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This page is a guide to people who are contributing their own work, and want advice about free licenses and the "best" one to choose to apply to their work.

If you don't want to read this and just want to know which license the Commons community recommends, choose one of the following:

  • {{CC BY-SA 4.0}} (some rights reserved – attribution and sharing alike required)
  • {{CC BY 4.0}} (some rights reserved – attribution required)
  • {{CC0}} (no rights reserved – public domain or waiver if the PD release is invalidated)

However it's better if you read the rest of this page, to understand what you're agreeing to!


Ideology and philosophyEdit

Copyright is a form of intellectual property law that gives the creator of an intellectual work the right to control how that work may be used. In its usual form, that control comes in the way of restrictions: copyright works to restrict others from using the intellectual works of others.

People who are anti-copyright believe that the current copyright system and/or any copyright system is inappropriate and should be severely curtailed and/or abolished altogether. If you are anti-copyright, you probably will want to release your work into the public domain. See the next section.

Copyleft is the idea of using the copyright system to remove the common restrictions used in copyright. People who advocate for copyleft may or may not be anti-copyright.

If you believe in copyleft, you will probably want to use one of the free licenses detailed in the final section.

The open source model for software programs is well-known, and has been successful in a range of applications, from entire operating systems (Linux) to the software that is used to run Wikipedia and its sister projects. The key features of open source are

  • ability to view and modify the source code
  • requirement that any modified versions of the software are released under the same license.

The main playersEdit

  Lawrence Lessig is an American lawyer who wrote a book in 2004 called "Free Culture" and founded the Creative Commons organisation, which has popularised some copyleft licenses commonly used on the internet today.

  Richard Stallman is an American software developer who founded the Free Software Foundation and wrote the GPL (GNU General Public License), the most widely-used open source license for software. The Free Software Foundation designed the GNU Free Documentation License, originally intended to do the same for software documentation (help files etc.) as the GPL does for software itself.

  The Free Cultural Works Definition defines four essential requirements for a license to be considered a "Free Culture License":

  1. The freedom to use and perform the work
  2. The freedom to study the work and apply the information
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies
  4. The freedom to distribute derivative works

  The Wikimedia Foundation (which manages this project, Wikimedia Commons, as well as most famously Wikipedia) is currently one of the largest proponents of (and thus indirectly advocates for) copyleft licenses. Their licensing policy requires that all projects they manage use "Free Culture Licenses" as defined by the Free Cultural Works definition.

  Flickr, a popular photo-sharing website, allows users to easily choose Creative Commons licenses for their photographs. Flickr's popularity has increased awareness and knowledge of the Creative Commons licenses among its users. Flickr's API also helps to encourage re-use of such freely-licensed photographs.

Public domain releaseEdit

When you release a work into the public domain (or otherwise attempt to renounce all rights to the work), you are giving up all control over the work. In some jurisdictions it may not be legally possible since moral rights may be unrenounceables, but one can waive rights of exploitation and distribution.

This means that although a public domain work is in one sense "the most free", as it can be used in the widest range of possible uses, derivative works may "become unfree" as the creator of the derivative work can choose to use traditional restrictive licensing.

To ensure that works "stay free", it's necessary to use a work that has a ShareAlike condition.

Common license conditionsEdit

Compare these to the essential freedoms at :

Name Explanation Allowed at Wikimedia Commons?
Permission Re-users must ask the copyright holder's permission before using the work.   No
Notification Re-users must notify the copyright holder when they use the work.   No
Fulltext (FT) Re-users must display the full text of the license every time they use the work.   Yes
Attribution (BY) Re-users must attribute the work to the copyright holder when they use it.   Yes
ShareAlike (SA) Re-users who create derivatives of the work must release the derivatives under the same license as the original work, if they choose to distribute the derivatives.   Yes
NonCommercial (NC) The work can only be used for non-commercial purposes.   No
NoDerivatives (ND) Re-users are not allowed to distribute derivatives of the work. (Essentially: the work cannot be modified.)   No

Common free licensesEdit

Acronym Name Conditions
CC BY Creative Commons Attribution 1.0, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 4.0 Attribution
CC BY-SA Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 4.0 Attribution, ShareAlike
CC0 Public Domain Dedication v1.0 Public Domain
GFDL[1] GNU Free Documentation License v1.1, 1.2, 1.3 Attribution, ShareAlike, FullText
FAL Free Art License v1.2, 1.3 Attribution, ShareAlike, FullText

Old versions of licensesEdit

Generally it is recommended to license under the most recent version of a license.

Making life easier for re-usersEdit

There are two situations where media can be re-used. The first one is for more or less "personal use". For these users, a license with a FullText requirement is somewhat unfriendly. Another one is a user contributing to a collaborative site such as a wiki. In this case, the entire site likely already has a chosen license and all content contributed to the site must conform to this license. For these users, because no licenses are compatible, they need material to be available under the same license as the original.

This is why Commons recommends dual-licensing under the GFDL and the CC-BY-SA license (all versions). Both licenses have a ShareAlike restriction, ensuring the work will remain free no matter how it is used or modified. Using 'all versions' of the CC-BY-SA license maximises re-usability for sites which may be "stuck" with an earlier version of the CC-BY-SA license. Using the GFDL ensures the work can be used unquestionably by the vast majority of Wikimedia projects.

See alsoEdit


Further informationEdit