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6 Ways to Kill It With Creative Commons

You don’t have to spend a fortune

Growing a business means doing the most with the resources available to you. Marketing is important, but it’s hard to justify spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on intellectual property, such as images, when you have networks to protect, computers to replace, and employees to train.
But what if you could get quality content for your marketing materials without paying a cent? Enter the Creative Commons (CC), a non-profit organization devoted to increasing the number of creative works available for others to legally build upon and share.
Creative Commons offers access to a huge variety of content—from photos to videos to sound effects—that you can use, repurpose, and distribute commercially for free. As a result, you can source marketing assets for less and instead invest those resources in technologies that help grow your business capabilities. Win-win.
Finding specific Creative Commons images has also gotten much easier: In 2019 Creative Commons launched CC Search, its much-anticipated search engine that has over 300 million indexed images.
If you’re interested in using Creative Commons for your collateral, here are six tips to help you navigate the offerings and ensure your business is protected.

1. Getting started

Before you start searching, decide what type of content you need. Photographs are probably the most frequently sourced content, but Creative Commons is recommended for almost any content that can exist in digital form, even government-produced materials. In fact, the only content types Creative Commons licenses don’t apply to are computer software and hardware.

2. Learn the license types

There are six Creative Commons licenses you’ll encounter. Familiarize yourself with these license types so you can easily narrow down your searches and determine if a piece of content meets your specific needs. In general, most businesses will want to use content with the CC BY license, as it offers the most creative and commercial freedom. Note that with all licenses, you must always credit the original creator of the content. For the full details on the six license types, see the Creative Commons license page.
  • CC BY: Attribution
  • CC BY-ND: Attribution-NoDerivs
  • CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
  • CC BY-NC: Attribution-NonCommercial
  • CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  • CC BY-NC-ND: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs

3. Attribute the media, not the use

If you take a quick glance at the six Creative Commons licenses, you’ll see that they all require some form of attribution (BY). There are many ways to attribute an original creation (i.e. the original content), including footnotes, imprints, hyperlinks, and even separate attribution pages. It’s important to be cautious since Creative Commons licenses prohibit using an attribution that suggests a licensor endorses or supports the way you’ve used their content. Follow the Creative Commons’ best practices guide to best safeguard your use of content.

4. Check the fine print

Content distributed via a Creative Commons license will generally carry a CC mark. While these marks are good for narrowing your searches for content, it’s always best to read the agreement details for a piece of content in full before using it. That way you can be sure it aligns with your expectations and the license.

5. Check the version

Creative Commons licenses have versions, and each version carries different requirements. The latest license version is 4.0 and offers the most complete protection to date for Creative Commons content users. A few key additions include a 30-day window to correct license violations, explicitly allowing the use of popular attribution methods, and guaranteeing a licensor’s right to remove attribution from a reproduced or adapted work. For more information on the various licenses, visit the Creative Commons’ page on license versions.

6. Embrace the community

At its core, the Creative Commons is driven by people who are passionate about their work and want to share it with others. If possible, try to give back to the community by offering a few original assets like photos or sound clips. The more you get involved the more the community grows, and the more content is available for people and businesses to use.
Creative Commons licenses offer a great way for a business to acquire content without breaking the budget. If you’re ready to get started, start casually browsing at CC Search. See what content inspires you, check the license/version, and discover what Creative Commons content can do for your business.
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