A mosaic of 751 pictures arranged to form three Creative Commons icons.

Help to understand copyright, ownership and licensing. How open licences can help you. How to use different types of open licences.

We all value content. We want to use images and videos we find on the internet in our presentations, blogs and websites. 

However, reusing pictures and videos isn’t straightforward. Unless they state otherwise they will likely be copyrighted. Copyright asks us to not to reuse them and to recognise the time, skill and effort it takes an artist to create.

The consequence of ignoring copyright and reusing or sharing copyright-protected content illegitimately or without permission can lead to reputational impact, penalty fines and sometimes legal proceedings.

But there is a solution. There is a lot of content available to reuse without permission. Content where the rights holder has already granted permission, under an open licence.

This guide will help you:

  • Understand copyright, ownership and licensing
  • Understand what open licensing means
  • Know what options there are regarding using open licences
  • Learn how to use open licences 
  • Learn about funder restrictions concerning open licensing


As far as the authors are aware, the information provided within this Guide is accurate on the date on which it was produced (April 2021). The information contained within this Guide is an opinion and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, seek the services of a suitably qualified legal professional.

Part 1: the basics

About copyright

  • Copyright is part of the Intellectual Property Rights family, which protect original creations of the human intellect that are materially expressed. An idea alone is not sufficient to qualify for copyright protection. The idea must be fixed in some format.
  • Copyright is an exclusive economic right granted to the creator of original work to permit or prevent other people from copying it, for a limited period.
  • Works are protected regardless of artistic merit, although they need to be original and created by a “natural person”.
  • Ownership of an original work does not equal ownership of the copyright. Unless organisations own the copyright or the work is not in copyright, they will need to seek permission from any rights holders before use. 

What copyright protects 

Copyright only protects certain things specified by the copyright legislation. It will not be protected if it does not fall within one of the eight categories. These categories are: 

  1. Literary Works
  2. Dramatic Works
  3. Musical Works
  4. Artistic Works
  5. Broadcasts
  6. Sound Recordings
  7. Films
  8. Typographic Works

Why copyright is relevant to charities and SMEs

Most organisations hold archives of material, including technical information, marketing and advertising materials, photographs, press articles and video/film related to their vehicle brand. Much of this will be protected by copyright, and any reproduction of this copyrighted material (including digitisation, digital storage, publication or other communication to the public) should be done following UK copyright legislation.

A licence: definition

A ‘licence’ is permission to copy, adapt, etc., content or technology. The owner of the copyright in the work remains its owner and, depending on the terms of the licence, may be able to continue to do whatever they like with the work themselves.

About open licensing and its benefits

Open licences are upfront permissions that allow anyone to freely use, transform and share materials protected by copyright according to the terms of the licence. The benefits of using open licences include:

  • The facilitation of sharing. Material can be reused, adapted and developed to meet a variety of different applications from that of their original creation;
  • Accessibility to more content: One of the most common problems associated with copyright is locating material that is both relevant to a user’s requirements and which can be used without going through a complex process to obtain permission. Open licences improve accessibility to relevant material; 
  • The efficacy of making available publicly funded research

Public benefits  

Public benefits are how other people can gain value from your work. The following public benefits were highlighted by the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s ‘Working with Open Licenses’ guide:

  • Schools and universities can use your materials in their educational resources;
  • Other organisations can connect their digital resources with your materials or develop new services around your digital outputs;
  • Millions of users can engage with your materials through open knowledge platforms like Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia and Wikidata;
  • You can help citizen science and volunteer engagement by generating new knowledge through your materials; 
  • Scholars and engineers can use your materials to innovate in AI, machine learning, computer vision and computational research. 

Organisational benefits 

These outline how your organisation might benefit from offering its information under an open licence. These can include: 

  • More public engagement in line with your organisation’s missions; 
  • Creative reuse and remixing of your materials by the public; 
  • Greater media coverage, as well as academic and public interest; 
  • Increased traffic to websites, digital platforms and interactions on social media; 
  • Cost savings associated with rights and reproduction overhead through self-service media delivery. 

