Creative Commons 4.0 Licenses

At the end of November, Creative Commons announced the release of an updated set of copyright licenses, dubbed version 4.0. The aim, as it has been since the start of the Creative Commons movement, is to let producers and owners of content make that content legally available for re-use by others with no conditions or some few conditions attached, depending upon the particular license chosen.

Version 4.0 contains a number of important improvements. It has greatly improved the usefulness of CC licenses around the world by taking many countries’ copyright and other laws into account. As well, the licenses have attempted to address creators’ moral rights and laws other than copyright that might incidentally (and in ways not intended by the licensor) restrict a user’s freedom, in particular sui generis database rights and publicity, privacy, and personality rights. The language of the licenses has been simplified and improved, to better enable users to understand precisely what rights they are giving away or getting.

On the matter of language, Creative Commons licenses use three levels of expression, as it were: there is the “Legal Code” level, of course, which is the actual legally enforceable license; then there is the so-called “human readable” level, a very brief precis of the license hitting the high spots quickly; and finally (and importantly) a “machine readable” level, which, assuming the licensor embeds into a web page the CC license as given by the official site, enables computers to idenitfy the nature of the license for the associated material.

If you would like to see the three layers, here’s the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License legal layer (i.e. the actual license); here’s the “human readable” layer for that license; and here’s an illustration of the embedable, “machine readable” metadata.

In case all of this detail makes choosing and getting a CC license sound difficult, I should add that Creative Commons provides a useful wizard to let you choose the license that’s right for your purposes and come away with the right code to put into your website.


  1. Must, or should, organizations that have been using an earlier version of the CC licence now reconsider, or update? Can a collective publication site, like the Uniform Law Conference of Canada, change to the new licence without the consent of all the authors who have (by implication) agreed to publish under the old licence?

  2. I had a look at Creative Commons Canada since our licensing is sometimes different, but looks like Version 4.0 International has been adopted:

    John, perhaps someone involved in Creative Commons Canada can answer your questions.

  3. @Connie: I should think that now, with 4.0, there won’t be any differences between Canadian CC license and the “international” one, which was the main point of the change—i.e. to make one license useful in France, Canada, Ireland, Mexico etc.

    @John: I suppose a line by line comparison of 3.0 and 4.0 would be a good idea. But generally, since 4.0 aims to affect “incidental” rights as well as core copyright, a re-dedication by content providers would probably be a good idea.