Introduction to Licensing and Creative Commons

Understanding U.S. Copyright law is challenging and often frustrating. The complexities of understanding your rights as a copyright owner, as a user of third-party works, and even as an educator take time and effort. Laws pertaining to copyright change over time, and the purpose of copyright "to promote the progress of science and the useful arts" (I U.S. Constitution S8, c8) sometimes seems ambiguous, especially for those who are not legal experts.

Some extremely specific copyright exemptions exist for classroom teaching, libraries, and online learning. However, Creative Commons licensing has greatly broadened the availability of creative, original works that can be used when attributed according to author's designations.

Creative Commons licensing alleviates the ambiguity of use for many online resources. They are free for anyone to use, and allow for resources to be adapted and shared universally. There are six licenses, four of which are considered "open" with varying degrees of permissions.

Open Educational Resources (OER) are published using one of the four "open" licenses and adhere to the 5Rs: revise, remix, reuse, redistribute, and retain. This allows you to edit and reorganize a text, combine multiple OER, recycle and update the same resource year after year, share any alterations you make (typically under a similar license), and keep a copy without fear of it disappearing (as can be the case with licensed ebooks or journal subscriptions).

Understanding open licenses

Read the Creative Commons handout on its six types of licenses.

  • Attribution: anyone who uses your work in any way must give you credit in whatever way you request, unless given permission to use your work without giving credit.
  • ShareALike: others can copy, distribute, display, perform, and modify your work as long as they do so under the same terms (license) as the original work you created.
  • NoDerivs: others can copy, distribute, display, and perform your work, but they can't modify it without permission.
  • NonCommercial: others can copy, distribute, perform, and modify your work for any non-commercial purpose and must give you credit in whatever way you request.
  • NonCommercial ShareALike: others can copy, distribute, perform, and modify your work for any non-commercial purpose as long as they do so under the same terms (license) as the original work.
  • NonCommercial NoDerivs: others can copy, distribute, and perform (but not modify) your work for any non-commercial purpose.

Sharing with Creative Commons licenses