Creative Commons licenses

Creative Commons (CC) licenses give every person and organization in the world a free, simple, and standardized way to grant copyright permissions for creative and academic works (publications); ensure proper attribution; and allow others to copy, distribute, and make use of those works.

This page aims to give a primer on CC licenses in general and to be a quick reference for choosing a license when you publish your article in open access.

For elaborate information on CC licenses, see the website or alternatively consult the ‘Guide to Creative Commons for Scholarly Publications and Educational Resources’. 


CC license types

There are six different CC license types and they all provide attribution and free access to your publication. The available ‘building blocks’ for a license are:

BY – Credit must be given to the creator

SA – Adaptations must be shared under the same terms

NC – Only noncommercial uses of the work are permitted

ND – No derivatives or adaptations of the work are permitted



If you choose for the most liberal license, the CC BY, you will allow (re)users to distribute, adapt, and build upon the publication in any medium or format. This license is required by most funders and closest to the definition of ‘open access’ in the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. All universities in the Netherlands, VSNU and NWO have signed the Berlin Declaration.

Whereas a CC BY is the most liberal license, the CC BY-NC-ND is the most restrictive: this license only allows re-users to copy and distribute the material in any medium or format in unadapted form and for noncommercial purposes. Due to their restrictiveness, the use of CC BY-NC-ND and CC BY-NC licenses is discouraged for scholarly publications.

In this video, Leiden Professor of Intellectual Property Law Dirk Visser explains copyright in relation to Open Access and the various licenses (BY, NC and ND) that authors can apply for their users.


Choosing a CC license when you publish an article in open access with a publisher

When you publish ‘open access’ most publishers will ask you to choose a CC license for your work.

When choosing a CC license, make the following considerations:

  1. Does my research funder require me to publish my article open access with a preferred license? See the compliancy guidelines and/or funder website.

  2. Does my university have an open access policy with a preferred license? Consult your Library if you don’t know.

  3. I am free to decide what license to choose. Learn about the licenses types.

  4. I don’t know (and/or don’t have a preference): choose the CC BY.


A special note of caution on the use of NC and/or ND licenses by publishers

When selecting a CC BY-NC or ND license for an article and signing the so-called “License to Publish” agreement prior to publication, authors commonly (but unknowingly) transfer the exclusive right to manage the license to their publisher. In this way, the right to commercially reuse or make adaptations is no longer in the hands of the author. Not all publishers communicate this clearly to authors. Read more about this issue in the ‘Guide to Creative Commons for Scholarly Publications and Educational Resources’, p. 10.


Plan S and CC licenses as of January 1st 2021

Plan S is an initiative for open access publishing that was launched in September 2018. The plan is supported by cOAlition S, an international consortium of research funders. NWO, ZonMW, Wellcome Trust and the Gates Foundation are endorsing Plan S and the open access requirements. Plan S requires immediate open access with a CC BY license as of January 1st 2021. Implementation (on submission after 01-01-2021 or starting with new calls) may vary from funder to funder. See also: information on Plan S on

Self-archiving and CC licenses

Some publishers demand that you add a specific CC license to the Author Accepted Manuscript (AAM) of your work when self archiving it e.g. in the institutional repository. You can find out what copyright and self-archiving policies different publishers have on SHERPA/ RoMEO.
You can add a CC license to an AAM (or any other publication) by simply marking with the specific CC license. The License Chooser by Creative Commons helps you generate a ready to use text.

Any questions on CC licenses? Ask your Library


- Creative Commons
- Plan S - Making full and immediate Open Access a reality

- Guide to Creative Commons for Scholarly Publications and Educational Resources



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