Part 2: Creative Commons open licences

Creative Commons is a licensing system launched at the end of 2002 which is based upon the foundations of current copyright law. The purpose of Creative Commons licences is to allow rights owners to share their creations with others, in either online or offline (digital or analogue) form. The purpose of Creative Commons is therefore to allow rights owners to keep their copyright whilst inviting certain uses of their creations; effectively “some rights reserved”. 

Creative Commons provides free tools that allow authors, scientists, artists and educators to easily mark their creative works with user-friendly symbols and easily understood terms and conditions so that users can recognise the types of usage the rights owner is inviting them to undertake. A Creative Commons licence can thus be applied to all works that are protected by copyright law. This means that if one user has a copy of a Creative Commons-licensed work, that user can give a copy to a second user and the second user will be authorised to use the work consistent with the original Creative Commons licence.

The benefits of Creative Commons licences

  • The simplification of licensing individual works: Creative Commons uses icons that signify the high-level terms under which a resource has been licensed. Combined with the different terms of Creative Commons licences available, this provides the capability to permit individual works within a large collection to carry different licence terms and for this to be conveyed to users simply and effectively;
  • The licence travels with the work: Creative Commons uses icons that travel with the work to signify the high-level terms of use for a single work. These icons can be added to a resource to convey to users down the line the terms under which the resource may be used. There is therefore no requirement for a user to attempt to go back to the source to determine these terms. In addition, resources will contain a URL that links to the detailed legal version of the relevant Creative Commons licence being used, offering another facility for discovering the relevant licence terms;
  • Simplicity and clarity: the fixed nature of the legal text leaves less room for confusion arising from small variations in language. The symbols provide a recognisable identification that can be attached to works.

The different types of Creative Commons licences 

  • CC ZERO – creators and owners of the copyright to waive those interests in their works and thereby place them as completely as possible in the public domain, so that others may freely build upon, enhance and reuse the works for any purposes without restriction under copyright or database law. The “no rights reserved” alternative.
  • CC BY – lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit the creator for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licenced materials.
  • CC BY SA – lets others remix, tweak, and build upon work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit and licence their new creations under identical terms. All new works based on the original will carry the same licence, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the licence used by Wikipedia and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.
  • CC BY ND – lets others reuse the work for any purpose, including commercially; however, it cannot be shared with others in adapted form, and credit must be provided to the creator.
  • CC BY NC – lets others remix, tweak, and build upon work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge and be non-commercial, they don’t have to licence their derivative works on the same terms.
  • CC BY NC SA – lets others remix, tweak, and build upon work non-commercially, as long as they credit and licence their new creations under identical terms.
  • CC BY NC ND – is the most restrictive of the six main licences, only allowing others to download works and share them with others as long as they credit. They can’t change them or use them commercially.

Open licensing requirements by grant funders

Funders may require that any resources created using their funding are made available under open licences. For example, The National Lottery Heritage Fund recently changed its terms and conditions of funding.

How you can use open licences

  • Choose the open licence that best suits your objectives
  • Seek specific permission from artists or the rights holders whose works you are using to make the digital content available online under the terms of the open licence you have chosen. It is essential that you ask for this specific permission, otherwise you will not be lawfully allowed to make the content available in this way. 
  • Seek permission from any living identifiable individuals (including those appearing in photographs and films, named in documents etc) to use their personal data under the terms of the open licence you have selected. 
  • When working with suppliers or contractors, if rights are not assigned (transferred), then suppliers and contractors will need to permit you to reproduce the content they have created for you under the terms of the open licence you have selected.

Resources you may find useful

This article is adapted from an original by Naomi Korn for the Beyond Project 2020.

Image by Carlos ZGZ used under a Creative Commons 2.0 open license.

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