Scholarly Impact Challenge

This guide contains 10 challenges for scholars to better understand and manage their online scholarly presence, as well as the impact and reach of their research.

Introduction to Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons logo

Creative Commons logo | Peter Leth | CC BY-NC 2.0

“Open licensing” refers to a number of different frameworks, but in this challenge we’ll be focusing on one of the most common and most successful licenses, Creative Commons (CC) licenses. Understanding how CC licenses work and how to apply them to your own creative outputs can help spread your impact and scholarly reach much further than you could on your own.

But before we dig into CC, you first have to understand...

A Quick Bit About Copyright

In order to understand Creative Commons licenses, you need a basic understanding of copyright. Really. You do.

Copyright is the intellectual property law that protects creative works from theft and misuse. Copyright is a legal claim to your work and the work of others. By default, you have copyrights to any original creative work as soon as you express it in a tangible form. So the thoughts you have about how to solve your latest research problem are not protected by copyright. But as soon as you write those thoughts down, publish them, paint them, or photograph them (or do an interpretive dance) they are considered expressed in a tangible form and are given copyright protection.

Typical copyright can be thought of as:   © All rights reserved. (meaning, all rights are held by the creator of this work who reserves the right to do with those rights as they wish)

Types of work protected by copyright include:

  • Written works
  • Music
  • Photographs and videos
  • Drawings
  • Performances that are recorded or transcribed
  • Novel presentations of data and interpretations thereof

Types of work not protected by copyright include:

  • Ideas
  • Methods
  • Facts, factual data, standards of measurement, commonly known information
  • Names
  • Expressions
  • Short phrases
  • Performances that are not recorded or transcribed

If you want to use someone else’s copyrighted work in any way, you must first get permission from them (ideally in written form). If you’ve ever tried to do this, you know how difficult or awkward it can be.

It has never been easier to find a persons’ contact information than it is today, yet it is still complicated.

Tracking down someone who has a common name or who has various institution affiliations (some of which might be outdated) might lead you astray in a search for permission or “license” to use their work.

This doesn’t even take into account how difficult it can be to obtain a license (or permission) from someone who is no longer alive.

That’s right.

A person’s intellectual property is protected by copyright for at least 70 years after their death. If that fact helps or hinders you, you have Mickey Mouse to thank. And there are many exceptions.

In the fortunate case when a creator transfers their intellectual property rights at the time of their death, you are still left with the task of tracing the inheritance of those permissions.

And really. Do you want to go through all that? Do you want others to go through all that to use YOUR work?

Copyright is automatically applied to a work after its tangible expression, so it might not even be your intent to keep your work in such a locked down state. Yet that just happens to be the way U.S. intellectual property law works at the moment.

But say you are able to obtain a license (permission) to use someone else’s work. What then? How do you know what you’re really able to do? What permissions do you have?

  • Can you just make photocopies? (do you have permission to copy their work?)
  • Can you give those photocopies to others? (do you have permission to redistribute their work?)
  • What about if you profit from those distributions?
  • Are you able to change their work, such as crop their photo slightly? What if you want to crop out an entire section?
  • And then are you allowed to distribute the cropped photo?

If you did receive these permissions, how robust are their terms?  Do they have a chance of holding up in court?

Really, It Matters

Overregulation stifles creativity. It smothers innovation. It gives dinosaurs a veto over the future. It wastes the extraordinary opportunity for a democratic creativity that digital technology enables.
Lawrence Lessig, Founder of Creative Commons; from his book Free Culture
When you put a Creative Commons license on your work, others are able to reuse and iterate upon your work. These licenses say “I already give you permission,” and they maximize the propagation of the intellectual property they protect. This is in contrast to full copyright that locks down intellectual property.

Applying a Creative Commons license to a work can be thought of as changing,All rights reserved” to Some rights reserved.”

Enter Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization with a legal framework that enables creators to publish works while explicitly granting permission for those works to be used in ways that would typically be prohibited by copyright.

Creative Commons licenses are written to be legally enforceable around the world, and have been enforced in court in various jurisdictions. To CC's knowledge, the licenses have never been held unenforceable or invalid. Their licenses allow creators to grant standing permissions to anyone who seeks to use their work. This means, “you already have some permission” to use the work. There is no need to search out the creator in order to use it.

“But what permissions?” you may ask. What does “some permission” mean? Will my work get stolen or plagiarized?  First, read on. Second, in an online digital world plagiarism is easier than ever to find.

Key License Elements

Creative Commons licenses are made up of four components that are grouped into six licenses that make up a spectrum of permissiveness.

Icons License Guidelines
BY Attribution: You let others can copy, distribute, perform and remix your work if they credit your name as specified by you.
ND No Derivatives: You let others copy, distribute, display and perform only original copies of your work. If they want to modify your work, they must get your permission first.
SA Share Alike: You let others copy, distribute, display, perform, and modify your work, as long as they distribute any modified work on the same terms. If they want to distribute modified works under other terms, they must get your permission first.
NC Non-commercial: You let others copy, distribute, display, perform, and (unless you have chosen NoDerivatives) modify and use your work for any purpose other than commercially unless they get your permission first.

These above components are then combined into six licenses listed here from most permissive (most open) to most restrictive (least open). You’ve likely seen the images above each explanation, right? But let’s get to understanding them.

License Icon Attribution License Elements
Attribution (CC BY) This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.
This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
This license is the most restrictive of the six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.


Some people claim that CC BY licenses are the only truly open licenses, and they cast the other CC licences in an unfavorable light. We do prefer works to be distributed under the most open license possible, but we also firmly believe that each of these licenses have appropriate uses.

If you’re choosing to use a CC license, you need to choose one that best suits your work and your personal comfort.

If you’re using a CC license for the first time you might prefer to use those that more closely parallel the all rights reserved nature of copyright. After a while you might be more comfortable moving up the scale towards the less restrictive licenses after experiencing the benefits of sharing your work openly.

In any case – it’s your work; you are the author, and you are the only one who can decide what is best for you and your work.


Because copyright is automatically applied to creative works, you must clearly declare that a work has a CC license.  The Creative Commons website has a handy tool for helping you decide which license is best for your work, and it provides language that clearly declares that your work is protected by the terms of that license.

There is no mechanism by which to register a CC licensed work; simply include the license declaration in your work.  How this is done will vary depending on the medium in which you publish your work. CC licenses are usually found in the footer of web pages and on the copyright page of written works.

This is where we want to point out the license in formation at the bottom of this very page. Yes, all content in this Scholarly Impact Challenge is openly licensed! This means that others can use this work, build upon this work, and release it ways we may not have even thought of.

Furthermore, we were able to create this challenge by building on the original work, which was openly licensed (see the licensing terms on page 3), as well as the work of other university libraries that have developed their own version of the challenge.. We would not have been able to do this as easily if this content had been under traditional copyright.


In this challege, there are 3 possible activities:

Activity 1 : Practice creating CC licenses using the Creative Commons License Chooser.

Activity 2 : Explore how others have applied CC licenses to their works in SlideShare (slides), Flickr (photos), or figshare (research papers).

Activity 3 : If you are working on a publication or other creative work, you should start considering how you might want to make the work available to others using a CC license.

License Statement

Content for this challenge of the Scholarly Impact Challenge has been derived from “The 30-Day Impact Challenge” by Stacy Konkiel © ImpactStory and used here under a CC BY 4.0 International License, and from the OU Impact Challenge, which is licensed CC BY 4.0.