Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that created a set of simple, easy-to-understand copyright licenses.

Creative Commons licenses do two things:

  1. They allow creators to easily share their work, giving permission for anyone to use their work in certain ways
  2. They allow everyone to find work that is free to use without needing to ask for individual permission

As long as you obey the terms of the license attached to the work, you can use Creative Commons licensed material without fear of inadvertently infringing an author or creators copyright. You can learn more about Creative Commons licenses at

What does this Creative Commons license mean?

Creative Commons licenses are built from four basic components, which let users know how they can use or share or modify a work.  These components are:

  • Attribution (BY) - if you use or share or adapt this work, you must provide appropriate credit to the additional creator.  
  • ShareAlike (SA) - If you adapt the work, you agree to make it available under the same terms—the same license—as the original work.
  • NoDerivatives (ND) - You cannot modify, adapt, or remix the work without the creator's permission.
  • NonCommercial (NC) - You cannot share or adapt this work for commercial gain.

These components combine to form six standard licenses, like CC-BY, the Creative Commons (CC) license which allows anyone to do anything they want with a work, as long as they provide appropriate credit to the creator.  A seventh license allows creators to dedicate their work to the public domain.  

For a summary of these standard licenses, and links to the exact license terms, check out our Creative Commons Overview.  

How to Find and Cite Creative Commons Licensed Works

It is easy to find Creative Commons licensed material through search engines:


Citing Creative Commons work:

Almost all Creative Commons licenses require users to give appropriate credit to the creator of the licensed work. What is appropriate depends on how you are using the work—the best way to give credit in a video or in a remixed image will be different from the best way to give credit in an academic paper.  

Creative Commons recommends, at the very least, that attributions include TASL—the Title of the work, the Author of the work, the Source where you found the work (usually a URL for the website where the work was shared), and the License which allows you to use the work. Sometimes, of course, you will want to provide more information than this—for an academic paper, you should use the same citation style that you use for quotations or any other references.

For information on how to give credit to the creators of Creative Commons material, check out Creative Commons' guide to Best Practices for Attribution.

Adapted and used under a Creative Commons Attribution license from material originally developed by the University of Michigan Copyright Office.  This adaptation, including original content produced by the Grand Valley State University Libraries, is released under a Creative Commons Attribution - NonCommercial license.

This website presents information about copyright law. The University Libraries make every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but do not offer it as counsel or legal advice. Consult an attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.

Page last modified July 11, 2024