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Legal Code Defined

Every Creative Commons license has three layers: the lawyer-readable legal code, the human-readable deed, and the machine-readable code. As the only legally-operative layer, the legal code is the primary layer of the CC licenses. It consists of the text of the licenses, as well as any meaningful formatting and other inseparable elements listed below. The English-language, HTML-format version of the legal code is the canonical version. 

Elements of the legal code

  • Text of the license (excluding “Using Creative Commons licenses”, the CC notice at bottom and disclaimer at the top, as delineated below)
  • Title of the license (including version number)
  • Ordering of text in the license
  • Emphasis of text 
  • Numbering scheme

Elements of the license page that are not part of the legal code

Anything not specifically named as legal code above, including:

  • “CC is not a law firm” disclaimer at top
  • Creative Commons notice at bottom
  • “Using Creative Commons licenses” text and formatting
  • Particular method of textual emphasis within the license
  • Navigational links (including internal navigation links within the license text)
  • Link color
  • Text color
  • Coloring or design of background, including headers and footers and links they may include, pop-ups (if any), and flags
  • HTML and other coding that does not change the user’s view of legal code elements

Maintenance of the legal code

As part of our stewardship responsibilities, Creative Commons ensures that once published, our licenses remain unchanged and are located at a stable, canonical URL. In the course of creating official translations, some adjustments are made based on language practices, such as capitalization, section numbering schemes, punctuation, and whether the text reads from right-to left or left-to right. Additionally, we provide our licenses in various formats, including plain text. As a result, some changes are necessary depending on the style or format because some formatting from the original and official translations are not supported. 

Pre-4.0 licenses: CC maintains the legal code of its licenses completely unchanged after publication for all versions of our licenses prior to the 4.0 license suite, including ports. For all of these legal tools, licensors and licensees can depend on the text remaining static, and do not have to check back to see if anything has changed, although minor errors will continue to be documented on the errata page. Any change other than minor errata requires CC to release a new version. 

Version 4.0 license suite, CC0 1.0, and the PDM 1.0* in English: As with the pre-4.0 licenses, CC will not change the legal code of these legal tools as originally published in English. This means that CC will note minor errors in the original English of the 4.0 license suite, CC0 1.0, and PDM 1.0 on the errata page. Any change other than minor errata requires CC to release a new version.

Official translations of the 4.0 licenses, CC0 1.0 and the PDM 1.0*: CC may amend the translated legal code when any errors are identified, whether or not minor. All errors and any corrections made will be documented on the errata page. This policy is intended to help minimize potential conflicts between licensor and licensee expectations that might result from inaccuracies in a published official translation. Official translations are intended as legal equivalents. 

*Note that PDM 1.0 does not technically have a legal code layer given the nature of the tool. However, the text of the PDM and its official translations are treated as such for the purposes of this policy.

Maintenance of the non-legal code elements

Elements of the license page that are not legal code may be changed by CC in its discretion. For example, the disclaimer text may be altered, inter-language links included, or explanatory non-license text added. See above for more information about what is and is not considered legal code.

On 27 June 2018, CC updated some of the design elements of the 4.0 legal code pages, but did not change the legal code.