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Scholarly Communications: Creative Commons

Includes information on Copyright, Creative Commons, Fair Use, Public Domain, Open Access Resources and More.

Creative Commons with green border

This library guide will serve as an introduction to Creative Commons and provide a timeline of its creation. The left column will give you written information on the Commons. The right column provides multimedia information.  

How it all began

  • 1998
    This copyright law was named the Sonny Bono Act of 1998 or the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) and was seen as particularly restricting the creative process. This act extended the copyright protection limits from the life of the creator plus 50 years to the life of the creator plus 70 years. Mary Bono, Sonny Bono's wife and congressional successor stated: 

    "Actually, Sonny wanted the term of copyright protection to last forever. I am informed by staff that such a change would violate the Constitution. ... As you know, there is also [then-MPAA president] Jack Valenti's proposal for term to last forever less one day. Perhaps the Committee may look at that next Congress." (H9952).

    Lawerence Lessig, creator, and founder of the Creative Commons, found this law to be incredibly restrictive because it limited the number of works scheduled to move into the Public Domain. It is important for culture to thrive and change and the Public Domain allows this to happen. Once the copyright protection has ended, all works move into the Public Domain. This means that the works may be used freely and without restriction, thus adding to culture and creativity. It is of note that this law is also nicknamed the Mickey Mouse Act because it was enacted just before the creation of Mickey Mouse was set to age into the Public Domain.

  • 2001  
    The Creative Commons began on January 15th, 2001 in response to the growing concerns from creators, artists, and internet users about restrictive copyright laws. Copyright laws grant exclusive rights to creators so that they may have the ability to prevent others from using their work. Although this is helpful for creators, it can be seen to affect culture, and stifle the creative process. 

  • 2003 
    In 2003, Eric Eldred became the lead plaintiff in Eldred vs. Ashcroft a lawsuit that challenged the Sonny Bono Act. Eldred had a particular interest in the Act because it kept him from scanning and publishing works first published after 1922. Lessig, Creative Commons founder and Standford Law Professor, represented Eldred but the pair lost.

  • Modern Day
    A big part of the Creative Commons is the use and creation of a set of licenses. These licenses allow for artists to choose how others are able to use their own works. The licenses range from very open to very restrictive. 

    You'll be able to learn more about these licenses in the next section, but there is much more to see and understand when learning about what makes up the Creative Commons. 

Creative Commons: Remix, video by Creative Commons. CC BY SA 3.0

Creative Commons Links

Creative Commons- Licenses and How they work

Below you will find the seven most regularly used Creative Commons licenses. Creative Commons is trying to give a framework for artists to provide easy to understand terms on how their works may be used. Please see the below graph on what number of CC-licensed works available today, and see which license works for you. This graph comes from the this wikipedia page:

Icon Description Acronym AttributionRequired Allows Remix culture Allows commercial use Allows Free Cultural Works Meets 'Open Definition'
CC0 icon Freeing content globally without restrictions CC0 No Yes Yes Yes Yes
CC-BY icon Attribution alone BY Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
CC-BY-SA icon Attribution + ShareAlike BY-SA Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
CC-by-NC icon Attribution + Noncommercial BY-NC Yes Yes No No No
CC-BY-NC-SA icon Attribution + Noncommercial + ShareAlike BY-NC-SA Yes Yes No No No
CC-BY-ND icon Attribution + NoDerivatives BY-ND Yes No Yes No No
CC-BY-NC-ND icon Attribution + Noncommercial + NoDerivatives BY-NC-ND Yes No No No No

Creative Commons- A Movement

Since the licenses create a space that allows others to share, grow and learn, naturally, a group of activists formed around the cause. Listed below are varieties of ways to get open access resources that are not particularly connected to the commons but still working to create open source materials for others to use. 

  1. Open Source Software
    "Open-source software (OSS)is a type of computer software whose source code is released under a license in which the copyright holder grants users the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose." (St. Laurent, A. M., 2008)
  2. Open Innovation
    Provides an open environment where training, mentorship, funding measures etc may be shared. Please click here for more information. 
  3. Open Science
    Open science is the movement to make scientific research, data and dissemination accessible to all levels of an inquiring society, amateur or professional. Open science is transparent and accessible knowledge that is shared and developed through collaborative networks." (Vicente-Saez, R., & Martinez-Fuentes, C., 2018)
  4. Open Educational Resources
    Open Educational Resources (OER) are freely accessible, openly licensed text, media, and other digital assets that are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes.- Wikipedia Definition.

Creative Commons- Nonprofit

CC staff- February 2018 Fast forward to 2018, and you will see that the Creative Commons is managed by a group of non-profit employees that live all over the globe. Please see staff picture taken in February of 2018.  (Creative Commons staff in February 2018, © Creative Commons, CC BY 4.0.). 

In 2016, Creative Commons underwent a transformation by refocusing on an organizational strategy. This strategy includes two major points of focus; Supporting the Licenses, Tools and Technologies created by the Creative Commons & Growing the Movement. 

Creative Commons- Globally

Creative Commons is working to create a global network where people all across the globe may join. These groups offer a "home for a community of advocates, activists, scholars, artists, and users working to strengthen the Commons worldwide." There are chapters in Africa, Europe, Latin America to name a few. Please click through to read more about these groups. 

H9952. Congressional Record. Government Printing Office. October 7, 1998. Retrieved from :

St. Laurent, Andrew M. (2008). Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing. O'Reilly Media. p. 4. ISBN 9780596553951.

Vicente-Saez, R., & Martinez-Fuentes, C. (2018). Open Science now: A systematic literature review for an integrated definition. Journal of Business Research, 88, 428-436.