Creative Commons

What Is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons (CC) licenses are commonly used by creators of OER. They are open licenses, which enable copyright holders to communicate how others can use their work. Open licenses like CC licenses make OER possible because they enable people to reuse and adapt copyrighted work.

CC licenses specify how users may attribute, share, and/or use the CC-licensed work. For a quick overview, check out this presentation, “Creative Commons, the 5Rs, and OER: The Shortest Possible Introduction” by David Wiley of Lumen Learning.

CC Licenses

There are six different CC licenses, each of which involves one or more of the following requirements.

attribution icon

Attribution, or BY: This requirement specifies that credit must be given to the creator of the work. All CC licenses require attribution.

share alike icon

Share Alike, or SA: This requirement specifies that adaptations of the work must be shared under the same terms as the original work.

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Non-Commercial, or NC: This requirement specifies that the work may be used only for non-commercial uses.

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No Derivatives, or ND: This requirement specifics that no derivatives or adaptations of the work are permitted. Because adaptations are not permitted, resources that include ND in their license are technically not OER.

In the image below, the six licenses and the Creative Commons Public Domain designation are arranged in a spectrum that shows the relative freedom allowed by each license as well as which licenses indicate works that are not OER (CC BY-ND and CC BY-NC-ND).

Licenses listed from most freedom to least freedom. OER: Public domain, CC BY, CC BY-SA, CC BY-NC, CC BY-NC-SA; Not OER: CC BY-ND, CC BY-NC-ND
The Creative Commons image from “Increasing College Affordability with Open Educational Resources” by Cable Green is licensed CC BY 4.0.

Learn more about Creative Commons and explore FAQ about the licensing system.


As noted above, all CC licenses require you to give credit to the creator of the original work. Refer to the best practices for attribution at the CC Wiki and Open Washington’s Open Attribution Builder to ensure proper attribution when using CC-licensed materials. Also see our page on attribution for additional resources.

The Compatibility of CC Licenses

What if you are combining work from different sources and with different CC licenses? This chart explains the compatibility of different CC licenses. CC BY-ND and CC BY-NC-ND licenses, for example, are incompatible with any other licenses, because they do not allow for adaptation or remixing. Refer to the page on remixing and compatibility at WikiEducator for a thorough discussion of the matter.

Chart that compares the compatability of different license components.
This chart was originally created by Kennisland and was made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
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