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Copyright for Researchers

This guide contains copyright advice for JCU research staff and students

Creative Commons, copyright and research

Creative Commons (CC) is a set of legal tools, a nonprofit organisation, as well as a global network and a movement — all inspired by people’s willingness to share their creativity and knowledge, and enabled by a set of open copyright licences.

Important points:

  • All copyrightable works are automatically All Rights Reserved under Australian law, and permission (e.g., a CC licence) is required to create and distribute copies.
  • Creative Commons licences are conditional - that is, you are allowed to copy and share the works only if you follow the conditions of the licences. If you do not follow the licence conditions, you would be breaching copyright to make and communicate copies.
  • It is important to remember to respect the wishes of the creator of the work, and to properly attribute the creator at all times.

Creative Commons basics

You see a photograph, graphic, video clip, textual document or other work under a Creative Commons licence and wish to use it. What can you do?

Creative Commons CC By licenceThe most basic licence allows you to copy, distribute, display, perform, edit, remix and build upon the work for commercial or non commercial purposes, provided you attribute the creator, additional creators and link to the source.

Often, however, a CC licence will have one or more additional elements which carry further licensing terms:

Symbol    Abbreviation Licensing terms
Non Commercial

NC -Non Commercial

For non-commercial purposes only
No Derivatives ND - No Derivatives You can only redistribute verbatim (in whole and unchanged) copies of the work

Share Alike

SA - Share Alike If you edit, remix or build upon the work, you need to license the new creation under the identical terms

A work with the licence CC BY NC, for example, means you can make and share copies - and even make changes to it - but you must acknowledge the author and you cannot use it for commercial purposes (that is, you can't sell what you make using this work).

There are six ways these conditions are combined to make the licences:

  • CC BY (the most open licence - you can use this however you like, as long as you acknowledge the author)
  • CC BY SA
  • CC BY NC
  • CC BY NC ND (the most restrictive licence - you can share this freely, but little else)

In addition, there are two other options you may see:

  • CC 0 (CC Zero - the creator has given this work to the Public Domain, and requires no attribution)
  • Public Domain (this work is no long covered by copyright)

You must respect the wishes of the creator, and follow the conditions given in the licence, and you cannot give a CC licence to a work if you do not own the copyright.

If you wish to use someone's work in a way that is not permitted with the CC licence, you will need to contact the copyright holder to ask for permission.

If you are using multiple works with different CC licences, be aware that the licences do not always work together, and you will need to choose works with compatible licences.

This text is a derivative from Creative Commons - About the Licenses webpage by Creative Commons / CC BY 3.0.

Attributing Creative Commons licenced works

If your work is going to be for a public audience, then you need to think about attribution.

Remember that you cannot use someone else's copyrighted work without permission, and that you have to follow the conditions of that permission. For example, an image with a CC BY SA licence must be shared with an acknowledgement of the creator and the same licence conditions.

You can use someone's material (e.g., image, music, etc.) without acknowledging them if the material has been marked 'no attribution required' or has a license which expressly permits you to use it without acknowledgement. 

If the work does not specifically say you can use the work without attribution, you must acknowledge the creator and should link back to the source material if possible.

Best practice is to use the TASL method of citation: Title, Author, Source, License.

  • Title is the title given to the work by the author, or a description of the work if you can't find a title
  • Author is the author of the work (or their pseudonym if they don't use their real name), with a link back to their "about" page if possible
  • Source is the link back to the original material. This can be combined with the 'Title' by hyperlinking the title.
  • License refers to the conditions under which you were allowed to share the work, so other people can see if they might also be allowed to share it.

For example:

An echidna walking on gravel
Echidna, by Leo, is shared under a CC BY NC SA licence

The same image, having been altered, would be acknowledged like this:

A close of of an echidna with a yellow filter overlay
Echidna image, adapted from Echidna, by Leo,
is shared under a CC BY NC SA licence

Even though changes have been made to the image, it must be shared under the same licence as the original, because that is part of the licence conditions.

Another example, below, is from Unsplash, who have their own licence for using their images. They state you do not need to give attribution, but ask you to give attribution if possible, and have a suggested attribution they would like you to use:

An echidna stepping over sticks
Photo by Enguerrand Blanchy on Unsplash

For attributions, you should follow the wishes of the copyright holders to the best of your ability, but you can make changes to the format to allow for consistency. The following TASL-style attribution would also be acceptable:

An echidna stepping over sticks
Echidna on the walking track between Torquay and Jan Juc Beach,
by Enguerrand Blanchy is shared under the Unsplash licence

Compatibility of Creative Commons licences

Some material made available under Creative Commons licences can be used with or "remixed" with other CC licensed material, but only if the licences are compatible. You can use a Creative Commons compatibility chart (see below) to determine if the material you are using has compatible licences.

Two of the examples given above, CC BY-NC and CC BY-SA are not compatible licences. If you combined parts of those two works together, you would have to share it with either a CC BY-NC licence (which contravenes the CC BY-SA conditions of the other work, because you aren't sharing it with the same licence), or a CC BY-SA licence (which contravenes the CC-BY-NC conditions, because you are making it available for commercial use). Even though each licence allows you to re-use and remix the material, you can't use the works together because the licences are incompatible.

The work with the CC BY-NC-ND licence is incompatible with all other licences because the ND condition means you cannot change it in any way.

CC License Compatability Chart shows which licences can be used together. Created by Kennisland published under a CC0 license.

Image: CC License Compatibility Chart, by Kennisland, published under a CC0 licence.

We acknowledge the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first inhabitants of the nation and acknowledge Traditional Owners of the lands where our staff and students, live, learn and work.Acknowledgement of Country

Creative Commons Licence
Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) 4.0 International License. Content from this Guide should be attributed to James Cook University Library. This does not apply to images, third party material (seek permission from the original owner) or any logos or insignia belonging to JCU or other bodies, which remain All Rights Reserved.