Making your work free and open

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There are a number of reasons for choosing a free and open licence for your work:

  • You want to encourage others to adapt and build on your work
  • You want your fans to be able to share your work widely - without breaking the law
  • You have built on the work of others, and want others to build on your work
  • You don't agree with the current copyright regime and do not want to participate in it
  • You think copyright law needs to be reformed, and this is a good step in the interim
  • You want your work to feed into free and open projects, like Wikipedia
  • You are an academic and respect the principles of open access
  • You're trying it as an experiment to see what happens
  • You never want your work to go out of print
  • The work is a collaboration, and the licence makes it easy for all contributors to use and re-use it
  • You object to using the coercive power of the state to extract payment from people
  • You belong to a culture that finds corporate, Anglo-American copyright law foreign
  • Your work requires support or maintenance, and a free and open licence means that anyone can provide that
  • Your work is unfinished, and you want others to step up and finish it
  • Making it free and open is a condition, e.g. of getting funding from a charity or because you're a government employee in a department where it's mandated
  • You object to using government-granted monopolies like copyright to limit competition and property rights
  • Your work thrives when additional content is provided by others, and this gives them a chance to do this
  • You don't want to go to the hassle of giving or denying permission for people to quote, share or build on your work
  • You feel uncomfortable about the expensive legal fees, fines and penalties and long jail terms that face people who make unauthorised copies - even by accident
  • You object to using artificial scarcity to drive up prices and therefore make more profit
  • It uses content from other free and open works, and you are required to - or want to - reciprocate
  • People are more likely to buy your work if you make it free and open
  • The thing you are trying to sell - whether it's a brand, a service or commissions - is not the creative work itself

Choosing a free and open licence

I want others to be free to use and adapt my work, but I want to get proper credit.I want others to be free to use and adapt my work, but any adaptations should also be free and open. (Also, I want proper credit.)I want others to be free to use and adapt my work without any restrictions on the terms of distribution.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0CC0 1.0 Universal


  • Software: Creative Commons Attribution and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike are not recommended for software (CC0 is supported by the Free Software Foundation but not the Open Source Initiative). There are other licences that are ideal for software.
  • Data: Previous versions of Creative Commons Attribution and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licences were not recommended for data. From 4.0, however, they are recommended.
  • Reciprocal Licences: If your work is based on a work that's under a reciprocal licence (like Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike), you probably have to use the same reciprocal licence for your work too.
  • Open Access: If you are an academic, the recommended licence is Creative Commons Attribution.

Applying the licence

Add this text somewhere to the work, or to the webpage where the work is being hosted. (If you don't have a place to host the work, upload it to this wiki!)

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0CC0 1.0 Universal
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit the extent possible under law, the person who associated CC0 with this work has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work.

To add HTML code displaying the licence to a website, visit the Creative Commons licence chooser.

Why not choose a NonCommercial or NoDerivatives licence?

For a longer article by Eric Möller, see: The Case for Free Use: Reasons Not to Use a Creative Commons -NC License

Licences that prohibit commercial uses and adaptations of the licensed work, or licences that prohibit adaptations altogether, are not free and open. They are also not recommended.

These licences have few of the benefits of free and open licences, but most of the risks.

  • They make your work incompatible with the free and open ecosystem. Your work will never be usable in Wikipedia, in open access academia, in free and open software or as part of YouTube's growing library of Creative Commons Attribution video.
  • They may prevent basic or beneficial uses of your work that you'd normally allow, like hosting it for free download on a website that runs advertisements, screening it for a charity fundraising night, converting it into a play and performing it in a theatre or selling physical copies at cost or at a small profit.
  • They may not prevent uses of your work that you consider exploitative or unethical. Any internal use - even by a for-profit corporation - is unlikely to violate copyright law. Furthermore, if you aren't prepared to or can't afford to sue, then you won't be able to stop the behaviour anyway.
  • The NonCommercial term of the Creative Commons licences is ambiguous and prone to misinterpretation, making it unclear what its scope is.
  • They support and depend on the current copyright regime's strict, near-infinite copyright terms.

Common free and open concerns

What if a corporation profits off of my work?

This is one of the most common concerns with free and open licensing. However, in practice it does not arise often. Corporations have enough resources that they can create or licence their own content using the ordinary channels. Where people do take advantage of a free and open licence to make money, it's likely to be small-scale: they run a movie night for a nominal fee, or run ads to recoup the costs of hosting, or charge a fee for making copies; or it's likely to be because they added value: they wrote a sequel, or a translation, or they adapted the work in some other way.

However, one way to reduce the risk of corporations profiting off of your work is to choose a reciprocal licence like Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike.

On the face of it, the licence offers no barriers. For example, if your novel is under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike, they could adapt it into a film and sell DVDs and tickets as normal.

However, because the original work is under a reciprocal licence, the film would have to be as well. So they could sell DVDs if they like, but any person could make legal copies of that DVD and give them away for free (or sell it themselves, but for a lower price).

Faced with this, the corporation would likely come to you - the original creator - and negotiate a separate agreement without the reciprocal licence. If they didn't, and just went ahead with the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licensed film, you can hardly complain - they're open to others doing to them exactly what they did to you!

Does the licence limit what I can do with my work?

No. The licence is a grant of permissions to others. It doesn't limit what you can do, and it doesn't limit what other permissions you can give to some or all people. For example, you could put it under a Creative Commons Attribution licence, but separately allow certain people to use it without giving credit to you if they pay you.

The licence also doesn't require you to do anything with your work. You don't have to make it free of charge. You don't have to host it anywhere. You don't have to grant any permissions beyond those granted by the licence.

Making money off of free and open works

So, you go with a free and open licence, but you still want to make money. What approaches are open to you?

  • Just follow the normal approach: It's true that with a free and open licence on your work, people can legally share it without paying you. However, with file-sharing and Internet downloads, they could currently illegally share your work without paying you. The licence isn't what will make the difference.
  • Get support from your fans: Patreon allows your fans to make routine payments to you every time you create something. This takes the risk out of creation: you know how much you'll receive for releasing the work, and can either decide it's worth it or not. Any additional money you make off of the work is a bonus. Alternatively, allows you to choose from several different funding models. Kickstarter, Crowd Supply and IndieGoGo allow you to accept pre-orders, taking the risk out of self-publishing, and offer more to every purchaser as more people make a purchase, sharing the load. When it's released,] will be a Patreon-like tool but for free and open projects only.
  • Licence uncredited/non-reciprocal uses of the work: This is the approach of the Noun Project. They let anyone use their symbols, as they're under the Creative Commons Attribution licence. However, some people want to use the symbols without attribution, and will pay a premium for it. Likewise for the musicians and bands on Jamendo.
  • Give the electronic version for free, charge for the hardcopy: Although his works aren't free and open, this is Cory Doctorow's approach.