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Comparing Copyright, Licenses, and Creative Commons

Iit is nearly impossible to open a newspaper or check the news headlines online these days, and not see something about “copyright,” “licensing,” or – the most recent addition – “Creative Commons.

If you are a business owner, or just take pride in your creations, you will be familiar with these terms.

But despite hearing about them, you may have found it difficult to understand what they are, or how they are similar or differ from each other..

We wrote this article to shine some light on exactly those things.

Let’s first start with defining copyright and looking at how it works.


Whenever anything is created, whether it is a painting or a website, its creator automatically holds the sole legal copyright (often referred to as “intellectual property”) to it.

Copyright allows the work’s owner to do with it as they please, including allowing others to make copies of it, or to use it with or without compensation.

A work’s copyright owner is able to set all terms and conditions on how they would like to allow their work to be used, copied, or reproduced.


The term “license” literally means, “to give permission.” Licenses are given based upon how a work specifically allows others to use it by means of reproduction, and/or distribution. A license protects a work’s owner by allowing them to set terms for its use, while allowing them to maintain its sole ownership through copyright.

A person who wants to use a work, can pay to use it, but the license to do so doesn’t give them ownership, in any way.

Licenses can define numbers for use, conditions of use, as well as the time and length of use. Furthermore, a licensor can also grant a license which would allow licensees to freely use their work without an infringement claim.

Licensing can be used as a marketing or brand extension resource, by anyone – from small home-based businesses to large corporations.

Finally, licensing can also be used as a business model without needing to make significant investment in equipment, facilities, or manufacturing processes.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is the next generation of “licensing.” What makes it so different, is that it allows artists to share and use creative materials and knowledge through free legal tools.

The Creative Commons, offers free copyright licenses that allow public access to work, and the ability to use and share it  based upon conditions that the owner chooses. 

Creative Commons do not replace copyright; they work with copyright. This changes “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved”, and allows rights owners to choose and modify terms depending on how they decide to represent their work..

Creative Commons licensing is very simple, as it requires no registration to use. Creators choose one of six licences depending on their needs and standards and mark their work accordingly.

Creative Commons licensing can be used for any type of work, including, music, photography, educational resources, databases, and many others.

Pretty much anything can be covered by Creative Commons licensing.


Now that we have looked at copyright, licenses, and Creative Commons, individually, let’s compare and contrast their distinguishing attributes.

Creative Commons is more closely related to a license than it is to copyright. Copyright gives a work’s owner the exclusive rights to alter, copy, distribute, perform, display a work – and to allow others to do the same.

Creative Commons licensing involves an owner allowing others to do the same, by setting terms and conditions. Creative Commons licensing makes it easy to manage copyright terms that are automatically connected to any creative work.

The main differences between licensing and copyright are that a work’s creator owns sole rights to that work, whereas a license grants limited usage of the work, based upon restrictions the owner sets, defining how exactly the work can be used.

While there are many differences between copyright, licensing, and Creative Commons, it is important that you choose wisely when deciding how to protect your work.

You wouldn’t want others to take advantage of you by claiming your work as their own. This could lead to a lengthy legal battle, which is the last thing you want to have to deal with.

Do yourself – and your work – a favour, and protect your copyright before choosing how to licence it. In the end, you will be thankful you did.


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