Pros and Cons of Creative Commons Licences?

Last updated: 14 April 2021

Every creative work has automatic Copyright protection from the moment it is actually ‘created’. Nobody can use, share, copy or alter the work without the creator’s express permission.

The one exception is ‘fair use’ – where a portion of the work may be quoted, for example, when being critiqued, commented on or parodied.

But what if you want to encourage people to share your work and not put them off by having them ask permission. This is where the Creative Commons Licence comes in.

What is a Creative Commons Licence?

A Creative Commons Licence is a licence you give to the general public allowing them to use, share or modify a piece of your work without needing to get your permission first. There are 4 types of licence you can choose:

  1. Attribution: People can use your work provided they give you credit.
  2. Non-Commercial: People can use your work provided they do not make money from it.
  3. No Derivative Works: People can use your work as long as they do not alter it.
  4. Share Alike: People can alter your work but only if they distribute the derivative work under the same licence terms as your original work.

Options 3 and 4 are mutually exclusive, so there are 6 different combinations of the above licence types. You can use the Creative Commons website to ‘create’ your own licence then attach the appropriate icon or mark to your work online.

Remember, when you grant the general public a Creative Commons Licence to your piece of work, you do not lose your Copyright rights to that work. Rather, you are managing some of the licensing so that individuals don’t have to come to you for permission, while at the same time retaining your copyright ownership.

The Pros of using a Creative Commons Licence

Your work will be free and available online and people will be encouraged to share and publicise it or use it in the manner you have permitted and specified. All while giving you credit and attribution for your work.

If the work is in the public interest, for example a piece of open source code, medical innovation or academic research, you are allowing it to be developed further and improved.

Your original Copyright is protected and you can easily set the conditions by which your work is shared, monetised and modified within the parameters of the Creative Commons licensing regime.

The Cons of using a Creative Commons Licence

You cannot revoke a Creative Commons Licence once given. You can remove the Licence from the work and all subsequent uses will not be permitted. But the original uses of the work will still be allowed under the original Licence.

With a Creative Commons Licence, you give up your specified rights to your works for free, at no cost to the users of your work. And if someone profits from your work (provided you have not given a Non-commercial licence), you can’t ask for compensation or a licence fee. Under, for example, a creative commons attribution licence, they can make money off your work.

The Copyright of derivative works can be ambiguous. If someone uses your work to develop a new work and their ‘updated’ work is substantially different, there is an argument that the initial Creative Commons Licence no longer applies. They can argue they now own the new work and own the Copyright rights to it.

So think hard before attaching a Creative Commons Licence to your work. Don’t give valuable Copyright away for free. And maybe check with a Lawyer first if you are uncertain.

If someone has copied your work online, use our Copyright Infringement Notice to request take down, compensation or offer licensing. Plus we tell you what to do if you’re ignored.

About Vanessa Emilio

Vanessa Emilio (BA Hons, LLB, ACIS, AGIA) is the Founder and CEO of and Practice Director of Legal123 Pty Ltd. Vanessa is a qualified Australian lawyer with more than 20 years experience in corporate, banking and trust law. Follow this link to read the full bio of Vanessa Emilio.