Creative Commons and open access

Creative Commons is an alternative licensing copyright scheme.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is an alternative licensing copyright scheme. While traditional copyright, broadly speaking, bars any substantial reproduction unless permission is obtained, Creative Commons licensing offers a “sliding scale” of permissions, which you, as a copyright holder, can adapt to your needs. Documents licensed under Creative Commons offer a wide range of materials which professors can use in their courses, and students can use in their assignments – articles, charts, images, etc. – all without having to request permission.

The easiest way to find documents licensed under Creative Commons is to do a web search which includes the words “creative commons” (include the quotation marks). Creative Commons also provides a more targeted search tool on their site.

Open access

Open access is a growing movement in the scholarly publishing world, where authors and publishers make their works openly available to others, without a subscription fee. These works may be freely shared, increasing their visibility. For more on open access and initiatives at the University of Ottawa, please consult our Scholarly Communication page.

The fastest way to determine if a particular academic journal offers an open access option is to search the Directory of Open Access Journals, which lists over 9,000 peer-reviewed open access journals. Another useful tool is SHERPA/RoMEO, which summarizes the copyright transfer agreements and self-archiving provisions for many academic journals.

How to attribute Creative Commons licensed content: Best practices

These best practices can also be applied when attributing content under other types of open licences, such as:

Open Government Licence - Canada

Unsplash License

Pexels License

Pixabay License

Recognizing Creative Commons licences

You will recognize content under a Creative Commons licence in one of three ways:

  1. The button with the CC logo and conditions icons:

Creative Commons licence (CC: BY-NC-SA)
  1. The long written out version:

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

  1. The short version:


The six Creative Commons licences are a combination of four conditions:

For more information about what the six licences mean, consult About The Licenses.

The basic condition of all Creative Commons licences is Attribution (BY), thus the importance of knowing how to attribute content available under a CC licence.

Title, Author, Source, Licence

A good rule of thumb is to use the acronym TASL, which stands for Title, Author, Source, Licence.

Title - What is the name of the material?

If a title is provided, include it. You could also use the name of a file. If no title or file name is provided, add a descriptive title (e.g. image, photo, illustration, etc.).

Author - Who created the material and owns the right to it?

Name the author(s) of the material in question. It could be a person or an entity like an organization or a company, or even a pseudonym (like a username).

Source - Where did you find the content?

Provide the source of the content so others can access it too. This is usually a URL or a hyperlink where the material resides.

Licence - How can you use it?

While you are able to use the content for free because it is under a CC licence, you also need to indicate that licence in your attribution. Name the licence and provide a link to it. Ex.: for CC BY 4.0

Note about versions: 4.0 refers to the latest version of the licences, which are applicable internationally. Previous versions were more location specific but are still valid. Make sure to  refer to the correct version in your attributions.

Examples of attribution

Here is a photo.

Cat” by Tom Houslay is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0


Title: “Cat”

Author: Tom Houslay (with link to photographer’s profile on Flickr)

Source: Flickr (the title of the image is linked to the original Flickr page)

Licence: CC BY-NC 2.0 (with a link to licence deed)

Photo of a cat

Cat” by Tom Houslay is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 / Desaturated from original


Title, Author, Source and Licence are all noted.

Modification is indicated: “Desaturated from original”.

Photo of cat in black and white

This work, “Presents for kitty,” is a derivative of “Cat” by Tom Houslay, used under CC BY-NC 2.0 and Photo by Markus Spiske, used under Pixabay License. “Presents for kitty” is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0 by Mélanie Brunet.


Original Title, Author, Source and Licence are all noted.

Derivative is indicated.

New author and licence of the derivative work are also indicated.

When you are creating a derivative or an adaptation, this new work acquires its own copyright and therefore you will add your own Creative Commons licence to it. Use the CC License Chooser to select the appropriate licence for your needs and context.

Edited photo of cat

Where to add the attribution

Best practice is generally to add the attribution as close as possible to the content being reproduced, for example in the caption under or next to an image. But this can depend on the medium with which you are working.


  • Add a list of attributions in the form of end credits in the video itself.

Example: “Video Editing and Shot Techniques: Study of jump cuts, match cuts and cutaways” by New Media Rights (end credits with attribution start at 3:13)

  • Add attributions in the information about the video on the hosting platform or webpage.

Example: This video features the song “Memories Erased (Instrumental)” by RYYZNAudio Library, licensed under CC BY 3.0


  • Add the attribution close to the item being reproduced.
  • Another option is to create a “credits” slide, usually at the very end, to add a list of attributions.

Audio file:

  • Add a list of attributions in the information about the file on the hosting platform, like it is sometimes done for podcasts in the episode notes.
  • Another option is to recite the attributions at the end of the recording.

The guide "How to attribute Creative Commons licensed content: Best practices"is an adaptation of Creative CommonsBest practices for attribution, Creative Commons Wiki, licensed under CC BY 4.0.

All Creative Commons Icons from Creative Commons, licensed under CC BY 4.0.

© Mélanie Brunet and Catherine Lachaîne, 2021. Unless otherwise noted, the content of this guide is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence.

chat loading...