Creative Commons licenses make it easy for people to share their creative works so that other people can use them for their own projects. Here’s how to release your work under a CC license.

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With traditional copyrights, if you want other people to be able to use your work, you’re often stuck with granting individual licenses for each request. That can get pretty time consuming. Instead, putting your work under a Creative Commons license lets anybody use your work to varying degrees, governed by the specific CC license you choose. The CC license makes it very clear what people are (and aren’t) allowed to do with your work.

Choose a Specific CC License

There seven different CC licenses you can choose from:

Each license offers your work to other people under different terms. Consider each license carefully before deciding which one you want to release your work under. For example, if you don’t want companies to be able to use it in their advertising, make sure to release it under a non-commercial license. If you want people to credit you and link back to your work, release it under an attribution license rather than into the public domain.

Again, be careful with which license you choose, since you cannot retroactively revoke it. Photographer Carol Highsmith sued Getty images in 2016 for $1 billion after she found out that they were selling images she’d released to the public domain. Her case was thrown out of court. Once your work is out in the world under a CC license, it’s out there.

Embed the License in the Metadata

Most file formats in which you’re likely to release a work (for example, JPG, MP3, PDF, MP4, etc.) support some kind of metadata. This metadata includes details like when the file was created, who created it, and, most importantly for us, the copyright information associated with the work.

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If you’re releasing something under a CC license, you should add that information to the metadata of the file. The app you use to create the work can likely do it. For example, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Adobe Premiere, Microsoft Word, and almost every other professional application has the option to modify metadata. On Windows, you can also edit metadata directly from the File Explorer.

Release the Work Using a Service that Supports Creative Commons Licenses

Many web services where people share their work—Flickr, 500px, YouTube, and Vimeo, for example—have built in support for CC licenses. When you upload a new work and give give it a title, tags, and other such data, you can also add the copyright information.

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This is by far the easiest way to share your work under a CC license. By using the built in options with these services, you make sure anyone who is looking for a work they can use can find your masterpiece.

Share the License Information Alongside the Work

If you’re posting your work to your own website—or otherwise sharing it on service without built in CC license support—you should add a description to the work that declares the license under which you are releasing the work. The Creative Commons organization has dedicated icons for each license that you can post beside the work.

You should also link back to the license text on the Creative Commons website so that people can easily check the terms of the license.

If you’re releasing a large amount of work under a CC license (for example, the entire contents of your website like the Electronic Frontiers Foundation does), it might be simpler to just add a copyright page explaining what you’re doing and link to that.

The Creative Commons project has been incredibly successful. There is a huge amount of works available for people to use under different CC licenses. If you want to contribute your own body of work to it, it’s just a matter of making your licensing terms clear when you share your work.

Profile Photo for Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like The New York Times and on a variety of other websites, from Lifehacker to Popular Science and Medium's OneZero.
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