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What is Creative Commons?

My experience with Creative Commons and the wonderfully ambiguous regulations and enforcement on creative works started with my old YouTube channel. I always looked to the Creative Commons website when I was in need of background music for a video I was making. The website I used was the Free Music Archive and it really helped kick-start my channel. What is Creative Commons you may ask?

Well, according to the Creative Commons website they’re “…a nonprofit organization that helps overcome legal obstacles to the sharing of knowledge and creativity to address the world’s pressing challenges.” Which might just be the most buzzword-filled corporate slop I’ve read all week. They are really just a platform in which creators can designate their works for specific use authorization from the public. Admittedly, my explanation didn’t sound much better, so how about I just give an example?

Let’s say a Creator A makes an instrumental song. They made it intending for it to be used in an internet video, but they don’t want the Creator B, who made the video, to be able to profit off of their work. Creator A would just have to specify their work as a CC-BY-NC license. CC meaning Creative Commons, BY meaning Creator B must give Creator A credit, and NC meaning non-commercial, as in no money can be made from this work. You can find the complete list of these license types here. Creative Commons isn’t wholly embraced yet, so don’t assume every work has a Creative Commons License.


According to smallbiztrends, Royalty-Free works are works that you don’t have to pay the creator any kind of royalty fees for. This can be tricky because some websites still have you pay a fee to access the royalty-free works, but the work itself is free to use after that initial payment. You can freely make money off of your work, and never have to worry about sending any royalty checks to the guy who took that picture of a dachshund you used in your music video or something. A great source for Royalty-Free music can be found on the YouTube Sound Library.

Rights Managed

This is kind of where the fun stops. Rights managed is relatively similar to Royalty Free from the perspective that you can pay to use both in your work, but as stockphotoguides.com puts it: “Rights Managed license provides time and geographically limited, specific and per-use rights to use an image, and often times also grants exclusive usage during the licensed period.” Yeah, it’s a lot more strict on how you pay and how you use, and even how long you can use a work. Most stock photo sites like Getty Images has Rights Managed options. This option I don’t think is really for the general public however, as it can get pricey fast.

Public Domain

Have you ever heard “Memories” by Maroon 5? Ever noticed that it sounds a lot like Canon in D by Pachelbel? Like obviously Maroon 5 copied Pachelbel! He needs to sue! Well, one problem with this… Pachelbel has been dead since 1706… and that’s the great thing about the Public Domain. 70 years after a creator of a work dies, all of their works go into the Public Domain, meaning anyone and everyone can use the work however they want. They can modify, make money, and display the work without having to pay a cent or even crediting the creator. You can also designate something as a public domain work as soon as you make it, but this isn’t extremely common. This type is ideal for all, these works can be used literally anywhere and for any reason. A nice place to see Public Domain works of all kinds is The Library of Congress.

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