Creative Commons Licenses: an Analysis

From PlantUse English
Jump to: navigation, search

This page is a draft written by a non-lawyer.

The different licenses

With a simple copyright, you need to ask permission (and possibly pay a fee) for each individual image you reuse. For big non-profit websites (such as biodiversity websites) with tens of thousands of images, this is just not possible. This is why CC licenses are preferable.

It must be stressed that Creative Commons licenses follow the copyright system. They simply affirm some conditions of use that right holders voluntarily allow to users.


No rights reserved



This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.



This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.



This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.



This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and it is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.



This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.



This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

The different elements


Abbreviation of Creative Commons license.


Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).

Comment. In particular, the author must be mentioned, if so wished by him. In practice, the user must copy the metadata attached to the media. This element is common to all CC licenses. It ensure the moral rights of authors. The more a media is spread, the more the renown of the author will increase.


Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

Comment. No user can use a stricter license than the one used for the original work.


No Derivative Works — You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work.

Comment. This element is very restrictive, and would have severe consequences in the field of biological sciences. It means for example that nobody else is allowed to modify a plant description, or an identification key, unless they reword or rearrange completely your work. Translations to other languages are not allowed. For an image, nobody is allowed to add an arrow or some letters, or to crop or alter the image.


Non Commercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

Comment. This is a tricky element. Most people spontaneously think that non-commercial means non-profit (fr: sans but lucratif), and they would like to receive some money when a publisher uses their photos in a popular book. But non-commercial may be defined in many different ways, including intended for a commercial advantage, which creates a situation of great uncertainty. For example :

  • an NGO selling a calendar, an agenda or postcards including images is directly looking for profits, even if it is to fund a charitable cause.
  • an NGO using images in a free brochure has an indirect interest in obtaining more subsidies or paying members.
  • a website displaying advertisement around a free content has a commercial interest.

Risk evaluation

Presently, it is unlikely that a rights holder will sue a non-profit organisation. But can a non-profit organisation afford the risk of being sued? For creating a brochure or putting 10 images on a webpage, the risk is low. You can simply create another brochure, or delete the 10 images.

However, for the creation of a long-term resource, the risk is very different. If one day a court establishes that NC licenses are not allowed, all media with such a license will have to be removed immediately; otherwise, administrators would be liable of willfull neglect by the court. A private publisher could argue about unfair competition.

Transaction costs

For big websites using thousands of media, it would be difficult and time-consuming to negociate one by one the conditions of use of a media. Contracts should be managed and preserved about 150 years (if somebody aged 20 contracts for a media, and dies at 90, rights will go on for further 70 years !), what only big companies can manage.

Wikimedia Commons has an efficient historical tracking system, which allows you to prove that a media was at the right license when you uploaded it. It is not the case with Flickr, where anybody can change a license at any time. Wikimedia imports images from Flickr, but developed a system where two people act as witnesses, just in case of a legal problem.


NC licenses do have an interest, mostly for people who need to recover some compensation for their work. As for publicly funded institutions, and big web systems, open content licenses (CC0, CC-BY and CC-BY-SA) should be favoured.


by an administrator of Biowikifarm : Hagedorn, Gregor et al., 2012. Creative Commons licenses and the non-commercial condition: Implications for the re-use of biodiversity information. ZooKeys, 150: 127–149. on line.

Michel Chauvet

Template:27 October 2015