Creative Commons licenses

Important note: The information and links provided here do not represent any form of binding legal advice. They are solely intended to provide an initial basis to help get you on the right track.


What are Creative Commons licenses?

Creative Commons is a non-profit organisation that releases pre-formulated copyright licences using a construction-kit approach. Among others, they are used by scientific publishers who run open access programs.

Each condition is represented by an acronym:

  • Attribution: BY
  • Non-commercial use: NC
  • No derivative works: ND
  • Share-alike: SA

Mixing and matching these elements results in a total of six commonly used licences as shown in the adjacent figure.

Authors retain copyright – free subsequent use possible

Per se, all scientific publications are protected by copyright. Copyright law initially excludes free subsequent use by others, with the exception of citation rights. By granting Creative Commons licenses, rights holders can transparently and easily define the terms of use for their works making scientific contributions freely accessible to copy and distribute without having to explicitly ask the rights holder each time. All licenses respect the moral rights of the author. Positive and desired effect: The probability that articles will be cited more frequently increases with increasing distribution.


Open Access and License Choice

Only the CC-BY and CC-BY-SA licenses meet the Open Access definition of the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. Research funders such as the German Research Foundation (DFG) also recommend the use of open licenses in science (German only).


Non-commercial licenses in science

Non-commercial licenses are often selected by scientists in order to exclude commercial reuse. The boundary between commercial and non-commercial is often very blurred. For this reason, the NC licenses usually do not fulfill the desired purpose. It should be noted that the NC attribute does not protect ideas, facts or inventions. The license only protects the published work itself.
Video tip: Die Non-Commercial-Lizenz in der Wissenschaft (German only)


For authors: Which Creative Commons License am I supposed to choose?

Please choose the option to publish under a CC-BY license which is in line with the Fair principles. DEAL authors can additionally obtain information on licensing on the Project DEAL website.


Do Creative Commons licenses particularly encourage plagiarism?

Plagiarism is not encouraged by Creative Commons licenses, because all license models require that the authors are mentioned by name. In the spirit of good scientific practice, third-party publications must not be passed off as one's own work. It is the will of individuals that leads to plagiarism, not the legal framework.



Julia Heitmann-Pletsch

Central Library
Building: 32
67663 Kaiserslautern


Dr. Katharina Niederprüm

Deputy OA-Coordinator
Building: 14
67663 Kaiserslautern


Janine Reichert, Nicolas Roth, Melanie Sparre

Central Library
Building: 32
67663 Kaiserslautern