Creative Commons and Copyright
Authors typically sign copyright transfer agreements with publishers when their papers are accepted for publication. By doing this they may in many cases forgo some rights in their work, eg the right to distribute the work in the form of the publisher's pdf even to restricted groups of students. However they usually retain the right to make available, or distribute, their author accepted manuscript.
Creative Commons licences provide a simple standardised way to give permission to share and use work under certain conditions. They are not an alternative to copyright, but work alongside copyright and enable authors to modify copyright terms to best suit their needs.
Here is a quick introductory video to the concepts and how they relate to funders' open access requirements:
CC BY lets others modify, build upon and/or distribute the licensed work (including for commercial purposes) as long as the original author is credited.
CC BY-NC lets others copy, distribute, display, perform, and modify and use your work for any purpose other than commercially unless they get your permission first.
CC BY-NC-ND lets others copy, distribute, display and perform only original copies of your work. If they want to modify your work, they must get your permission first.
Some authors may be concerned about issuing their work under a CC BY or other Creative Commons licence. Some of these concerns are gathered and addressed in this OAPEN-UK Guide to Creative Commons for Humanities and Social Science Monograph Authors, which has been edited by active researchers.
RCUK and COAF have stipulated that they require any Open Access articles published on payment of an APC to be available under the Creative Commons CC BY licence. For Green open access articles in repositories they will accept the CC BY-NC which does not allow commercial use.
Apply a licence to your journal article instead of assigning copyright
Authors of journal articles sign 'assignment of copyright' forms when their articles are accepted. Where publishers have very restrictive policies it is possible to amend the agreement, or add an addendum before signing.
The Sparc (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) web site also provides advice on adding an addendum.