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Creative Commons Licensing For Authors

Recently there has been a lot of discussion about whether self-published authors need to use Creative Commons licenses for their work. This quick guide should explain how CC licenses work and when you should and should not use them.

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that has one goal: To utilize the possibilities for access the Internet gives content creators, and that includes you.

Free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice. CC licenses let you easily change your copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.”

In other words, you are not using a CC license in place of copyright, but alongside it, to liberate your work from certain permissions of use at your specification.

Personally I wouldn’t use a CC license for my books, because I want “All Rights Reserved,” but you may want to consider the options for promotion and visibility CC licenses may afford you. The take home is you don’t have to use a CC license at all.

You can of course opt in rather than opt out, i.e., make your book “all rights reserved,” and then if someone uses your work you can decide whether to sue them or not.

It could get messier with a CC license when you don’t agree with what someone uses your work for. CC licenses cannot be revoked once issued. However, given they are a hot topic, let’s take a look.

There are seven different types of license available to you:

The Licenses

  • Attribution CC BY
  • Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA
  • Attribution-NoDerivs CC BY-ND
  • Attribution-NonCommercial CC BY-NC
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND
  • Public Domain CC0


Attribution CC BY

This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.

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How would I use it for my book?

If you want to make your book widely known, used and quoted, for instance for a free giveaway guide to generate sales of your targeted book and you really don’t have any problem with how people might use your material and credit it back to you.

When would I not use it?

Don’t use this if you don’t want someone re-editing your book and selling within their own work, which is allowed. Think broad and carefully – this may include violent, religious, sexual or maybe another message that you do not agree with, credited back to you.

Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.

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How would I use it for my book?

Use this if you want to release a book and build on or remix your characters, story and plot to create new work in your book universe for instance to create a series of experimental stories based in the same universe or for fan fiction or roleplay, and if you don’t mind another person making money from that work and you not getting any of that profit.

When would I not use it?

If you don’t want someone else writing about your characters or story and releasing it themselves, or charging money for it.

Attribution-NoDerivs CC BY-ND

This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.


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How would I use it for my book?
Use this if you want to get your book distributed freely, for instance a free book you are using to generate sales to the rest of a series, and only if you don’t mind if someone sells your book and does not give you any money. This license would mean your book could potentially get shared a lot of times for promotion to your other books.

When would I not use it?

If you don’t want someone making money from your free book, or if you are not comfortable with your book being sold without your permission, for any price on any website, or if you are selling your book online to make money.

Attribution-NonCommercial CC BY-NC

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

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How would I use it for my book?
Use this if you want to see what others can do with your book for fun, and what they create. This is a non-commercial permission, so their work cannot be sold. This is purely for enjoyment.

When would I not use it?

The work created from yours can be licensed differently to the original. For instance, they could make their derivate work Public Domain. So if you don’t want that to happen, don’t use this license.

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.


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How would I use it for my book?

Use this if you want to let others have fun creating from your book without the fear of it being sold on or losing control of the material.

When would I not use it?

If you are not happy to let others play with your book even for enjoyment.

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND

This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

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How would I use it for my book?

Use this if you want to share your book and keep control of your content.

When would I not use it?

If you want to sell your book for profit.

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Public Domain CC0

CC0 enables scientists, educators, artists and other creators and owners of copyright- or database-protected content to waive those interests in their works and thereby place them as completely as possible in the public domain, so that others may freely build upon, enhance and reuse the works for any purposes without restriction under copyright or database law.
About CC0 Tools

How would I use it for my book?

Use this if you want to share your book with as many people as possible for information purposes and you don’t have any restrictions on the use of the content at all.

When would I not use it?

If you are not happy with other people using your book for absolutely any purpose.