Creative Commons & open-source software

2 min read

Anyone who codes will understand the infinite value the open-source community provides. Having the ability to see other people’s code and learn from it is fundamental in accelerating computational literacy. Creative Commons is a worldwide non-profit organisation that provides copyright owners with free licences allowing them to share, reuse and remix their material, legally.


Creative Commons licences allow creators to mix-and-match restrictions that apply to their works. There are four different licence terms:

  • Attribution: You must always provide credit to the original author.
  • Share-Alike: If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.
  • Non-Commercial: You may not use the material for commercial purposes.
  • No-Derivatives: You may not distribute modified versions of the work.


No matter which of the six licences are applied, you must always attribute the creator of the material. To provide appropriate credit, you must:

  • Provide the author’s name and the title of the work
  • If possible, provide a link back to the source of the work
  • Provide a link to the CC licence that applies to the original work
  • Indicate if you made any changes to the work
  • Keep intact any copyright notice the author has provided

Open-source software

However, if you plan on developing open-source software, it is advisable not to use a Creative Commons licence. Here is what the Creative Common’s website says on the matter:

We recommend against using Creative Commons licenses for software. Instead, we strongly encourage you to use one of the very good software licenses which are already available. We recommend considering licenses made available by the Free Software Foundation or listed as “open source” by the Open Source Initiative.

Unlike software-specific licenses, CC licenses do not contain specific terms about the distribution of source code, which is often important to ensuring the free reuse and modifiability of software. Many software licenses also address patent rights, which are important to software but may not be applicable to other copyrightable works. Additionally, our licenses are currently not compatible with the major software licenses, so it would be difficult to integrate CC-licensed work with other free software. Existing software licenses were designed specifically for use with software and offer a similar set of rights to the Creative Commons licenses.

Our licenses are currently not compatible with the GPL, though the CC0 Public Domain Dedication is GPL-compatible and acceptable for software. For details, see the relevant CC0 FAQ entry. We are looking into compatibility of BY-SA with GPL in the future; see the license compatibility page for more information.)

While we recommend against using a CC license on software itself, CC licenses may be used for software documentation, as well as for separate artistic elements such as game art or music.


So before you do a good deed and launch your open-source software, make sure your work is protected so that all your hard work is used as intended. More info can be found here.

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