued culture of transparency and sharing.”


The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is dedicated to promoting computer users’ right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free software, in particular the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants, and free documentation for free software. The FSF also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software, and its websites (fsf.org and gnu.org) are an important source of information about GNU/Linux. The FSF licenses both websites under the CC BY-ND license, particularly recommending this license for its works of opinion.

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CC Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC)

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum is a major contributor to the commons on Flickr and licenses its online image collection under a CC Attribution-NonCommerical license license. According to chief of technology Shelley Bernstein, “We had started with [the] CC-BY-NC-ND [license] back in 2004 and having had a good experience, wanted to open it up a bit more. CC allows us to change as we grow and that’s very valuable — it means we can take small steps toward larger goals and do so as the institution feels comfortable.”

Jonathan Coulton

Jonathan Coulton is an independent singer-songwriter who became famous once he started sharing his music for free online under a CC BY-NC license. Jonathan wanted to reserve the commercial rights to his work, but thought it important to allow all other uses and remixes. According to JoCo, “Someone who’s never heard my music before gets a free mp3 (or twenty) and likes it, chances are they’re going to pass it along to some friends, blog about it, maybe even make a video for it. Each one of those outcomes means more exposure, more fans, and more chances for people to pay me — something that wouldn’t have happened as easily if the music was all locked up with DRM and the full battery of copyright restrictions.”

Wired.com photography

Wired.com staff-produced photos are released under a CC BY-NC license. Says Wired.com’s former Editor in Chief Evan Hansen, “At Wired.com, we’ve benefited from CC-licensed photos for years — thank you sharers! Now we’re going to start sharing ourselves.”

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CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA)

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under identical terms.

MIT Open CourseWare

MIT OpenCourseWare has been releasing its materials — web versions of virtually all MIT course content — under a CC BY-NC-SA license since 2004. Today, MIT OCW has over 2000 courses available freely and openly online for anyone, anywhere to adapt, translate, and redistribute. MIT OCW have been translated into at least 10 languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, French, German, Vietnamese, and Ukrainian. In 2011, MIT OCW celebrated its 10th anniversary, having reached 100 million individuals, and announced MITx, an initiative to provide certification for completion of its courses. The OpenCourseWare concept has now spread to hundreds of universities worldwide.

Cory Doctorow

Boing Boing editor Cory Doctorow is a writer, blogger, and science fiction author with a vast amount of work under his name. As an early adopter of Creative Commons, Cory has produced many publications under CC licenses since 2003, including Little Brother under CC BY-NC-SA which spent 4 weeks on the NYTimes bestseller list. In Cory’s words, “I use CC for my speeches, for my articles and op-eds, and for articles and stories that I write for ‘straight’ magazines from Forbes to Radar. My co-editors and I use CC licenses for our popular blog, Boing Boing, one of the most widely read blogs in the world. These licenses have allowed my work to spread far and wide, into corners of the world I never could have reached.”

Jonathan Worth

Jonathan works from London and New York as a freelance commercial photographer. He licenses his photography under the CC BY-NC-SA license. His work has appeared in numerous publications and exhibitions, most recently on permanent collection at the National Portrait Gallery. His work developing new and sustainable working practices has won acclaim from a wide audience, as have his lectures; both on his work, and on leveraging the social web. It was in recognition of this work that in 2009 Jonathan was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts.

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CC Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND)

This license is the most restrictive of our six licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away from Keyboard

Gottfrid Svartholm

Gottfrid Svartholm (from TPB AFK) / Simon Klose / CC BY

TPB AFK is a documentary about the founders of the The Pirate Bay, the massive site that provides millions of links to torrent files of music, film, and software. The documentary tracks the lives of the founders during their copyright infringement trial in Sweden. The filmmakers used Kickstarter to raise over $50,000 for the film editing. The filmmakers originally hoped to release the film under an open license that would permit remixing, but ended up having to release it under a CC BY-NC-ND license. “Since we bought and included around 4 min of archive news material from the Swedish Broadcaster SVT they wouldn’t allow us to use a license that allowed remix of the film. Since we love remixing and think it’s an important part of internet culture we will upload a remix-friendly version of the film without the archive material.” The film is also available without the 4 minutes of SVT footage, licensed under the BY-NC-SA license.

TED Talks videos

The popular TED Talks are licensed under the CC BY-NC-ND license, which allows them to be redistributed unmodified for noncommercial purposes. Says TED Media’s Executive Producer June Cohen, “Creative Commons was the most efficient way to empower the growth of our product and free us from conversations about what could or couldn’t be done with our videos.” Though TED doesn’t allow remixes of its videos without its consent and the consent of the speaker, TED does encourage translations through its Open Translation Project. Since releasing videos under CC, TED Talks have been viewed over 200 million times.


Propublica is a Pulitzer Prize–winning, independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Propublica encourages users to “steal” its stories, urging other sites to distribute stories under the CC BY-NC-ND license, which means no editing or selling the articles. According to General Manager Richard Tofel, “We knew that the more people who saw our stories the better off we would be, and the better we would fulfill our mission… [CC licensing] has worked very well and saves us an enormous amount of time.” The CC BY-NC-ND license provides the ability for others to republish ProPublica stories under clear terms and without negotiation.”

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