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I understand the types of creative commons licensing, but does a creative commons license replace copyright altogether? If I file for a creative commons license for something that I want to make distributable but not alterable, do I need to copyright it in addition to the creative commons license, or does the license take care of all IP needs?

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No, CC does not replace copyright.

A creative commons license is one way to use the copyright that you already have the moment you make an original creative work. Without a copyright, a creative commons license does nothing. You don't need to do anything to get a copyright.

However if you plan to exploit a work commercially, or want to be sure that it is well protected, you can gain additional protection in the US and some other countries by registering the copyright. US registration can be done online at this page. The benefits of US registration are described on this page.

Nor do you need to "file for" a Creative Commons license. by publishing or distributing a work with an indication that it is subject to a creative commons license, you have released it under that license and anyone may thereafter use it subject to the terms of that license. This is done with a statement such as "Released under the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 4.0 license." Such a statement is often placed near the (optional but strongly recommended) copyright notice, but that is not required. if you wish to specify the form of attribution (for example to a specified pseudonym) or a URL to use in providing attribution, that should ideally be placed near the license statement. If the work carries a list of credits, those may be placed nearby as well, but need not be.

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  • Gotcha. So if I register something under US copyright (I want that level of official security), the I can just put the CC symbol on it and it will be licensed as creative commons? – CMB May 1 '19 at 0:36
  • @CMB You need more than a symbol, you need an explicit statement that the work is released or placed under the CC license, and which CC license. Ideally which version. A single sentence such as "Released under the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 4.0 license." will do. – David Siegel May 1 '19 at 0:47
  • Good point. You're right. Still, once I register copyright, I can include the appropriate statement to grant creative commons permissions and then distribute it? – CMB May 1 '19 at 1:27
  • @CMB You are fully protected for all purposes under US law if you register within three months of initial publication, meaning up to three months after publication. Even if later than that, if you register before anyone infringes, you have met the threshold for statutory damages in an infringement suit. So you can include the statement (and a copyright notice), distribute the work, and then file for registration if you wish. Just don't wait too long. – David Siegel May 1 '19 at 1:32
  • Seigel That's for copyright, yes? As far as I understand, there is no record maintained for creative commons. So publish with a copyright notice and a creative commons declaration, then apply for copyright within three months? Simple enough. – CMB May 1 '19 at 1:48

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