An Introduction to Creative Commons Licenses

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When you upload a 3D model to Sketchfab, you can choose to make it free for other people to download. When you do this, Sketchfab attaches a Creative Commons (CC) license to the 3D model so that, while you are making your creative work available for free, the people who download your model are obliged to give you credit wherever they reuse it.

This article will provide you with some more information about what licenses are available and point you to information about how they work and what you should expect when people download your 3D creations from Sketchfab.

Featured Free Downloads by Sketchfab on Sketchfab

Above: An evergrowing collection of freely downloadable models curated by the Sketchfab Community Team.

What are Creative Commons (CC) licenses?

According to Creative Commons, free CC copyright licenses offer a standard, easy way to manage how others can use your work.

When you make a 3D model freely downloadable on Sketchfab, you can choose to apply one of several types of CC licenses to your work:

  • CC BY – Attribution (default, always on)
    This license is applied by default and cannot be changed; it specifies that someone who uses your work must give you credit for it. Your decision to add NC, ND, and SA restrictions to the license will determine how others may share, edit, and use the model.
  • CC BY-NC – Non Commercial (optional)
    Others cannot use your model commercially.
  • CC BY-ND – No Derivatives (optional)
    Others may use and share the model, but it cannot be altered.
  • CC BY-SA – ShareAlike (optional)
    Depending on the NC choices, others may share, edit, and use the model, but derivative work must be shared under the same license.

Why use Creative Commons licenses to share my work?

Generally speaking, people download free 3D models because they do not have the skill or time to create 3D models themselves (or the budget to purchase them). Making your 3D models available to secondary creators for free is an incredibly useful and generous thing to do—but what do you get out of it? Aside from the warm fuzzy feeling of being a generous artist, here are a couple of benefits of making your work available under a CC-BY license:

  • Because secondary creators must include an attribution credit wherever they use your 3D model, you get some extra exposure, potentially to an audience outside of your normal reach.
  • People love free stuff—many members of Sketchfab who regularly publish and publicize free downloadable content see a boost in their follower numbers.

How do people reuse free 3D models?

In all kinds of ways! We keep a running list of reuse examples that we come across over on the Sketchfab Forum, but here are a few highlights we like:

Teacher, educator, and literacy researcher Suriati Abas has used the model Mozilla Hubs Challenge – Wizard’s Library by mediochrea as a class venue in Mozilla Hubs.

FlightSim Squadron used CG Boost’s Flying Trabant (Final Takeoff) and made it flyable in Microsoft Flight Simulator! (You can download the mod here.)

A group of computer graphics specialists from several international universities used Cthulhu by TooManyDemons in their paper on ‘velocity skinning’ (full PDF here).

And last but not least, Sketchfab member Zacxophone re-animated Triceratops Horridus Marsh by The Smithsonian Institute.

How can I use CC licenses to share my work?

Making one of your 3D models downloadable is easy:

  1. Open your model’s ‘Properties‘ window.
  2. Under the ‘Download’ settings, flip the switch to ‘Free’.
  3. Adjust the license to your preference with the ‘Change license’ options.
  4. Click Save and you’re done!

Visit this Help Center article for more information.

How can secondary creators discover your free 3D models?

Aside from sharing the news yourself (which we totally encourage you to do!) there are a number of ways that your free models on Sketchfab can be found by people looking for free 3D content:

  • Model Search
    Sketchfab recently introduced some new search filters to help find freely downloadable 3D models. As always, make sure to add a relevant title, description, category, and tags to your model to improve its discoverability.
  • Featured Downloads on social media
    Did you know that the Sketchfab team regularly shares their favorite freely downloadable models on Facebook and Twitter? Being featured here can get your work in front of literally thousands of new eyeballs.
  • Importer plugins
    Sketchfab has worked hard to build import integrations into as many 3D, VR and AR creative softwares and platforms as possible. Here are just a few places that people can find your free 3D models via an in-app search bar:
    • Unreal Engine
    • Unity
    • Blender
    • Substance by Adobe
    • Spark AR Studio (used to make Instagram filters)
    • Mozilla Hubs
    • Frame VR
    • Looking Glass
    • + many more

Encouraging creator attribution

As mentioned above, a main benefit of offering a work for download under a Creative Commons license is that wherever it is reused you should expect to see an attribution credit for and a link back to your work.

We try our best to encourage proper attribution for your work, too:

  • When people download a free model via our website, the download pop-up includes both a license summary and easy-to-copy-paste attribution text.
  • We have a Help Center article specifically detailing how to add a proper attribution credit.

Conclusion

We hope this has given you some insight into what Creative Commons licensing is and how it works. For the detailed legal low-down, be sure to visit creativecommons.org and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

About the author

Thomas Flynn

Community & Cultural Heritage Lead at Sketchfab.

Expert in 3D scanning, photogrammetry, online publishing & dissemination.



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