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Open Educational Resources: Copyright considerations


When creating or adapting Open Educational Resources, please ensure that your work is in compliance with Canadian copyright law. For assistance, please contact the MRU Copyright Advisor or visit the MRU copyright website.

Open Licensing

One of the defining aspects of Open Educational Resources (OER) is their use of open licensing standards. There are some distinct benefits to open licensing:

  • It's relatively easy to apply these licenses to your work
  • The language is simplified and it's easy to determine how your work, and the work of others, can be used and attributed
  • Open licensing makes it easier to share resources and it can facilitate the pervasiveness of your work

Common Open Licensing Standards

Creative Commons

The Creative Commons is the most common of the open licensing standards, and it's simplified language makes it easier for creators to apply it to their work.

The Creative Commons allows you to determine how your work will be used, by attaching the following elements to your license.

License Elements

Attribution (BY) - The creator of the work must be given credit. All Creative Commons licenses, except for public domain (CC0), require attribution.

Noncommercial (NC) - The work cannot be used for commercial purposes such as advertising or re-selling copies of the work

No Derivative Works (ND) - The work cannot be altered and must be used "as is" unless permission is obtained from the author

Share Alike (SA) - Variations of a work must use the same license as the original work

Resource: Creative Commons

Creative Commons License Types

The Creative Commons allows for a total of seven license types. Note that the ShareAlike (SA) and NoDerivatives (ND) license elements cannot be combined.

It's also important to note that some licenses - and therefore some materials - cannot be combined. If you're creating an OER and you're unsure which licenses are compatible, check out this Creative Commons license compatibility chart. The license you choose will greatly impact how widely your work will be shared or adapted. For more information, see the "Permissive vs Restrictive Licensing" section of this guide.


Attribution (CC BY)

"This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials."

Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA)

"This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects."

Attribution No-Derivatives (CC BY-ND)

"This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you."

Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC)

"This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms."

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA)

"This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms."

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives ( CC BY-NC-ND)

"This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially."

Public Domain (CC-0)

"CC0 enables scientists, educators, artists and other creators and owners of copyright- or database-protected content to waive those interests in their works and thereby place them as completely as possible in the public domain, so that others may freely build upon, enhance and reuse the works for any purposes without restriction under copyright or database law."

Source:  "About the Licenses" - Creative Commons 
Source: "CC0" - Creative Commons

Permissive vs. Restrictive Licensing

While open licensing systems facilitate sharing, attaching a more permissive license to your work will reduce the likelihood of an accidental copyright violation. Attaching an Attribution (CC BY) license to your work will likely result in your work being shared more broadly, and it will give more flexibility to those who might want to build upon or incorporate your work down the road.

Permissive Licensing

 Attribution (CC BY)

The most permissive license is the Attribution (CC-BY) license. This license stipulates that those who reuse or remix your work only have to attribute you (as the original author) in future iterations of that work.

 Public Domain (CC0)

When you assign a Public Domain license to your work, you're relinquishing all copyright to that work. There is no Attribution requirement when using Public Domain materials. While your work may be shared broadly, you will not be given credit.

Restrictive Licensing

 Attribution-Share-Alike (CC BY-SA)

 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA)

Share Alike (SA) Licenses can make it impossible for others to remix and adapt other works. The SA license stipulates that any adaptation of a work must use the exact same license terms as the original work.

If you wanted to combine two learning objects with different SA license versions (3.0 vs. 4.0), it would be impossible because your adaptation of that work would have to adhere to both licensing versions simultaneously.

 Attribution-NoDerivatives (CC BY-ND)

 Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (CC BY-NC-ND)

No-Derivitives (ND) licenses stipulate that no group or individual can create iterations of your work. You work can she shared and attributed, but it cannot be remixed or revised to create new works.

Copyright Resources

Mount Royal University

University of Alberta OER Copyright Tutorials

Creative Commons Links