Copyright and Creative Commons: They Work Together For You

Have you ever come across Creative Commons (CC) licences in the course of your research and teaching? Perhaps you have been asked to select a licence when submitting your work to uO Research, or have shared CC-licensed open access materials with your students or classmates. But how do CC licences work and interact with copyright?

Before we take a look at the relationship between CC licences and copyright, you might be asking what Creative Commons is and why it matters to both your research and to the world of academic publishing more broadly.

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that began as an innovative way of responding to copyright systems around the world—particularly given the emergence of new technologies, including the internet. With rapid digital access, sharing, and collaboration having become the norm, traditional approaches to copyright were found to be too restrictive by many. As a result, Creative Commons created a series of flexible licences, allowing creators to share their work openly, in a customized manner. The first CC licences were published in 2002, and since that time, CC licences and public domain legal tools have been used on approximately 2 billion works, spanning scholarly research, music, fiction, images, and online videos, among other types of creative work.  

All told, there are
six different CC licence types, ranging from CC BY, the most permissive, to CC BY-NC-ND, the least. In addition to copying and sharing, which are covered by all CC licences, CC BY allows adaptations of a work to be shared publicly. It also allows reuse for commercial purposes. CC BY-NC-ND, on the other hand, does not allow the sharing of adaptations, and is restricted to non-commercial purposes. All licences require that attribution is given to the creator of the work.

When discussing CC licences and copyright, it is important to mention that these open licences don’t replace copyright in a work. Rather, creators maintain their copyright, which is automatic upon fixation of a work, while also being able to share their work more openly if desired. As a copyright holder, the licences allow you to set out permissions in advance, specifying what others are allowed to do with your work. And, as a user, they allow you to legally make use of a work without risk of infringing copyright, as long as you respect the terms of the CC licence that is applied to it. In this sense, CC licences span the best of both worlds for both creators and users, supporting a healthy balance between author rights and user rights.

Why, then, do CC licences, and the open movement more generally, matter to us as creators, and as a university community? First and foremost, they allow for the sharing of your work under the conditions specified by the chosen licence, allowing creators to establish a worldwide commons of intellectual and creative work. As the Creative Commons organization expresses it, this allows creators of all kinds, including researchers in higher education, to “herald a new shift in values that champions a culture of creative sharing and innovation.” Second, they also allow researchers to disseminate their ideas more widely within the scholarly milieu, making research accessible to all for reading and engagement.

At the University of Ottawa, our Copyright Office is here to answer any questions you may have about Creative Commons licences, as well as any other copyright-related matters you encounter in your research, teaching, or studies. These questions may include copyright permissions, what online or digitized images you can and cannot use in your work, what works you are able to make available to your students on the Virtual Campus (Brightspace), questions related to fair dealing, and much more.

Our Copyright Services Librarian, Andrea Lobel, is also available to provide copyright training and information sessions tailored to the needs of your department, school, or research team, and can provide one-on-one or group consultations on specific issues or questions you may encounter.

Whether your question is about open licensing, uOttawa Fair Dealing guidelines, permissions, or training, the Copyright Office is here to help.

“Creative Commons for Educators and Librarians, Creative Commons (https://www.creative,, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license ( licenses/by/4.0), published by the American Library Association (” 

© 2023. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.

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