Using Licenses in an easy (and legal) way

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Title page of “Open Content – A Practical Guide to Using Creative Commons Licences”
“Cappadocia Balloon Inflating Wikimedia Commons”, by Benh LIEU SONG / design by Markus Büsges, leomaria designbüro, Germany, CC BY-SA 3.0

According to Wikipedia, “all rights reserved” is a phrase that originated in copyright law as a formal requirement for copyright notice.[1] It means that any reuse of copyrighted material can only be granted by the originator themselves. Only after receiving some kind of permission can copyrighted material such as pictures, sounds or videos be used in the context of a blog or other information material.
Over the past ten years, different free license models have been developed to make this situation more user-friendly. They suggest that not “all” but rather “some” rights should be reserved to the originator, giving reusers the opportunity to use, share, combine and spread content without working out agreements with the authors beforehand. Free licenses, e.g. the ones by Creative Commons, grant or exclude different kinds of reusage in the form of standardized license agreements. Within the scope of these licenses users can share copyrighted material as they please.
By using free licenses instead of traditional copyright, users can reach a far wider audience with their works. In times when people first look for information online, this is how it becomes possible to e.g. run the biggest online encyclopedia consisting of copyrighted texts and pictures in a legal way.
Free licenses are an important tool to make knowledge available to all people but not everyone knows how exactly they are to be used. At the conference “Shaping Access”, new guidelines have been presented that approach this topic in a descriptive and comprehensible way.

Planetario de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires,” by  Emmanuel Iarussi / design by Markus Büsges, leomaria designbüro, Germany, CC BY-SA 3.0

Open Content – A Practical Guide to Using Creative Commons Licences” is a publication by the German Commission for UNESCO, the North Rhine-Westphalian Library Service Centre and Wikimedia Deutschland. Media attorney Dr. Till Kreutzer elaborates on the advantages of Creative Commons licenses and exemplifies different usage scenarios of the different licenses. This publication is also the first one to go into detail about the newest version of these licenses: version 4.0.
The guide extensively deals with all six license modules of the Creative Commons licenses, the ensuing opportunities as well as questions. The license “Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike,” e.g., allows adaptations of the respective content but it is not always clear what exactly an adaptation is. And how does the license deal with adaptations in the form of remixes or mashups? Kreutzer also talks about what it means to make a piece of work available “publicly” or “privately.” In addition, there is a section about trademarks and moral rights and their relationship to free licenses.
The “NonCommercial” license module also leaves a wide margin for interpretation. It doesn’t follow from the license agreement what exactly has to be understood as “non-commercial” usage.[2] Is it for example commercial or non-commercial when a publicly financed institution incorporates content on their website? This was the subject of a recent legal case in Germany where the Higher Regional Court of North Rhine-Westfalia ruled that the publicly funded Deutschlandradio acted within its rights when it included a picture on its website that was only to be used in non-commercial contexts. The court declared that as an entity of the public sector, Deutschlandradio is inherently not profit-oriented.

Fleur de givre L” by Annick MONNIER / design by Markus Büsges, leomaria designbüro, Germany, CC BY-SA 3.0

Practical tips, e.g. on how to find freely licensed content online or how to attach a license notice, make up the last chapter of “Open Content – A Practical Guide to Using Creative Commons Licences.” Thus, the guide is not only a great starting point for creators but also for reusers of content. It is supposed to encourage everyone to make copyrighted material available to the public, to deliberately give up control and to combine freely licensed material in a creative way.
“Open Content – A Practical Guide to Using Creative Commons Licences” is available as full text on Meta-Wiki and PDF. The text itself is licensed under CC-BY. We encourage you to adapt it, to translate it into your language and to share it with the whole Wikimedia movement and beyond. If you have any comment, you can get back to me via or leave a comment on the talk page on Meta. Please feel free to share any new versions of the guide you may create over time with me.

  2. The brochure “Free Knowledge thanks to Creative Commons licenses – Why a non-commercial clause often won’t serve your needs” published by iRights, Creative Commons and Wikimedia Deutschland actually deals with this topic in a very accessible manner.

Katja Ullrich, project manager at Wikimedia Deutschland

Archive notice: This is an archived post from, which operated under different editorial and content guidelines than Diff.

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What’s the main target group for this brochure?

Hi Frank,
thanks for the question. The booklet is aimed at people who would like to use Creative Commons licenses and don’t know how or what their implications are. Since it also gives a short summary of what free licenses are it’s also appropriate for people who are new to the topic. We have been giving out the guide to cultural institutions and politicians, for example, but since it’s very low-threshold the booklet is obviously also suited for the Wikimedia community.