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Open licensing is applied to a created work when the creator wants to make the work available for others to use, modify, or share. Canadian law automatically grants authors full copyright over the work they create, and this copyright is only removed when a work enters the public domain.

Creative Commons licenses work within copyright law to allow legal exceptions to how a work can be used, and vary depending on how the creator wants their work to be used. By licensing a work with a CC license, the creator retains copyright but is giving users permission in advance to use their work as long as they follow the restrictions. (When your work is being used within limitations and exceptions to copyright, such as fair use, these uses supersede the CC license.)

CC licenses contain three layers  – the Legal Code, the Commons Deeds, and the Machine Readable layer.

  1. The legal code contains the terms and conditions that are legally enforceable in court.
  2. The commons deeds explain the key license terms found in the legal code in everyday language and are not legally enforceable.
  3. The third layer of the license provides a machine-readable version that summarize the key permissions and obligations of the license. This standardized metadata, called CC Rights Expression Language (CC REL), can be found through search engines making CC-licensed works more findable.

Choosing a License

There are four different restrictions that a creator can choose from:


BY - Attribution

You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way...


SA - ShareAlike

If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.


NC - NonCommercial

You may not use the material for commercial purposes.


ND - No Derivatives

If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you may not distribute the modified material.

These restrictions can be mixed and matched to create 6 different Creative Commons licenses.

Need help choosing a license?

Creative Commons License Chooser

Copyright FAQ

Here are some frequently asked questions about copyright.

To learn more, check out

– FAQ Adapted from: “Unit 2: Copyright Law” by Creative Commons. CC BY 4.0.