Finding, and (Re)Using CC Licensed Resources

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Welcome to yet another post in the #CCByBrian series.

CC licenses are standardized – which means the terms and conditions are the same for all works subject to the same type of CC license. Despite creatives and authors who use the licenses wanting to make modifications to meet diverse ( or slightly different) needs and wants, CC strongly discourages from customizing open copyright licenses. Aside from the confusion this might create, it will take an immense amount of time and effort for users to learn about these bespoke customization. If you change any of the terms and conditions of a CC license, you cannot call it a Creative Commons license or otherwise use the CC trademarks. This rule also applies if you try to add restrictions on what people can do with CC licensed work through your separate agreements, such as website terms of service or privacy policies.

There is a detailed CC legal policy outlining these rules, but the best way to apply them is to ask yourself: is what you want to do going to make it easier or harder for people to use your CC licensed work? Note that all of the above applies to creators of CC licensed work. You can never change the legal terms that apply to someone else’s CC licensed work.

So How Do I Find  A CC Licensed Resource?

With the ability to bring you up to 12 major repositories, CC Search is the leading place to find awesome CC licensed works. This has been a major project of Creative Commons (the organization). There is a prototype of a new version of CC Search that lets you create and save lists of works you like and includes a tool that enables you to give attribution with a single click. If there is a particular type of content you are looking for, you may be able to narrow down particular sources to explore. Wikipedia offers a fairly comprehensive listing of many major sources of CC material across various domains.

These search tools only scratch the surface of what is in the commons. Many platforms that enable CC licensing of works shared on their sites also have their own search filters to find CC content, like OER Commons.  You may also be able to search for works under a particular CC license (such as this listing by CC License or this list of works placed into the Public Domain using CC0). 

Reusing CC Content

When you find a CC work you want to reuse, the single most important thing to know is how to provide attribution. All CC licenses (apart from CC0 – public domain dedication tool) require that attribution be given to the creator. The elements of attribution are simple, though generally speaking, the more information you can provide, the better. People like to understand where CC licensed works come from, and creators like to know their names will remain attached to their works. If an author has provided extensive information in their attribution notice, retain it where possible.

The best practice for attribution is applying the “TASL” approach – T = Title; A = Author; S = Source; L = License.

Among the options listed, think about how you would prefer to be attributed for your own work. Explore this page about Best Practices for Attribution on the CC wiki. Creative Commons is also exploring ways to automate attribution. Take a look at this page of results from the CC search tool. The other main consideration when copying works is the NonCommercial restriction. If the work you are using is published with one of the three CC licenses that includes the NC element, then you need to ensure you are not using it for a commercial purpose.

Remember, you can always reach out to the creator if you want to request extra permission beyond what the license allows.

Remixing CC-Licensed Work

Generally speaking, Remixing is reserved for when you want to change a CC licenses work, and add it into a new piece of work. There are a number of important considerations – let us walk through them here:

My work, even though it uses CC licensed resources, itself falls under an exception (or limitation to copyright) – then you have no obligations under the CC license. If that is not the case, you need to rely on the CC license for permission to adapt the work. The threshold question then becomes, is what you are doing creating an adaptation?

Adaptation (or derivative works, such as a film based on a novel or a translation of a book from one language into another ) is a term of art in copyright law which means creating something new from a copyrighted work that is sufficiently original to itself be protected by copyright. This is not always easy to determine, though some bright lines do exist. Read this explanation on the CC site about what constitutes an adaptation. Some examples of adaptations include.

Like a smoothie, an adaptation / remix mixes material from different sources to create a wholly new creation:

Fruit smoothie ingredients

In a “smoothie” or adaptation / remix, you often cannot tell where one open work ends and another one begins. While this flexibility is useful for the new creator, it is still important to provide attribution to the individual parts that went into making the adaptation. Consider an open textbook chapter that weaves together multiple open educational resources in such a way that the reader can no longer tell which resource was used on which page. That said, the end-notes of the book chapter should still provide attribution to all of the sources that were remixed in the chapter.

To constitute an adaptation, the resulting work itself must be considered based on or derived from the original. This means that if you use a few lines from a poem to illustrate a poetry technique in an article you’re writing, your article is not an adaptation because your article is not derived from or based on the poem from which you took a few lines. However, if you rearranged the stanzas in the poem and added new lines, then almost always the resulting work would be considered an adaptation

If your reuse of a CC licensed work does not create an adaptation, then…you can combine that CC licensed material with other work as long as you attribute and comply with the NonCommercial restriction if it applies. Also in this case it does not require you to ShareAlike if you are using an SA-licensed work and the ND restriction does not apply if you are using an ND-licensed work.

If your reuse of a CC licensed creates an adaptation, then there are limits on whether and how you may share the adapted work. We will look at those next. But first, a note about collections of materials.


