Licenses & copyright

A quick overview of copyright & licensing for your work and when you’re using assets from other people.


All creations are immediately copyrighted—that is the default state. In some places in the world the copyright on a creation can elapse, allowing the item to fall into public domain.

Restricted intellectual copyrights and public domain are at opposite ends of the spectrum—one fully closed off and disallowing any improper modification and the other completely open.

But there are lots of steps in between, and that’s where licensing comes in.


When a copyright owner wants to grant permission for others to share, modify, or use their work, the owner licenses that creation.

The default licence for any creation is “no licence”, essentially meaning the default copyright laws apply and the owner retains all rights to reproduce, distribute, derive from the original.

When a creation is licensed the copyright is not removed. The original creator still has complete control over the object—including the ability to revoke the licence. The original owner is just granting permission for others to use their creation in a fair manner.

There are a few common licences that people use when they want to allow others to use or share their work.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

The Creative Commons licences are a series of licences that allow a range of freedoms and are easy to set up.

They are targeted at creative works, e.g. photos, music, writing, video, etc.

Creative Commons licences allow the following selectable restrictions:

  1. Allowing of modifications: yes or no; with a third option that forces all changes to be under the same licence, similar to the GPL
  2. Allowing commercial uses of the creation: whether a person who takes your work and uses it in their own creation can then sell that new work



The GNU General Public License is a free software license. The purpose is to allow end users of software the freedom to use, share, and modify the software.

The restriction that the GPL imposes is that any modifications to the source code must also be licensed under the GPL.


The MIT License

The MIT License is a permissive software license. It allows end users of the software rights to do anything with the software under the condition that the original author’s copyright statement is kept intact.

It could be summarized as: “Do anything you want, but I’m not liable—and you must attribute my original work.”

The is a similar licence that is commonly used in place of the MIT: The BSD 3-Clause License, that states the user of the software cannot use the original owner’s name in promotion of their derivative work.

Public domain

Public domain is the idea that intellectual property rights have expired on a creation—though public domain doesn’t exist in every jurisdiction.

It means that works are unavailable for private ownership or are available for public use.

Copyrighted creations cannot be used for derivative works without permission; but public domain works can be used without permission.

*Generally copyright owners cannot put their work into public domain. Instead they should select a licence like the Creative Commons Zero.