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Considerations for Creative Commons licensing

Creative Commons licences

As outlined in What is Copyright, creators or copyright holders have a bundle of exclusive rights to their works – copying, communicating, publishing and adapting are critical rights that only copyright holders can perform unless agreed otherwise.

But in many situations, staff and students at Curtin may want to make their works easier for other people to copy and adapt – doing so will improve the impact and reach of their works while still earning the creator recognition and citation.

Providing a statement of permission in advance to other people about what they can and cannot do with the work can increase their confidence in their planned actions and will make it more likely for works to be copied or adapted.

However, creating individual permission statements for each work would be time-consuming and without experience in writing formal legal documents, the scope of the permission may be unclear.

The most common solution to this is to apply one of the Creative Commons (CC) licences. The range (or suite) of six CC Licences gives other people advance permission to reuse works in a variety of different ways, with language that has been checked for clarity and legal validity.

If you are planning on applying a CC licence to your work, below are some issues you should consider when deciding if it is a good choice.


Creating a sharing culture

By applying a CC Licence you can encourage the development of more generous attitudes to sharing and reuse in educational and online communities.

Financial control

All of the CC licences are non-exclusive, which means you still retain ownership of your copyright in the work – even after a CC licence is applied you can still seek to gain commercial benefit from licencing the work in other ways. Making a work widely available for free may unlock new avenues of revenue – Made With CC presents dozens of case studies where CC licences have had this effect.

However, you should be aware that three of the six CC licences (BY, BY-SA and BY-ND) will allow the reuse of the material for commercial gain by other people, so you should consider your attitudes towards people making money from the work without requiring your knowledge or permission.

Improved reach and impact

The application of a CC Licence will remove many copyright restrictions that would prevent your work from finding its audience. By reducing barriers such as financial cost and access, your work will be more likely to make a difference and improve your visibility.

Legally sound around the world

The CC Licences are applicable in all jurisdictions and are enforceable in international courts worldwide. You can apply any of the CC Licences with confidence that the conditions of that licence will stand up under scrutiny. Similarly, anyone seeking to reuse your work can be certain that they are permitted to do so, within the scope of the applied licence.


CC Licences cannot be revoked. Once a work has been made available under a CC licence, anyone reusing or accessing the existing work may continue to do so (subject to the initial specific licence terms), even if you stop distributing it or if you seek to provide it under a different licence.


CC Licences are suitable for almost all types of content you can create except for software, logos and trademarks. If what you want to licence contains these types of works, you should exclude them from the licence application.

  • The unique nature of software and how source code and patent rights function means that CC licences should not be applied to software. Instead, Creative Commons recommends the use of licences on the Free Software Foundation’s free licences list or the Open Source Initiatives list of Open Source Licences.
  • Logos and trademarks are intended to identify a particular provider of a product or service. By allowing others to use those identifiers, the intent is undermined. If you wish to apply a CC Licence to a work that contains a logo or trademark, you should exclude that from the scope of the licence.

Third-party material

You can only apply a CC licence to work you hold the copyright for. You should consider the following:

  1. Am I certain I own the copyright to this material? As an employee of an organisation, you may be under an agreement that gives the employer the rights to the work. If you are performing research for hire, the funder may own the rights to the work. Before applying a CC Licence, you should make sure you own the copyright in your work or seek permission to apply a CC Licence – the Curtin Intellectual Property Policy and Procedures can help determine this.
  2. Will my work still be reusable if I exclude third-party material? If so, you can prominently and explicitly exclude the application of the CC Licence to the material that you don’t hold the copyright for by appropriately marking third-party content. – this is shown in Example 2 of Applying Creative Commons Licences. More information can be found here in Marking Third Party Content.
  3. Can I obtain permission to include this third-party material? If so, you can seek permission from the other copyright holder to license the third-party material under your selected CC license.

How to choose a CC licence

If you have determined that a CC licence is a good choice, Creative Commons Australia has a useful and simple flowchart for deciding which CC licence to choose. The online Licence Chooser may also be helpful.

How to apply a CC licence

If you have decided to apply a CC licence, the process is simple and is outlined in Applying Creative Commons Licences.