Pros and Cons of Creative Commons Licences?

Last updated: 24 July 2023

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 your permission first. There are 4 types of licence you can choose from:

  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.


Creative Commons and AI-Generated Content

AI is increasingly used to generate content, from articles and music to images and videos. This raises new questions about copyright and licensing. For example:

  • Who owns the copyright to AI-generated content? Is it the creator of the AI, the user who instructed the AI, or does it belong in the public domain since a non-human entity created it?
  • If a Creative Commons-licensed work is used to train an AI, does the resulting content also fall under that licence?

These are complex questions still being debated, and we may see new types of Creative Commons Licences or modifications to existing ones emerge.

The Advantages of Creative Commons Licences

Increases Visibility and Collaboration: 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.

Encourages Sharing and Innovation: Suppose the work is in the public interest, for example, a piece of open-source code, medical innovation or academic research. In that case, you are allowing it to be developed further and improved.

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

Ensures Proper Attribution: With a Creative Commons Licence, users must provide appropriate credit to you as the original creator. This attribution safeguards your reputation and helps establish a network of trust and respect within the creative community.

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Case Study: Wikipedia

Wikipedia, the world’s largest free online encyclopedia, is a prime example of the beneficial use of Creative Commons Licences. All content on Wikipedia is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. This allows anyone to use, share, and even modify the content if they attribute the original author and share their modifications under the same license.

This has enabled Wikipedia to grow exponentially, with millions of articles created and edited by volunteers worldwide. The Creative Commons Licence has facilitated knowledge sharing on an unprecedented scale, making Wikipedia a go-to resource for information on virtually any topic.

The Disadvantages of Creative Commons Licences

Irrevocable Licences: 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.

Free Usage of Your Work: 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.

Ambiguity with Derivative Works: 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 the Copyright rights to it.

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Case Study: Flickr, Virgin Mobile and Alison Chang

In 2007, Virgin Mobile Australia used a photograph from Flickr, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license, in an advertising campaign without the subject’s permission. The photograph was of a young girl, Alison Chang, taken by her youth counsellor, Justin Ho-Wee Wong. Virgin Mobile used the photograph in a nationwide campaign in Australia, adding captions to the photo.

Although the use of the photo was technically within the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution license, neither Alison Chang nor Justin Ho-Wee Wong had anticipated this kind of use. Alison Chang’s family sued Virgin Mobile Australia, Justin Ho-Wee Wong and Creative Commons. The case highlighted the potential complications and misunderstandings that can arise when people are not fully aware of the privacy and commercial implications of the licenses they are using.

Creative Commons vs Copyright Licence

So Creative Commons Licences are great for fostering sharing and collaboration. They allow creators to give the public permission to use their work under certain conditions without the need for individual agreements or payments. This can increase the visibility and impact of a work.

However, it also means that the creator may not directly profit from the use of their work. Traditional copyright licenses are more restrictive, granting permission to use a work under specific conditions, often for a fee and usually for a limited period of time.

So think hard before attaching a Creative Commons Licence to your work. Don’t give valuable Copyright away for free. On the other hand, a Creative Commons Licence might be just what you need to spread the word and get your work shared.

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Copyright Infringement Notice

Has someone copied your work online? Photographers, musicians, writers, designers and more – use our quick and easy Copyright Infringement Notice with step-by-step video instructions and phone support. Take down unauthorized content and seek compensation. Protect Your Creative Work!

vanessa emilio of legal123

About the Author: 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 20+ years experience in corporate, banking and trust law. Click for full bio of or follow on LinkedIn.

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