Australia: Does the Creative Commons system of licensing work for you?

Last Updated: 20 June 2012
Article by Frances Drummond and Paul Armarego


The Commonwealth Attorney-General's department has released the Australian Government Intellectual Property Law Manual, which acts as a guide for government departments and agencies in their management of intellectual property assets. Of particular interest is a renewed focus on the use of the Creative Commons system of licensing. This follows the release of the Guidelines on Licensing Public Sector Information for Australian Government Agencies by the Australian Government Information Office following the government's response to the Government 2.0 Taskforce's report Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0.

Over recent years there has been increasing focus on ensuring that Australian Government departments make their material more freely available to the public. To date, the Commonwealth, along with the Victorian, Queensland and Tasmanian State Governments, have implemented Creative Commons as a default licensing tool. For example, materials from the Australian Parliamentary website, including Hansard and Committee Reports, are now distributed using Creative Commons licensing.

Creative Commons is a useful tool for distributing information and enabling the public to utilise that information. However, it is not always suitable for government and careful consideration needs to be given to whether it is always appropriate.

How Does a Creative Commons Licensing System Work?

Creative Commons licensing was developed by an international not-for-profit of the same name, which promotes the free licensing of copyright works. The foundation develops ready-made licences for works that are easily affixed and deployable free of charge. Versions of the licences tailor-made for Australia are developed by their local affiliate, Creative Commons Australia. It is these licences, version 3.0 which should be used by government departments in Australia.

The Licences are variations on a theme: offering a basic structure with added optional terms. Works licensed under a Creative Commons scheme do not lose or 'give up' the owner's copyright, but they do allow others 'more liberal use of your material, but only on certain conditions.'

There are six Creative Commons' licences. The descriptions below are provided by Creative Commons Australia on a CC BY Licence version 3.0.

  1. Attribution ('CC BY')

    This licence lets others distribute, remix and build upon a work, even commercially, as long as they credit the original creator/s (and any other nominated parties). This is the most accommodating of the licences in terms of what others can do with the work.

  2. Attribution-Share Alike ('CC BY-SA')

    This licence lets others distribute, remix and build upon the work, even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit the original creator/s (and any other nominated parties) and license any new creations based on the work under the same terms. All new derivative works will carry the same licence, so will also allow commercial use.

    In other words, you agree to share your materials with others, if they will share their new works in return. This licence is often compared to the free software licences, known as 'copyleft.'

  3. Attribution-No Derivative Works ('CC BY-ND')

    This licence allows others to distribute the work, even for commercial purposes, as long as the work is unchanged, and the original creator/s (and any other nominated parties) are credited.

  4. Attribution-Noncommercial ('CC BY-NC')

    This licence lets others distribute, remix and build upon the work, but only if it is for non-commercial purposes and they credit the original creator/s (and any other nominated parties). They don't have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

  5. Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike ('CC BY-NC-SA')

    This licence lets others distribute, remix and build upon the work, but only if it is for non-commercial purposes, they credit the original creator/s (and any other nominated parties) and they license their derivative works under the same terms.

  6. Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivatives ('CC BY-NC-ND')

    This licence is the most restrictive of the six main licences, allowing redistribution of the work in its current form only. This licence is often called the 'free advertising' licence because it allows others to download and share the work as long as they credit the original creator/s (and any other nominated parties), they don't change the material in any way and they don't use it commercially.

The licences progress from the most liberal to the most restrictive.

Creative Commons can be a very useful licensing structure. However, following the overall IP Principle 8 that agencies should maintain a flexible approach in considering options for ownership, management and use of IP and despite the recommendations of the Government's IP Manual, a Creative Commons licensing regime is not always suitable for public sector organisations.

Pitfalls and Issues for Government Departments

  1. Prior to using a Creative Commons licence it is important to ensure that the department itself has sufficient rights in the work to grant a Creative Commons licence.
  2. Deciding which Creative Commons licence to use, or to use one at all requires careful consideration of the intricacies of that particular licence and its terms. There is little control over how information is adapted or distributed after a Creative Commons regime applies.
  3. Preventing use of the work by certain individuals or organisations is problematic under Creative Commons, as is withdrawing the licence altogether. Creative Commons licences are generally irrevocable and last as long as the copyright in the work subsists.
  4. Like all copyright licences, Creative Commons licences are not self-enforcing. Where licensed materials are used or abused contrary to their licence, it will still remain the responsibility of the government department to pursue those who violate the licensing scheme.
  5. Because some Creative Commons licences are incompatible, issues arise where multiple works are infused into a new work with contradictory licensing. Untangling the work of Government departments from these conflicts can be complex.
  6. Some sensitive government information will never be suitable for distribution under a Creative Commons licence, and careful consideration needs to be given to the effect of granting the public rights to use, distribute, and adapt government data.

The Intellectual Property team at Norton Rose Australia can assist you with evaluating whether information is suitable to be released under a Creative Commons licence, and assist you with understanding how those licences operate nationally and internationally. Sometimes, licences may need to be adapted for certain types of information or distribution. As the licences themselves are covered by the Creative Commons regime, Norton Rose Australia can assist in adapting licensing to the needs of your Department or Agency.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Frances Drummond
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.