Choosing a Creative Commons licence

Jánua Linguárum Reseráta Vestibulum at Wikibooks

Creative Commons are a series of licences developed to enable sharing. They are used by Wikimedia websites like Wikipedia, some Flickr users to share photos.

This is a really quick guide to choosing a Creative Commons Licence

Why bother at all?

Any copyright licence — including Creative Commons — defines what the user can do. Usually, this is as little as possible. A user has a right to read or listen to the content, but nothing else.

Creative Commons is “some rights reserved”. You decide whether you want to allow reuse, modifications, or for the work to be incorporated into other works. This enables sharing and creativity — something that Latin learners and teachers can really benefit from.

Without a licence, the user must guess what they can do, and may not understand your actual intentions. If you share teaching resources without a licence, this may mean users do less with the materials than you would permit. Or it could lead them – or you – into trouble if you disagree with something they do.

How do I choose a licence? How do people know what it is?

Simply choose one of the licences from Creastive Commons, and link to it from your work. It could be as simple as a line of text saying “This work is licenced under the CC-By-SA 4.0 licence. You are free to reuse it so long as you credit me and share your work on when you do.”

What licence should I choose?

This depends what you want to do. Here are four common examples.

Example 1:

I want to publish my work on Vicipaedia, or other Wikimedia Foundation sites

If you want your work to be featured on Vicipaedia or Wikipedia, then you need to use either a CC-BY (attribution) or a CC-BY-SA (attribute and share-alike) licence. Youtube allows you to publish as CC-By.

Wikipedia uses CC-By-SA, meaning that they ask everyone who reuses their content to make it freely shareable and editable.

This does not suit some commercial providers who want exclusive rights, but is great for community projects. However, there is no legal restriction on commercial use. This is important if you want to use the material in a paid for teaching course for instance, or if you want to share on social media.

Example 2:

I am transcribing an old book

Old books that published before 1924 in the USA are generally out of copyright and can be retranscribed.

Minor edits may cause a new copyright to exist. Layout and graphics are certainly subject to a new copyright. Consider making it clear what can be copied legally because it is in the public domain. Consider contributing the transcription itself to Gutenberg.org or Wikisource.org. You will save someone an awful lot of work!

Example 3:

I want to promote my own work but need to use most of it commercially

We are realistic! Not everything can be released as Creative Commons.

But you can consider sharing some things. By contributing to the community, you can get your work recognised, perhaps by seeing and hearing it at Wikimedia sites, and you encourage others to do the same.

Example 4:

I want to share but prevent resale

You should use a “non-commercial” licence, like cc-by-sa-nc, (By, Share Alike, Non Commercial) or cc-by-nc (By, Non Commercial).

These don’t work with Wikimedia projects, but may be suitable if you want to share preview material for a book, and don’t mind these previews being shared and republished.

Non-commercial licences are also incompatible with social media usage.

Examples of uses of a non-commercial licence includes the novella Cloelia, Puella Latina, which you can download, but not sell. While you could record an audio version, you could not upload this to Wikimedia sites, nor sell it, nor could you publish it on Youtube.

If you don’t want derivatives at all, then you can choose CC-By-ND (By, No Derivatives), but this is very restrictive. You couldn’t clip a video or crop a photo under a licence like this.

It may be appropriate for some artistic works, and is used by academics who want it very clear that their research is not to be misrepresented. However it prevents many reuses and incorporation of material in secondary works so is generally inadvisable.

Most restrictive is CC-By-NC-ND (By, Non-Commercial, No Derivatives). We would avoid restrictions as severe as this.

A word of warning: Royalty free content

Creative Commons licences allow all kinds of follow on use. Royalty Free licences – including the very permissive licences from sites like Unsplash and video creation sites – don’t allow all of the same uses.

You should therefore avoid combining CC content with Royalty Free content.


We’d really like to hear how you use Creative Commons with your Latin publications. Let us know!

Open Latin

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