When you record a song, write a book, or produce any creative work you own the copyright of that work. This means that the author has the legal right to stop others using that work, it also means that only the author has the legal right to let others use the work.
The traditional way to manage this copyright ownership of creative works has been to stop any use of the work by default. If someone wants to use a copyrighted work, under these 'default' copyright terms they cannot do so until they have the authors explicit permission. The author can then stipulate under what conditions the work can be used. They might, for example, sell the work or allow it to be used for a fee.
Until recently this was the way copyright was managed for almost all creative works.
Creative Commons is a non-profit organisation that has created a very interesting method for more nuanced management of copyrights. In 2002 Creative Commons published a series of licenses that could be applied to copyrighted works which enabled a more permissive copyright management. These licenses are intended to permit a more open flow of information and synergise creative growth by allowing others to use the work without the authors explicit permission given certain conditions. These conditions can be very generous.
The most liberal of the Creative Commons licenses allows anyone to use the material for any purpose, commercial or non-commercial. The least permissive license enables the non-commercial use of a work as long as it is unaltered and credited. There are many licenses that occupy the ground between these two points and Creative Commons has developed a reasonably easy method for describing these. The main variables in these licenses have been broken down into the following terms :
Attribution (by): Anyone may use the work if they credit the author.
Noncommercial or NonCommercial (nc): Anyone can use the work for non-commercial purposes.
ShareAlike (sa): Anyone can use the work but can only distribute derivatives if it is done so under the same license as the original work.
Creative Commons uses these terms to describe its licenses. The most popular include :
If you wish to apply one of these licenses to your work you should visit the Creative Commons website (http://www.creativecommons.org) for information on how to do this.