What Is a Creative Commons License, and if It’s Right for Your Book

If you have researched options for publishing licenses, you might’ve run into Creative Commons and wondered if it was right for you.

A Creative Commons (CC) license is a free licensing scheme from a nonprofit organization of the same name. It gives creators an easy, configurable option for reserving and waiving their works’ rights.

Depending on your CC license, you can make it easier for other creators to build off your work. For instance, you can use a CC license to enable other creators to publish adaptations and modifications of your writing without negotiating with you over a license.

Furthermore, CC gives you options to control how others use your work. Are you not comfortable with others selling derivations of your work? Then go for a Noncommercial license. Do you want others to remain within the Creative Commons ecosystem? Opt for the ShareAlike option.

In all cases, you’ll retain the right to attribution, which means any derivative works will have to state that you and your work are the original source. But, more importantly, you’ll retain your work’s copyright and all the benefits that come with it.

So, if you’re self-publishing, should you put your next book under a Creative Commons license? It depends. For some writers, Creative Commons empower their goals. For others, it could impede the ability to profit from your products.

Keeping in mind that I’m not your lawyer, here are some factors I recommend considering when contemplating a Creative Commons license.

When should you use Creative Commons?

First off, Creative Commons has a license to place your work into the public domain. If you want to waive copyright entirely, put your words under the CO license. However, this isn’t an ideal path for any writer looking to make money off books.

One feature of a CC license is that it’s easy to apply for. To apply for a license, you just need to go to the Creative Commons website, use their chooser to pick which specific license you desire, then copy and paste the license’s wording onto your book’s copyright page.

Voilà, you’re done. There is no need to pay for a CC license or register it in a database. (Although I still recommend registering for copyright if you want to enforce it.) Anyone who wants to share or build upon your work must just read the terms of your CC license and follow them without you being required to talk with licensees.

A CC license is an excellent option if you want to freely encourage collaboration and derivation of your work, especially if you’re writing nonfiction.

For example, a teacher or professor may want to publish a paper or pamphlet and want other educators to incorporate those words into their classrooms or course materials. In these cases, the creator hopes to spread knowledge while retaining attribution for one’s work. If that’s your aim, CC is a good option.

Another approach is to place one work in the Creative Commons to promote another work that has all rights reserved. That way, you can have a CC product—like a freebie or a white paper—that readers can freely share while you can maintain commercial viability for your main book.

Even some fiction writers may see the use of the Creative Commons. For example, many novels have a CC license. Creative Commons is also common in other creative mediums like video games and tabletop role-playing games, where creators want others to release freely remixes of their games.

When isn’t Creative Commons the right choice?

Frankly, unless you have a good reason to adopt a CC license, I recommend you go with the default option of “all rights reserved,” a familiar phrase on most published books’ copyright pages.

A critical feature of a CC license is that it is irrevocable. This means that it applies forever once you put your work under a CC license. Therefore, if you want to change how your work’s material is used, then CC isn’t for you.

Creative Commons may also not make sense with your particular medium. For example, if you’re a novelist, you may not see a reason to license out derivations freely of your books.

You may also not be comfortable with adaptations of your work, especially if the adapters charge money. For instance, you may not want other writers using your characters, setting, or even words—even if they’re crediting you as the original creator.

A CC license also makes it so licensees are not obligated to contact you before sharing or remixing. If that arrangement makes you uncomfortable, that’s another point against CC.

And ultimately, if you don’t understand what a CC license does, it’s better to go with all rights reserved. Since CC is irrevocable, you should fully understand which rights you’re giving away before opting to do so.

So that’s the rundown of what constitutes Creative Commons and the factors to consider. Even if you have zero interest in applying for a CC license, learning the ins and outs will help you build your knowledge of licensing and how to protect better your book’s copyright.

Over to YOU: What experience do you have with Creative Commons licensing? What other questions do you have about copyright and licensing?

Elizabeth Javor Outskirts Press

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

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