Creative Commons Tools

The Creative Commons organisation (CC) has written a suite of licences allowing copyright holders to specify the conditions under which others can copy or distribute their works. The License Chooser is a simple online wizard that helps the user choose an appropriate licence, and then provides appropriate code/wording for declaring the licence in HTML + RDFa, XMP (Extensible Metadata Platform), and plain text.

Creative Commons has also written CC0, a waiver for putting a work into the public domain, and the Public Domain Mark, for indicating that a work has passed (automatically) into the public domain. The Public Domain Tools are simple forms that generate appropriate HTML + RDFa code for making CC0 or Public Domain Mark declarations on web pages.

Creative Commons also provides tools to integrate CC licence information into desktop applications and add the CC License Chooser to web applications, though these do not appear to be actively maintained. Further tools can be found in the Creative Commons GitHub repository.


Creative Commons

Licensing and cost

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License – free

Development activity

The current license suite is at version 4.0, with CC0 and the Public Domain Mark at version 1.0. The License Chooser and Public Domain Tools are both unversioned.

Version 0.8 of liblicense (for use in desktop applications) was released in July 2008. Further versions were planned but appear to have been abandoned. The CC Developer Wiki marks it as outdated. A License Tagger application was written in Python to showcase its features, but development ceased in March 2009.

Version 0.97 of LicenseChooser.js (for use in web applications) was released in April 2009, but development stalled before version 1.0 could be achieved.

Platform and interoperability

The License Chooser and Public Domain Tools use a web interface and as such are platform agnostic.

Functional notes

Every Creative Commons license includes three versions of the information:

  1. a deed, which is written in plain language;
  2. a legal document, which includes legally-binding language;
  3. code, which is machine-readable.

Using the License Chooser results in one of six licenses, depending on the user’s decisions about three questions: whether their work can be used in a commercial setting, whether it can be modified, and if it is modified, must the derivative work also be offered with the same CC License. All licenses require attribution.

The Public Domain Tools should be used for works that are either already or intended to be in the public domain. Copyright holders wishing to give up all rights and enter their works directly into the public domain may do so with a CC0 license. Users can also label works that they have identified as part of the public domain, using the Public Domain Mark.

Both the License Chooser and the Public Domain Tools can create licenses directly incorporating information about the copyright holder. However, the Creative Commons organisation does not keep a register of licenses; users must take it upon themselves to mark their works with the correct information.

Documentation and user support

The Creative Commons website offers a wealth of documentation and support, including a tutorial for creating a license, and background information about how the license works and what exactly it means. There is also an extensive CC wiki with a FAQ, information for developers, and marking best practices.

Opportunities for interaction include a forum, mailing lists for users and developers, and an IRC chat channel.  The site also lists a number of contact emails.


The Licence Chooser and Public Domain Tools interfaces are extremely simple and intuitive.

Expertise required

Prior to using these tools, users should understand the various license options and how these relate to their data. In the case of collaborative research projects, users should ensure that all relevant project partners are in agreement about the licence being applied and the levels of re-use that the license will permit. Data-specific licensing information can be found in the DCC How to License Research Data Guide.

Standards compliance

Licenses are written in HTML and include RDFa. They are interoperable with RDF/XML. The website gives instruction on how to integrate metadata about the license into XMP files, MP3 files, and OGG files.

The organisation has written the Creative Commons Rights Expression Language (CC REL) specification, which details how license information may be described using RDF and how license information may be attached to works.

Influence and take-up

Creative Commons has had a huge impact on the cultural landscape. Prominent organisations using the licenses for their works or incorporating CC licensing options into their services include Wikipedia, Flickr, Al Jazeera, the Public Library of Science (PLoS), and MIT OpenCourseWare.

Last reviewed: 
25 November, 2014