Creative Commons

by , Wednesday November 11, 2015
Creative Commons

That other ‘CC’ – a guide for writers and cover designers


The point of this blog is to answer questions anyone might have about the licensing and dos and don’ts of using other people’s stuff. I detail useful license terms filterable by any good search engine, before going in-depth on Creative Commons licenses.


This should help cover designers and writers understand the importance of reading and acting on licenses, and hopefully help you to work better with other artists’ work when using or modifying it to suit your own.


But first, a note on the misuse of assets:

Anything and everything created in this wonderful modern world of ours has been in some way inspired by something else.

Everything from a single simile, to the exact same plot and idea;

Everything from a chord sequence to the entire song with different lyrics;

Everything from one single piece of clipart to an entire image with a few effects slapped on it.


All the best creative people steal things well; I was at a recent talk by author Ben Aaranovitch recently where he had this to say:

“Stealing other people’s stuff is great – the only catch is that you have to do it better.”

Ben Aaranovitch was right – almost everything has been nicked, inspired or otherwise by something else – one work may have aspects of literally millions of others, hence the advice in my last blog:

“All creativity is the same creativity – what works in one form can be translated to almost any other.”

But you have to be careful with stealing stuff. You can get into trouble. Laws vary wherever you are – chances are no one will notice you’ve ripped someone off unless you end up a mega-award winning bestseller – which is what we all want to be, right?


So don’t steal stuff you can’t steal, to prepare for all possibilities, and if that doesn’t convince you, be aware that it’s wrong. If something’s listed as ‘not for commercial use’, that means that someone else is probably already using it somehow, somewhere to make money. That person has to make their money. If you wouldn’t pickpocket them in the street, don’t use their stuff if they don’t say you can.


But how do you know if you can or not?


What is all this legal blather attached to stuff these days – A picture’s a picture, right? If you can see it on Google, it’s there to be copy-pasted, right?


This short guide will introduce you to everything you need to know to catching that balance between ‘clever artist’ and ‘dirty plagiariser’.




Basic Licenses:

These are licenses that can be filtered with any good search engine. If you find an image on google however, you’ve still got to visit the actual page to check for any additional terms or conditions. If nothing is said, assume that you will have to give full credit and hope for the best.


Free for Non-commercial use:

Use it freely, so long as you can prove that you haven’t made any money from it. You can’t get money from Movellas, and so anything rated for non-commercial use is likely to be fine for all covers.


Free for Commercial Use:

Use it freely, except you can make money from this. For cover designers on Movellas, this should have little or no effect.


Provide Credit (Attribution):

Anything related to referencing, providing full credit, or linking to the original must be adhered to. While something may be listed as ‘suitable for non-commercial use’ on google images, you always have to check the actual webpage for anything relating to crediting or referencing.They’re an artist too. If people use their stuff, they want people to admit to it. Sharing free stuff and asking for full credit can be a great way to get extra publicity – in fact I recommend it for anyone starting out with mind to get their stuff seen online. 


Credit: if you’d ask for it, you’ve definitely got to give it.

Even if you wouldn’t ask for it, you’ve got to give it. We’re all artists of some sort, after all.


Public Domain:

Free and open in every way. There are no rights reserved. Most works become public domain fifty years after the death of the original author. The original ‘Flash Gordon’ serial is public domain. 




All this stuff is great, sure. Now you’ve hopefully read all that, you’ve got a good idea of what to do and not do, but that still doesn’t cover everything.

All this fuddling around with unnecessarily complicated licenses and terms that may be thrown in at the drop of a hat is all very well, but it’s not designed to be accessible, and it’s not designed for artists.

This is where ‘that other ‘CC’’ comes in.

Creative Commons is a non-profit organisation founded in 2001 by a guy called Lawrence Lessig. Currently, there are estimated to be well over 880 million works licensed under various Creative Commons licenses, and as of March 2015 there were 306 million CC photos on ‘Flickr’ alone. On the internet, you can find CC music, CC images, CC writing, and basically anything – even CC movies, known as ‘Open Movies.’


To watch some famous Open Movies created by The Blender Foundation, use the links in the notes section at the bottom of this article.


Creative Commons Licenses:

There are six main CC licenses, and CC0. CC0 is the only license that does not require attribution.

A quick note on Attribution:

Attribution is basically another word for referencing, in the sense that you must provide where the original work came from and notify if any changes have been made.

CC0 – No Rights Reserved

Also known as ‘no rights reserved’ – CC0 is the only license that does not require attribution. Placing something under CC0 puts it in the Public Domain. Although people using CC0 licensed works don’t have to give a second thought to the license terms, it is often recommended by hosting websites that users of a CC0 work should provide attribution anyway.

An example:

Bert makes a picture of a cat.

