Creative Commons Licences

Creative Commons licences are among the most widely used public licences. They are an important pillar for Open Access (OA) and Open Science.


CC licences for Open Science

CC licences allow re-use of work without explicit permission from the copyright holder. Attribution of the original author is mandatory. Some further specifications may apply within the specifications contained in the licence.

The specifications are defined by modular combinations of BY and optional elements (SA, NC and ND). The specifications determine the degree of openness of the licence from very open (CC BY) to very restricted (CC BY-SA-NC-ND).

CC BY Symbol


Give author attribution and link to licence
CC SA symbol


Derivatives must be made available under a similar licence
CC NC symbol


Re-use is only permitted for non-commercial purposes
CC ND symbol


The work must not be modified

Which licence to choose

When you decide to publish an article under a CC licence, you will be asked by the publisher which licence you want to choose. 

Applying CC BY is strongly recommended. It allows sharing and re-using content in any context, provided that the author is properly attributed.

Adding further elements to the licence controls the context in which the material can be re-used. These additional restrictions can significantly hinder Open Science. In the overview below, we list the implications of applying different elements to your licence.



    • CC BY-SA requires to publish the work under a similar licence as the re-used material. As explained by OASPA, "material distributed within a Share-Alike article could only be combined and redistributed with other share-alike content".
    • CC BY-NC prohibits use in a commercial context. This excludes for example re-use in a textbook for sale. Contrary to the common misconception, this licence does not prevent the commercial exploitation of the idea presented in the publication.
    • CC BY-ND prevents any modification of the re-used content. For example, the content could not be translated or altered in colours.


    Spectrum openness of licences from Public Domain to Copyright
    Creative Commons license spectrum between public domain (top) and all rights reserved (bottom). Left side indicates the use-cases allowed, right side the license components. The dark green area indicates Free Cultural Works compatible licenses, the two green areas compatibility with the Remix culture. The bright green area alone can be seen as similar to the "fair use" concept, and the yellow area to the "freeware" concept. // Creative commons license spectrum by Shaddim with original CC license symbols by Creative Commons is licenced under CC BY 4.0.


Some publishers suggest using a CC BY-NC-ND licence. However, this will restrict re-use to an extent that is almost equivalent to a copyright licence. Therefore, applying CC BY-NC-ND is discouraged for open scientific publications.

Once a work has been published under a particular licence, this licence cannot be revoked. Therefore, it is important to consider whether the selected specifications will permit the desired forms of use before issuing the licence.


Obtain your licence

A licence can be created with only a few clicks in the licence chooser on the Creative Commons website. This tool will guide you in simple steps towards the right licence for your purpose.

The licence chooser tool will provide textual, HTML and machine-readable XMP versions to mark your content. All you have to do is copy and paste the output where otherwise copyright informations would be placed, e.g. to a cover page or a footer. It is essential to include the link to the licence as well, either as hyperlink or in textual form.


Example CC BY licence as HTML output for websites: 
This work is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Example CC BY licence in textual form for print/media:
This work is licensed under CC BY 4.0. To view a copy of this license, visit


Optionally, year of creation, title and author can be added, as well as links to the work itself and the author's website.


Re-using content under CC licence

To re-use content under a CC BY licence, first make sure that any additional specifications in the original licence (SA, NC, ND) allow your particular re-use.

You must retain the information the creator of the original work supplies and provide an indication if you modified the licenced material. Refer to the original licence, either in textual form or by including a URI or hyperlink to this licence. The conditions for re-use must be satisfied "(...) in a reasonable manner based on the medium, means, and context (...)" in which the licenced material is shared.



  • Best practice attribution suggests to follow the TASL-Scheme, that is Title - Author - Source - Licence.

    Following the TASL scheme, the attribution would go as shown in the caption:

     Books in the Lib4RI library at Eawag by Lib4RI is licensed under CC BY 4.0
     Books in the Lib4RI library at Eawag by Lib4RI is licensed under CC BY 4.0.  

    The text in the caption contains the core elements:

    • Title of the work (Books in the library at Eawag)
    • Author of the work (Lib4RI) with a link to the profile
    • Licence deed and version number including a hyperlink to the licence (CC BY 4.0)
    • Source reference (link to the original location of the picture as hyperlink in the title)

    Any modification of the picture, such as cropping or colour filters, should be indicated as well.

    Books in the Lib4RI library at Eawag by Lib4RI used under CC BY 4.0 / Cropped from original

    In some cases, the TASL scheme will not be suitable for your particular purpose. For example, an illustration that is re-used from a scientific publication does not necessarily have a title. In a journal article, a good attribution could then be for example: 

    • Figure reproduced from Author (Year) under CC BY 4.0 
    • Table adapted from Author (Year) under CC BY 4.0

    Instead of the title of a work, the subject is indicated. The author is referenced as in the example above and the source will be included just like any other citation in the references. The licences are also referenced including the specifications and version number (4.0).