3 Tips For Getting More Out Of Creative Commons

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what is creative commons license,Creative Commons is becoming a web force to be reckoned with. I recently switched to a Firefox browser from Internet Explorer (a revelation in many ways, but that’s another article) and didn’t even have to modify my toolbar to create a Creative Commons search shortcut. CC is one of the default directories; it was already there, alongside big names Yahoo, Google, Amazon, Answers.com, eBay and Wikipedia.

The site is growing in leaps and bounds. As the tentacles of the Creative Commons organisation lengthen and curl, and its presence is felt in every corner of the web (who hasn’t read a plethora of blogs with the disclaimer ‘licensed under a Creative Commons 3.0 by-nd license’, or some such) it’s time to explore how online users can get the most out of this newfangled intellectual copyright phenomenon.

1. Search for Usable Content

If you’re a blogger, musician, photographer, researcher, writer or creative person of any kind, you’ll know how annoying it is to chase up ‘permission’ to use the images, soundbytes etc. you want to include in your work. Creative Commons licenses make this easy by dividing content into categories, and allowing people to use content as long as they agree to the terms (for example,  ‘No Derivatives’ means you can use the content as long as you don’t modify it, and ‘Attribution’ means you must give credit to the original author/creator). No need to send a sycophantic email (‘I LOVE this image! Can I reproduce it?’) to a photographer ever again.

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Head to the Creative Commons search website and you’ll see an entry bar with two adjacent search options. Check the appropriate box and enter your search term.

Below that you’ll see a list of tabs – three familiar ones (Google, Yahoo, Flickr) and three relative obscurities (blip.tv, OWL music search and SpinXpress).

Now, this is an important thing to recognise about Creative Commons. The organisation doesn’t actually keep a comprehensive database of licensed content. There’s been a small trickle of criticism over this, because of the potential for fraud that it introduces (if I really wanted to I could apply for a license, get it, then destroy all copies of my licensed content and be free to accuse a random, innocent remix artist of nicking my stuff because no one has records of what I actually licensed in the first place) But that’s not worth going into here. So far, no earth-shattering lawsuits and CC is looking into building a database.

The point I was making is that when you do a Creative Commons search, you still need to nominate a search directory. If you nominate Google you’ll get a bunch of (hopefully) relevant articles. Interested in images? All the usual Google rules apply – you’re still able to fine tune your search by typing ‘images’ after the query term. What you’re doing is a Google search restricted to Creative Commons licensed content. The same goes for the other directories (Flickr, Yahoo, etc).

Note: Always use the top (green border) entry bar to limit search results to Creative Commons content. The lower entry bar (under the directory tabs) does not limit results – it does a standard search with Google, Yahoo, etc.

2. Learn the Jargon

creative commons license typesWhen you stumble upon something fabulous you want to use, it’s important to understand what it means for something to be licensed under a ‘Creative Commons Attribution- No Derivative Works 2.5 License’, for example.

It’s not as complicated as it sounds. Creative Commons has four sets of license terms.

Attribution – the original author/creator must be credited.

Non-Commercial - the work must not be used for commercial purposes.

No Derivatives – the work must not be modified.

Share-alike – any derivative works must be licensed under the same Creative Commons license.

These are combined to produce the variety of CC licenses available.

Some popular combinations are by- nd (Attribution + No Derivatives) and by-sa (Attribution + Share-Alike). ‘No Derivatives’ and ‘Share-Alike’ are obviously mutually exclusive. You’ll never see these together.

Sometimes people will only use abbreviations and symbols to specify how their work is licensed, so it helps to know them.

Attribution = (by)

No Derivatives= (nd)

Non-Commercial =(nc)

Share-Alike = (sa)

3. Know the Alternative Databases (what is blip.tv anyway?)

Who can be bothered, right? That’s what we’re here for! Here is a run-down of three less common Creative Commons search databases.


Kind of what it sounds like. A database of user-generated video content. The focus is on content creators making ‘shows’ or ‘serialised content’, not posting friends, family and pet videos. This is how blip.tv has distanced itself from YouTube.

A wide range of upload formats are available, from WMV and MPEG to obscurities like Ogg.

OWL music search

This one is pretty spiffy. Search for music not by entering keywords, but by uploading your sound files. OWL will search their database for songs that are similar! You can see how this could be useful for remixers.


All the content here is Creative Commons licensed. Search an incomplete database of CC content, from within Flickr, blip.tv and a number of other archives.

SpinXpress also has a ‘community’ element- users are encouraged to sign up and collaborate with others uploading to the service.

Now that you know all about Creative Commons, why not submit your images and photos to the MakeUseOf Flickr photo group?

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18 Comments - Write a Comment


Windows Guy

Wow..Didn’t know that we can even search Creative commons.Thanks for the info.



Excellent article! Very useful informations!



Very nice article but i would suggest to try Joongel’s (a website that was covered here) creative common search, I’ve been using it and its great.



Nathan Kinkade

I noticed something that is not correct in the article. In section 1 of the first page it

[…] (if I really wanted to I could apply for a license, get it, then
destroy all copies of my licensed content and be free to accuse a
random, innocent remix artist of nicking my stuff because no one has
records of what I actually licensed in the first place) […]”

This seems like a small point, but it’s actually a huge misconception
that many people have about the CC licenses. It is not correct to say
that one “applies” for and “gets” a license. There is not
application or registration process, and it is not possible to
actually “get” a license. The canonical versions of the licenses
exist at creativecommons.org

. Licensing a work is as simple as
picking which of the 6 licenses works best for you, then marking your
work so that others know it’s under that license. CC does not have to
be involved in that process in any way, either directly or indirectly.

There is a tool that CC provides that attempts to facilitate this
process: http://creativecommons.org/license/

. Many people mistake
this tool for a registration form, but it is nothing more and nothing
less than a helpful utility for selecting a license, and it also gives
you some HTML code that is suitable for marking works online. None of
the data entered on that form is saved in any way.

As an aside, the issue of there not being a registry is frequently a
hang-up for many people, but it’s worth noting that this issue is not
specific to CC licenses. The same holds true for any copyrighted
work. There is nothing to stop anyone from nicking a work they find
somewhere on the Internet and then illegally republishing it as their
own. Copyright infringement is copyright infringement, with or
without a CC license. It’s just worth taking into account that this
is not a CC issue, but a greater issue of copyright and provenance.


Sandra Hajda

Ok Nathan – thanks for your point that CC is not involved in approving/processing licenses.

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