Rachel Oleaga
Educational Technology
Material Type:
Community College / Lower Division, College / Upper Division
  • OER Fundamentals
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike

    Accelerated OER Fundamentals Series - Section Two: Understanding Copyright, Licensing and Creative Commons

    Accelerated OER Fundamentals Series - Section Two: Understanding Copyright, Licensing and Creative Commons


    This lesson supports faculty in exploring the different ways that resources can be licensed, including their own resources. Licensing is an important consideration when creating OERs. 

    Learning Experience (What does Copyright and other licenses mean to educators? )

    We are All Copyright Creators and Users
    We are all copyright users. We are all copyright owners.


    What is Copyright and Licensing?

    When anyone creates an original work, it is automatically granted full copyright protections under United States law. This means that the author has full rights over how the item is displayed, reproduced, used and edited. The author then has the right to authorize others to use the item (often called Terms of Use). If the author does not allow anyone else to display, reproduce, use or edit the work, it is known as and sometimes noted as "All Rights Reserved". 

    Authors can choose to release some of the copyright restrictions so that users can have increased access. If an author chooses to release all of the rights for sharing, use and adapting, this places the resource into the Public Domain.

    Some authors will choose to create a very prescriptive terms of use, such as "Users can make 25 copies" which is called a custom license.

    Custom licenses can be very overwhelming and confusing. Creative Commons curated a set of commonly released usage rights into specific licenses called Creative Commons (CC) licenses that we will talk about in the next section. Resources in the Public Domain or with CC licenses are often called "openly licensed" and are in the Open Educational Resources (OER) category that is the focuse of this module.

    Continuum of licensing from Full Copyright (all rights reserved) to Some Rights Reserved (including Creative Commons licenses) to No Rights Reserved (Public Domain)

    Imaged remixed from

    “Creative Commons: a user guide” by Simone Aliprandi, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. c_cc_pd.jpg


    Why do educators need to worry about licensing?

    1. Legal responsibilities - while "Fair Use" has traditionally been cited by educators as a claim for using copyrighted work, there are many cases where educators have incorrectly posted, copied and used resources and this has been deemed an infringement on the author's rights. 

    2. Cost - some resources that are promoted to educators have fees for accessing and using the resource which creates an equity gap for educators and students 

    3. Ease of access - Resources that have "All Rights Reserved" are often found behind paywalls or other places that require log-ins and can be difficult for students and families to access on different devices. This ease of access was highlighted during the Distance Learning time of COVID lockdown.

    4. Adaptation and customization - Many OER resources that have released some of the copyright restrictions have been deliberately licensed to allow educators to make customizations to meet the needs of their students. Whether this means translating the resource into other languages, adding additional supports for students with unique learning needs or making adaptations for increased responsiveness to student interest and identity - teachers are experts in their classrooms and using OER allows them to be responsive and sustaining to their students' needs.



    Learning Experience (Creative Commons licenses)



    What are Creative Commons licenses?

    Creative Commons (CC) licenses are the primary tool for adding open permissions to authored materials. CC licenses have defined terms of use and clear restrictions that can be added by the author to inform how resources can be used by others. 

    CC-BY - the foundational Creative Commons license

    The foundational Creative Commons license is CC-BY, which allows users to many freedoms to use and adapt the resource, as long as proper attribution is given to the author. You can see an example of giving attribution below in our image caption.

    Three additional restrictions that can be added to CC licenses

    Some creators wish to receive attribution, but they also feel their work should used only with additional restrictions.

    1. No Derivatives - this restriction (CC-BY-ND) means that others can use and share the work, but others cannot make any changes to the original. This means it must be used in its entirety without any modifications. One example of why this license may be chosen include if the work is based on research and the author wants to make sure the resource is being used to fidelity.
    2. Non-Commercial - this restriction (CC-BY-NC) is added when the original creator wants to make sure the work is not being used to earn another user commerical income. 
    3. Share Alike - this restriction (CC-BY-SA) requires that all future derivatives of the work also have the same license as the original. 

    The restrictions can also be combined, so you may see some resources licensed as CC-BY-NC-SA or CC-BY-NC-ND.


    Learning Experience (How do I license my own work?)

    As the image at the beginning of this section, the image from the US Copyright Office shares that "We are all copyright users, and we are all copyright users.". So, when you create a new work, how do YOU license your work? You get to decide what rights others have when using your work. 


    Let's consider a few things:

    • Is this work a derivative of or based off someone else's work? If so, you may need to check the original author's licensing to determine how to give attribution and any other restrictions to how you license your work (such as the Share Alike restriction).
    • Is this work completely your work or is it part of a contract and considered Work For Hire? If the work is completely your own, you can decide all of the licensing terms. If the work is part of a contract, you will need to contact your employer to determine if they have licensing restrictions.
    • How OPEN do you want to be? There is debate about what the "most open" license is - some say it is CC-BY because it only requires attribution and others say the most open license is CC-BY-SA because it requires anyone who uses your work to also license the work in an open way. As you consider each of the main limitations (Share Alike, No Derivatives and NonCommercial), consider how you'd like to see your work used and shared.


    If you'd like additional help choosing a license, you can use this "Choose a License" tool from Creative Commons. It also includes the icons and code so that you can clearly display the license once you make a decision.