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Creative Commons for Researchers: a Practical Guide


Welcome to Creative Commons for Researchers

This guide is intended for postgraduate researchers and staff at the University of York, helping you to understand the range of Creative Commons legal tools available and the benefits and considerations for both creators and users of licensed works.

Creative Commons licences provide creators with a standardised way of granting permissions for others to use their work in different ways. Creative Commons licences can be applied to many types of copyright-protected work including written publications, theses, datasets, images and audiovisual material. 

According to Creative Commons there are now over 2 billion licensed works online!

Creative Commons and University policies

York Open Access logoResearch publications

The University of York Research Publications & Open Access Policy, introduced in March 2023, states that manuscripts of scholarly articles created by members of staff (including original research articles, review articles, and articles published in a conference proceedings) will by default be made publicly available in an open access repository (such as the York Research Database) under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence. The policy also strongly encourages postgraduate researchers to follow the same principles.

By licensing outputs in this way, the policy aims to enable researchers to reuse and share their work as widely as possible, publish in a publication venue of their choosing, and comply with their funder requirements (UKRI, Wellcome and NIHR require that publications which acknowledge their funding are made openly available under the terms of a Creative Commons Licence, typically Attribution (CC BY). Jisc has also produced guidance (Nov 2023) on copyright and Creative Commons for UKRI-funded authors writing for publication).

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Further guidance on publishing your research and understanding funder and University policies is provided in our Open Access Publishing Practical Guide 


Graduation cap Research theses

Every successful University of York PhD researcher is required to deposit their digital thesis in White Rose E-Theses Online, the University's open access repository where it will be made available to the general public (Policy on Research Degrees 13.3).

A Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (CC BY-NC-ND) licence will be applied to your thesis by default when you upload a file in WREO. You can choose a less restrictive Creative Commons licence if you wish, or mark your thesis "No reuse licence (all rights reserved)". 

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Further guidance on copyright and licensing for research theses is provided in our Copyright Practical Guide


Research software/code and data

Creative Commons recommend against applying their licences to software and code due to design limitations, compatibility considerations and the availability of long-established specialist open source licences for developers.

Creative Commons licences can be applied to research data to enable reuse and clarify the terms of its use, although specialist open data licences are also available. Information icon

Our Research Data Management Practical Guide provides further advice on licensing for software/computer code and research data.

Creative Commons and copyright

Copyright icon"CC licenses are copyright licenses, and depend on the existence of copyright to work" 

Frequently Asked Questions: is Creative Commons against copyright?

Creative Commons legal tools work within the framework of copyright law, and help you to enable others to use your work in certain ways without having to ask permission (they do not affect the ways in which you can use the work yourself). They do not affect legal rights already granted to users of copyrighted works, such as the various exceptions governed by the UK Copyright Designs and Patents Act.

If your work is co-authored, for example with members of a research group, then copyright will be shared between its creators and you should discuss and agree which licence would be most appropriate for the work. 

Information iconOur Copyright Practical Guide provides advice for researchers on understanding copyright, including  considerations around ownership, protecting your own work and reusing other people's.

Open Government Licence

Open Government License iconIf your research is directly funded by the UK Government or comprises of public sector information subject to Crown Copyright then you may be required to apply an Open Government Licence (OGL 3.0) to any outputs arising from your work. The terms of this licence are similar to the Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY), and research outputs can be OGL-licensed in accordance with both the UKRI and NIHR open access publishing policies.

Creative Commons and open research

York Open Research logo"The core idea behind open research is that all aspects of the research cycle should be shared and accessible where possible. Research should be as open as possible, as closed as necessary."

University of York Open Research Statement

The University of York is committed to the long-term development and support of an open research culture (see Open research at York). Creative Commons licences have a key role to play in the global open research movement, empowering researchers with the legal tools they need to openly share and enable reuse of their work. 

Our Open Research Skills Framework provides an introduction to open research methods which can be applied at different stages of your work. The guide includes examples of different research outputs (not just articles and papers) which can benefit from Creative Commons licensing to enable sharing and reuse.

Training sessions for postgraduate researchers and staff

The Open Research team offer training to postgraduate researchers and staff through the Building Research and Innovation Capacity (BRIC) programme.

To book a session go to: SkillsForge - Postgraduate Researchers or LMS - Staff (login required).

Next sessions:

Show details & booking for all selected sessions

If you need information, take a look at the:

You can also contact the team by email to:

  • ask a question
  • request training for your department, research group, staff and/or postgraduate researchers

Alternatively, book an Open Research Online Appointment to discuss your individual needs.

Who are Creative Commons?

Creative Commons logoThe Creative Commons organisation was founded in 2001 to manage these legal tools and help power the open movement in partnership with members of the Creative Commons Global Network.

They also provide useful online resources such as OpenVerse, a search engine for openly-licensed images and audio, and the Licence Chooser tool.

CC BY-NC-SA icon  Except where stated, this LibGuide is © University of York and under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike International licence (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).  Creative Commons logos, licence buttons and icons are used throughout this guide in accordance with the Creative Commons Trademark Policy. Other generic icons in this guide are used in accordance with the Pixabay licence