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The Creative Commons Organization is a non-profit founded in 2001 at Duke University. The goal was to help authors share their work in ways that specified permission for others to copy, distribute, and make some uses of creative works (and if applicable to indicate whether those works could be used in commercial environments) and to ensure that the original authors got the credit for their work.
To do this, Creative Commons established a set of 6 easy-to-understand copyright licenses that are legally enforceable, understandable for the average person, and which can be used to provide access to creative works in a standardized fashion. Creative Commons provides a simple online tool called the License Chooser to help authors decide which license reflects their needs, as well as documentation that explains How CC licenses work and Considerations for licensing.
For a simple overview of how Creative Commons works, check out this video:
Criticisms and limitations
From a legal perspective, it is not evident how Creative Commons licenses are being interpreted by licensors and licensees in different countries. Also the Creative Commons licensing approach has been criticized for being too "generic" and for the limited ability of CC licenses to address all the issues that matter to businesses, publishers, content creators, and readers.
Elsevier is one of many scholarly publishers that utilizes Creative Commons licenses for facilitating Open Access through their popular online database ScienceDirect. Searching ScienceDirect, you may be able to navigate to the "free" full text of a scholarly article, but only because it has been "free" (via Open Access) by the publisher, most likely because they received an "Article Processing Fee" by the author granting Open Access. Note that Elsevier uses a Creative Commons license to accomplish this. In the example below the CC license is: (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
ScienceDirect is freely searchable. When you search from your VDOT computer you may notice a second option for delivery of any article that is not Open Access, thanks to the VDOT Research Library.
Options: Free Via "Open Access" and Free Document Delivery through the Library
Most of the articles in ScienceDirect do not have a free link to full text because they are not Open Access. VDOT employees have options that will never require payment by the individual or division.
Simply clicking on the green "Order Document" icon will call up an online request form that is sent to us at the library. Library staff will download the requested article (for a fee, which we gladly absorb for employees working on VDOT projects) and deliver it to you via e-mail. Search results look like this:
Read more about Elsevier's approach: Open Access and Creative Commons – Are they Separable?