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This article is written by Swati K, pursuing a Diploma in Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Laws, from LawSikho.


A Creative Commons (CC) license is one of several public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted “work”. [1] CC licenses not only make it possible for people access to free knowledge and works but also enables an author to safely make his or her works public while keeping them safe from infringement and misuse at the same time. Authors use CC Licenses to give other people rights to use their works (a.k.a licensing) and build upon them within the ambit of rights granted via the CC License applicable to the works. The creators of CC Licenses are the Creative Commons organization.

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Creative commons- the organisation

The Creative Commons is an American non- profit organization which happens to be the creator of CC licenses. It has released a number of CC licenses for free to be used by public. The organization was founded in 2001 by Lawrence Lessig, Hal Abelson, and Eric Eldred with the support of Center for the Public Domain. The founding management team that developed the licenses and built the Creative Commons infrastructure as we know it today included Molly Shaffer Van Houweling, Glenn Otis Brown, Neeru Paharia, and Ben Adida [1]. The very first CC licenses were released in 2001.

The organization’s purpose is to work towards free and openly available global access to knowledge. It is an avid supporter of global Open Education and is constantly working towards it while collaborating with major institutions and governments to create, adopt and implement open licensing and ensure the correct use of CC licenses and CC-licensed content. [2]

As of May 2018, there were 1.4 billion works licensed under the various Creative Commons licenses. Wikipedia, the largest online encyclopedia, also uses one of these CC licenses. Flickr, one of America’s largest image hosting and video hosting service and online community has, as of May 2018, hosted 415 million Creative Commons licensed photos alone. [1]


The Creative Commons licenses so far have had many versions a.k.a Creative Commons license suite ranging from the very first version- Version 1.0 published in December 2001 to the latest version- Version 4.0 published in November 2013. Until now there have been a total of five versions i.e. Version 1.0, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0 and 4.0 of the CC licenses so far. 

The 4.0 suite licenses are referred to as International and are intended to function without any adjustments (porting) across all jurisdictions throughout the world. The 4.0 version has six kinds of CC licenses under it which cater to various needs of the author or licensor. 

Porting- It is a process that brings the CC licenses in line with the local copyright law of a country and also its private laws. The process of porting majorly includes two things-

  1. Translating the CC licenses in languages appropriate to the country; and
  2. Adapting them legally to the particular jurisdiction.

Creative commons licenses

Depending on the kind of rights granted in a work the Creative Commons Licenses are divided into six different categories which are applicable worldwide. They are-

  1. Attribution Only CC License


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This is one of the simplest and most straightforward of all the Licenses. All the works under this license require the user to give attribution i.e. ‘appropriate credit’ to the real author of the work and also indicate what, if any, changes were made to the original work.

Appropriate Credit, as defines by Creative Commons must include the following-

a) the name of the creator and attribution parties

b) a copyright notice

c) a license notice 

d) a disclaimer notice

e) a link to the material 

Once the abovementioned are taken care of, the work can be used for any purpose whether it is commercial, non- commercial, educational etc. 

  1. Attribution, ShareAlike CC License

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This license carries the features same as that of an Attribution Only license but at the same time imposes certain restrictions on sharing the improved works created using the works carrying this license. 

Under this license the new work (improved works) that a person creates using the underlying works carrying this license, when shared, also carries with it the exact same license that the underlying works hold. The person cannot prohibit others from sharing or changing his//her work. 

  1. Attribution, No Derivatives 


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This License not only requires a user to give Appropriate Credit but also prohibits the user from making changes to any such works that could constitute a Derivative of the work. Hence, the works cannot be changed or altered in any way but still can be used for any purpose like commercial, non- commercial, educational, non-profit, gaming etc. after giving the mandatory credits to the licensor or author of the works. 

  1. Attribution, Non–Commercial CC Licenses

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With this one, the user shall provide the Attribution Credit.  However, you are able to add to, modify, change, etc., the underlying work so long as YOU are not doing it in a commercial way. [3] Creative Commons defines commercial as – “primarily intended for commercial advantage or monetary gain”. So as long as the user limits its use to non- commercial activities it is not a violation of the license terms. The real difficulty comes when the user has to share the work in a non- commercial manner which makes this license a little trickier than others.

