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Copyright: The essentials

This guide provides answers to the most frequently asked questions with regard to copyright in Canada as well as the copyright compliance at McGill University and beyond.

What are Creative Commons licenses?

Creative Commons licenses tell users what they can do with an item without permission from the copyright holder (​).

  • For example:

    • Can users share them? ​

    • Translate them? ​

    • Repost them on their own websites etc.?​

    • Modify them?

CC has several different licenses, each which permit different uses for readers​. The base license is CC-BY (the BY component means that you must provide attribution for any use of the licensed material).

There are three additional possible components to a CC license​, which may be combined:

  • NC (Non-commercial)​

  • SA (Share alike)​

  • ND (Non-derivatives)​

Note: The more components you see, the more restrictive the uses allowed to readers

Condition Icon     Definition
Attribution CC attribution icon, single person inside a circle  You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
Non-Commercial CC-noncommercial icon, dollar sign with a strike through it You may not use the material for commercial purposes.
Share Alike CC Share alike icon, arrow in counter clockwise direction You must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.
No Derivatives CC No derivatives icon, equal sign, i.e. the same You may not modify the work (e.g. translations, remixes, etc.)

Choosing a Creative Commons license

  • Do you own copyright to the work in question? 
    • If not, you cannot apply a Creative Commons license. Contact the copyright holder. 
  • Are you ok with your work being used commercially?
    • If not, apply an NC​ (non-commercial)
  • Are you ok if someone makes modifications/translations of your work?​
    • If not, apply an ND​ (non-derivative)
  • Do you care if any new works have the same license? 
    • Is yes, apply SA​ (share-alike)
  • If you have funding, does it require a specific Creative Commons license?
    • e.g. FRQ starting in 2022 will require CC-BY or CC-BY-ND​

See also Creative Commons license chooser tool and Why CC-BY By Claire Redhead. ​

A couple notes: 

  • Creative Commons licenses are irrevocable. Once you apply one, it sticks!​
  • Creative Commons are also non-exclusive. That means that if you are the copyright holder and license your work under a CC license, there is nothing to stop you from licensing that work differently to someone else.
    • For example, if you put a CC-BY-NC license on your work, but someone approaches you looking for permissions to use that work commercially, you are entitled to do so.
  • All Creative Commons licenses permit readers to copy and redistribute the material in any material or format so long as they give credit

Applying a Creative Commons license to your work

  1. Add the logo of the license you selected.
  2. Insert your name as you would like to be credited. 
  3. Add a link to the license. 


© [your name]. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons CC-BY 4.0 license. 

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