Bert says: “I’m really proud of this cat, but I’ll share it under CC0 for the good of all mankind. No one will have to do anything other than simply just use it.”

Bert’s cat may be used by anyone from JJ Abrams to a group of insane fascists. Either way, no one using it will have to reference it. They can share their modified (or unmodified) versions of it under any license.


CC BY – Attribution

Allows anyone to download, use, modify, and share again in any way, so long as full credit is given. 


Geoffrey writes a didgeridoo sonata in Eb. Geoffrey says: ‘I will share this, my Didgeridoo sonata in Eb, for the good of all mankind. I will share it under CC-BY so that whoever uses it will have to mention me and link to my work fully.’

Geoffrey’s sonata can be used by anyone, for anything. Whoever uses it will have to provide attribution. They can share any modified versions under any license.


CC BY-SA – Attribution – Share alike

This is the license used by Wikipedia.

It’s the same as CC BY – Attribution, except any modified versions have to be shared under the same license.


Genevieve has made a 3D model of a lesser-spotted woodpecker. It’s ready to go to a 3D printer, or be used in a game or animated movie.

Genevieve says: ‘I’m going to share this 3D model under creative commons for the good of all mankind, only I want full credit, and anyone who uses my model has to share their work under the same license as mine. That way, my work will be aiding towards the free availability of all creative works.’

Genevieve’s lesser-spotted woodpecker is printed by someone on the other side of the world and sold to a friend for a respectable sum of money. 

The person modifies the model slightly before sharing it again. The model is shared under CC BY-SA.


CC BY-ND – Attribution, No Derivatives

You cannot modify the original work, and if you use it, you have to provide full credit.


Cassiopeia has created a piece of music that represents a high-octane car chase. Cassy doesn’t want her music messed with, and she wants full credit. She shares it under CC BY-ND. It is used in an indie short film. In the film, it in unchanged and unmodified from Cassy’s original. Cassy’s name appears in the credits with a link to her Bandcamp page.


CC BY-NC – Attribution, Non-Commercial

This license allows modification, but doesn’t allow money to be made from the work. Full credit has to be given.


Roderick draws a squid on Photoshop. Roderick’s licenses his squid under CC BY-NC. Roderick’s squid is used by a non-profit organisation at a fundraising event to ‘Save the Squid’. The work is modified slightly, and full credit is given, except the modified work is licensed with all rights reserved.


CC BY-SA-NC – Attribution – Share alike – Non-Commercial

The same as CC BY-SA, except you can’t make money from works under this license.


Dave designs an ebook cover for a free ebook that his friend is writing. The cover is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC, although the text of the ebook is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND. His friend modifies the size of the cover slightly, but the license remains the same – credit is given in the first few pages of the ebook.


CC BY-NC-ND – Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivatives

The most restrictive CC license doesn’t allow modifications or money to come into play. It only allows works to be downloaded and shared with full credit.


Mary the chap-hopper writes a rap and licenses it under CC BY-NC-ND. Her pen friend downloads it and puts it on a mixtape for another friend. The link to Mary’s Soundcloud is inside the front cover.


Find out more about the licenses here:

They’ve probably explained it better than I have.




Licensing stuff:

If you want to license something, all you have to do is say:

“I want to license this under ‘x’”. For the basic licenses and creative commons, there is no registration process.


CC and Movellas:

Covers are super-important.

Cover stores are great for getting great covers from great people, while getting to know those great people, just slightly, over the internet.

Anything released on Movellas counts as a creative work, and therefore is applicable to be licensed under CC. 


If you want to license a work under CC, go to the ‘license chooser’ on the creative commons website. It can be found here.


Notes on licensing:

  • Although the CC licenses are by far the best licenses for releasing an open work, there are others. 
  • My personal favourite is the ‘WTFPL License’ (who said lawyers were boring?)
  • Open Movies created by the Blender Institute can be found here. A pilot for the fifth open movie (the first feature-length one) was launched just recently.
  • Details regarding licenses are long and complex. Although I have tried to include as many possible, while keeping this article as entertaining as possible, there may have been accidental omissions. If such problems are encountered, I strongly encourage you to slap me about the face with a virtual wet fish in the comments.
  • (I hope I can do this), but this article has been released under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International . To prove how easy it is, I went to the license chooser and chose the options I wanted. I then copied the link for the license terms into my word document. This license means that anyone can modify this work, so long as you don’t make money from it, you provide Attribution, and you share it under the same license.


Any questions? Probably. I’ll try and answer them.


Hopefully, this has been helpful and you now have a better understanding of different licensing terms, and why they are all important.


I’d really appreciate comments, as I hope to have a blog of my own in the near future.


Keep going,

The Intelligence Division

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