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Which Creative Commons licence should I choose?

Date:17 February 2021
Author:Giulia Trentacosti

When publishing open access typically you retain copyright to your work and license its reproduction to the publisher. You are then asked to apply a Creative Commons licence to your work. ‘Which licence should I choose?’ is one of the most frequently asked questions in our open access support inbox. In this blog post, we go through the fundamentals of Creative Commons licences and provide some suggestions to select the appropriate licence for your work. 

What are Creative Commons licences?

Creative Commons licences provide a standardized way to grant the public permission to share and reuse creative works under copyright law. It is important to note that CC licences are not an alternative to copyright - in fact, they are built on copyright. 

By choosing a CC licence you indicate clearly to users which types of reuse are encouraged and which are not allowed. To put it simply, the presence of a Creative Commons licence answers the question: “What can I do with this work?”. 

Different types of licences

There are six CC licences, consisting of different combinations of these four elements: 

  • Attribution (BY)
  • Share Alike (SA)
  • Non-Commercial (NC) 
  • No Derivatives (ND) 

This CC Licence scale chart illustrates the spectrum of CC licences and their meaning in more detail. 

Choosing a licence

Are you unsure about which licence to choose? Try this licence chooser (beta version). 

Some key things to consider: 

  • In most cases you won’t be given the opportunity to choose among the whole range of CC licences. Expect publishers to give you a limited set of licences to choose from, e.g. you could be given a choice between the most liberal CC BY and the most restrictive CC BY-NC-ND. 
  • Although we encourage the use of the least restrictive licence whenever possible (CC BY), the UG/UMCG doesn’t have mandatory requirements regarding CC licences. 
  • Your research funder might have specific requirements regarding CC licences. For instance, NWO requires the use of CC BY (or, exceptionally, CC BY-ND). 

Practical examples of reuse

Uses compatible with a CC BY licence:

  • Copy a text for indexing or text mining (also for commercial purposes).
  • Include the full-text of a publication in an institutional repository, on a website or on academic social networks like ResearchGate.
  • Combine parts of a work into a collection (e.g. a student handbook or textbook) which can then be commercialized. 
  • Translate a work and commercialize it.
  • Modify tables and charts in a journal article and reproduce them in a new publication. 

NB: Crediting the original work, indicating whether changes have been made and stating the licence under which the work is licensed and linking to it is mandatory for all types of reuse described above.

Some uses not compatible with a ND licence: 

  • Edit (parts of) a text and reproduce them in a new publication.
  • Customize contents to a specific location/discipline/focus – e.g. change examples, add different scenarios, change terms to reflect a different discipline.
  • Translate a work.
  • Reuse for open educational resources

Some uses not compatible with a NC licence: 

  • Distribute a work in the context of a (commercial) summer school course.
  • Copy a text for indexing or text mining for commercial purposes.
  • Reproduce a work (or parts of it) in magazines, newspapers or websites that produce revenues. 
  • Reuse parts of a work (e.g. tables or figures) for advertising or marketing purposes. 

Read more about Creative Commons licences


This blog post is itself an example of reuse of an openly licensed work. The post is a concise adaptation of: 

Pascal Braak, Hans de Jonge, Giulia Trentacosti, Irene Verhagen, & Saskia Woutersen-Windhouwer. (2020, October 28). Guide to Creative Commons for Scholarly Publications and Educational Resources. Zenodo. Licensed under a Creative Commons  Attribution 4.0 International licence.


About the author

Giulia Trentacosti
Open Access and Scholarly Communication Specialist, University of Groningen Library