What do all the licences mean? Decoding Creative Commons


Many of the articles found on Open Newswire fall under various Creative Commons licences, however it can sometimes be tricky to decipher what each specific licence permits you to do.

Each chunk of letters means something different:

  • CC stands for Creative Commons
  • BY means you must attribute the original creator of the work, i.e. who it is by
  • SA means you must share alike, i.e. under the same Creative Commons licence
  • NC means you can only reuse the work for non-commercial purposes
  • ND means while you can reuse the work, no derivatives of it can be made

These different conditions can then be combined into six different Creative Commons licences, with CC BY being the most free, and CC BY-NC-ND being the most restrictive.

Here’s a handy explainer, courtesy of Foter (CC BY-SA):

The problem is, not everyone agrees on how to interpret these conditions, and that includes journalists.

For some publications, the NC or Non-Commercial condition means only not-for-profit publications can reuse their work. For others, it simply means someone can’t resell their articles individually.

Take this quote from ProPublica, which uses the CC BY-NC-ND licence:

It’s okay to put our stories on pages with ads, but not ads specifically sold against our stories. You can’t state or imply that donations to your organization support ProPublica’s work.

These terms mean that pretty much all publications are free to reuse ProPublica’s articles.

On the other hand, RioOnWatch uses the CC BY-NC-SA licence but says only not-for-profit publications can freely reuse its articles:

All RioOnWatch content can be shared freely assuming (a) no profit is made, (b) content is not modified without it being expressly stated what modifications were conducted and why (including original links), and (c) shared content and its author(s) are recognized as being sourced on RioOnWatch and linked to at the top of the article. We do ask, however, that any given publication not republish more than one article per month without written agreement. And for-profit publications can contact us about republishing in exchange for a small fee.

The NC or Non-Commercial condition of many Creative Commons licences is thus interpreted very inconsistently.

That’s why it’s always best to double-check each publication’s specific terms before going ahead. You can do this by hovering over most licence tags for more info and – in most cases – clicking through to that publication’s own terms and conditions page.

What does Attribution+ mean?

Many publications allow people to republish their work, but they don’t use a specific Creative Commons licence.

We’ve created a category for these publications called Attribution+ because they all require some form of basic attribution, plus – in some cases – some other conditions.

One example is Africa Check:

All our fact-checking reports, factsheets and guides can be republished in full for free. We require that you credit “Africa Check” in the byline and include the following sentence at the end of the article, with a link back to the original page: “This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website.”

Another example is Myanmar Now:

You may republish, reproduce, transmit or distribute Myanmar Now content:

– which is Myanmar Now Content; and

– which is unchanged and in whole and which has not been edited, re-interpreted or re-ordered; and

– with a credit which must include the name of the author and our full name: “Myanmar Now”, with a hyperlink back to the Site; and

– in a manner which does not suggest any form of association, approval or endorsement by Myanmar Now; and

– which does not damage our reputation or take advantage of it.

A third example is UN News:

The United Nations welcomes the use of UN News Centre articles as long as the articles are posted in their entirety, without any edits and with proper credits accorded. We also require that, where applicable, you provide a link a back to the story on the UN News Centre home page www.un.org/news

In general, for-profit publications can still republish articles which fall under the Attribution+ category, however it’s always best to double-check at the source beforehand.

In future, we’d love to incorporate a filter so Open Newswire users can easily exclude certain licences or only look through specific ones. But given the inconsistencies in interpretation, this is not a priority.

Hello world!

Open Newswire

Welcome to Open Newswire – a consolidated feed of different news outlets which publish articles under Creative Commons or similar licences.

Some of these outlets are known for doing this, such as ProPublica in the US, or The Conversation in Australia, and their articles are widely shared by mainstream publications. However many more publications allow and even encourage us to republish their articles, despite not many people being aware of this.

We have scoured the web for these kinds of publications – everything from public interest projects, to magazines, state broadcasters and more – and aggregated them into feeds in 84 different languages. While one publication on its own is hardly a newswire, the thinking here is that if you have enough publications of different scopes and sizes from different parts of the world, the end result is something quite comprehensive and more useful than an editor just browsing a specific website for content to republish.

Users can select a language from the left-hand side. There’s also a search bar at the top of the page to find recent articles about a specific topic.

Open Newswire is far from perfect. Many languages only have one or two news sources. Some people might find some of the sources too politically charged, or too trivial, or too boring. But it’s a tool designed for editors and journalists, not the public. So far best-served languages in terms of the quality and quantity of content are English, Spanish, Portuguese and Farsi. The feeds in French, Hindi and Arabic are also quite strong.

We stress: the goal here isn’t and never will be to make money. Open Newswire was absolutely not created to peddle other hard-working journalists’ incredible work. This is more about connecting articles with editors/journalists across borders and continets. Open Newswire will never replace, say, a Reuters subscription. But for a smaller newsroom, it can help plug gaps in regional, national and especially international coverage in a way which is both timely and free of charge.

If you’ve made it this far, we’d really love to hear what you think! It’s very early days, and there are still features which need to be added. But for now, we have a proof-of-concept to play around with whih can maybe help some editors along the way.

Stay tuned for updates. We hope to add some more blog posts explaining how to use Open Newswire in the coming weeks.