The user can also license the works he/she creates using the underlying works but that too shall not be for no money. 

  1. Attribution, Non-Commercial and ShareAlike CC License


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With this license the user shall- 

a) Give attribution credits to the author.

b) Not share or modify the underlying work for any commercial purposes.

c) Provide the same license as the underlying work in the new work or improved work when sharing or licensing.

6. Attribution, Non-Commercial and No Derivatives CC License

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Under this license the user shall give appropriate Attribution Credits but cannot modify or make derivatives of the works. Further, the user cannot distribute the work for commercial purposes. With this license, all you’re allowed to do is share it for free with other people and in doing so give credit to the original creator. [3]

Public Domain (CC0)

Creative Commons provides a designation known as – CC0 1.0 Universal for those who want their work to be put in the Public Domain. This makes the works free of any copyrights or any other rights accruing from it. In other words the works are labeled ‘No Rights Reserved’ and are free for any kind of use by anyone. 

Legality of CC licenses 

The legal recognition and legalities involved in the CC license is very well seen in several decisions of courts. One of which was paramount in establishing the legal aspects of the CC Licenses- the Dutch Tabloid Case. 

The Dutch Tabloid Case [4]

The District Court of Amsterdam decided the first known case involving Creative Commons Licenses in 2006. The case confirmed that the conditions of a Creative Commons license automatically apply to the content licensed under it. [4] In this Case a well-known podcasting guru Adam Curry’s photos uploaded on his Flickr page were published by a Dutch Tabloid without his permission. As a result of which, he sued the said Tabloid and the Court decided in his favor since the photos were licensed under the Creative Commons Non- Commercial License. 

Many other well known cases like the Virgin Mobile Case [5], Drauglis v. Kappa Map Group, LLC [6] etc. lay down the legalities of CC Licenses. 

Can a CC license be applied to low resolution copies of a licensed work?

The Creative Commons encourages the authors to license or distribute their works under more than one set of terms. The author can publish say for e.g. photographs on his/her website but only distribute the high resolution photographs to the users who have paid access to them. This way the author protects the high resolution photographs and generates revenue through their distribution.

The Creative Commons, though discourages the application of different kinds of CC Licenses to the same works even if they are in different resolution formats. Some authors do indulge in such a practice. If the low resolution copy and the high resolution copy are considered as Same Works under an applicable Copyright Law in a particular jurisdiction, then the only one kind of license shall be applicable to both. Therefore, a different kind of CC License cannot be applied to the low resolution copies of same work. 

The Indian Copyright Act 1957 under Section 13 grants copyright protection to Original works which are literary, artistic, musical, dramatic, cinematograph films and sound recordings. Same or similar works to the original work would not be granted a different copyright even if they are in a different resolution than the original work. 

A user who has access to the low resolution copy of a work under a certain CC License can easily use and exploit the High Resolution copy of the same work under the license of the low resolution copy. This world eventually cause loss to the author and can lead to the use of those highly protected or restricted use works which are in high resolution which the author did not intend to be so used. That is why Creative Commons discourages authors from this practice.

But Creative Commons cannot prevent licensors from attempting to impose restrictions through separate agreements on uses the license otherwise would allow. [7] The Authors can therefore can license the high resolution copies by imposing restrictions on them not by the CC Licenses but by separate agreements stipulating the terms of use by the user or the Licensees. In that case, licensees may be contractually restricted from using the high-resolution copy, for example, even if the licensor has placed a CC license on the low-resolution copy. [7]



Wikipedia, ” Creative Commons,” [Online]. Available: [Accessed 09 January 2021].


Creative Commons, “What We Do,” Creative Commons, [Online]. Available: [Accessed 09 Jan 2021].

[3], “Creative Commons Licenses Explained In Plain English,” 14 February 2014. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 09 January 2021].

[4], “Creative Commons Licenses Enforced in Dutch Court,” 16 March 2006. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 10 January 2021].

[5], “Lawsuit Against Virgin Mobile and Creative Commons – FAQ,” 27 September 2007. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 10 January 2021].

[6], “US Court interprets copyleft clause in Creative Commons licenses,” 24 October 2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 10 January 2021].


Creative Commons, “Frequently Asked Questions,” [Online]. Available: [Accessed 16 January 2021].

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