In contrast to an adaptation or remix, a collection involves the assembly of separate and independent creative works into a collective whole. A collection is not an adaptation.

Like a TV dinner, a collection compiles different works together while keeping them organized as distinct separate objects. An example of a collection would be a book that compiles openly-licensed essays from different sources.

TV dinner

Attributions: “CC TV Dinner” by Nate Angell. CC BY. Derivative of “tv dinner 1″ by adrigu ( used under CC BY, and various Creative Commons license buttons by Creative Commons ( used under CC BY.

When you create a collection, you must provide attribution and licensing information about the individual works in your collection. This gives the public the information they need to understand who created what and which license terms apply to specific content.

When you combine material into a collection, you may have a separate copyright of your own that you may license. However, your copyright only extends to the new contributions you made to the work. In a collection, that is the selection and arrangement of the various works in the collection, and not the individual works themselves. For example, you can select and arrange pre-existing poems published by others into an anthology, write an introduction, and design a cover for the collection, but your copyright and the only copyright you can license extends to your arrangement of the poems (not the poems themselves), and your original introduction and cover. The poems are not yours to license.

Licensing Adaptations & Collections

It is easy to create a CC license for an adapted work if you are taking from a single CC licensed work, but the more complicated scenario is when you are adapting two or more CC licensed works into a new work.

You need to consider what options you have for licensing the copyright you have in your adaptation; this is called the Adapter’s License. Remember that your rights in your adaptation only apply to your own contributions. The original license continues to govern reuse of the elements from the original work that you used when creating your adaptation. This Adapters License Chart chart may be a helpful guide.

How to pick your Adapter’s License:

  • If the underlying work is licensed with BY or BY-NC, we recommend your adapter’s license include at least the same license elements as the license applied to the original. For example, if I adapt a BY-NC work, I will apply BY-NC to my adaptation. If I adapt a BY work, I could apply either BY or BY-NC to my adaptation.
  • If the underlying work is licensed with BY-SA or BY-NC-SA, your adapter’s license must be the same license applied to the original or a license that is designated as compatible to the original license.
  • Remember, if the underlying work is licensed with BY-ND or BY-NC-ND, you cannot distribute adaptations so you don’t need to be concerned about what adapter’s license to apply.

Understanding license compatibility

The first question to answer here is  what licenses you can use for your adapter’s license when you adapt a work. For example, BY-NC is compatible with BY, in the sense that I can adapt a BY work and use BY-NC on my adaptation.

By definition, the ShareAlike licenses have very few compatible licenses. All SA licenses after version 1.0 allow you to use a later version of the same license on your adaptation. For example, if you remix a BY-SA 2.0 work, you can, and should, apply BY-SA 4.0 to your adaptation. There are also a small number of non-CC licenses that have been designated as CC Compatible Licenses for ShareAlike purposes. You can read more about that here.

The second important question relates to what licenses are compatible when adapting (more commonly referred to as “remixing” in this context) more than one pre-existing work. The remix chart below may be a helpful guide in these circumstances. To use the chart, find a license that applies to one of the works on the left column and the license that applies to the other work on the top right row. If there is a check mark in the box where that row and column intersect, then the works under those two licenses can be remixed. If there is an “X” in the box, then the works may not be remixed unless an exception or limitation applies.

CC License Compatibility Chart

When using the chart, you can determine which license to use for your adaptation by choosing the more restrictive of the two licenses on the works you are combining. While that technically isn’t your only option for your adapter’s license, it is best practice because it eases reuse for downstream users.


As part of fulfilling my #CCcert course requirements, I shall be creating a collection of CC licensed works – and sharing with you my experience leading up to this.

At the end of this experience, all these articles will form a collection, aptly named, Understanding #CC, by Brian Ssennoga – and as you can guess, licensed under a CC license that will allow you all to take a reuse this in many places around the world.

As we have now come to understand, applying a CC license alone is not enough to ensure your work is freely available for easy reuse and remix. In preparing for the collection, I have had to think about what technical format I want to use for the collection – because it will answer for the a very important question: can my intended audience find, access and use the collection after I share it? For this collection, I shall be releasing a PDF. But I shall also make available, a shareable google doc that permits more editing and remixing. I am choosing to distribute via the internet (instead of a digital rights management (DRM) platform), and specifically on this blog as we have already done with the individual resources.

A final important consideration I had to make for this was the licensing for all the posts. I have since gone back to update my entire blog’s license to match more closely how I would like you all to benefit from the resources I share – hence the update to the new 4.0 license highlighting my values – that you can share alike, for non-commercial uses any posts and resources you access through my blog.

I am delighted to share with you Understanding #CC, By Brian Ssennoga created by Brian Ssennoga, licensed under the CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 International License.

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