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Open Educational Resources: Copyright, Licensing, & Citing

Designed to introduce OER initiatives, explain Creative Commons licensing and OER, and to help you get started searching for OERs for teaching and learning.

How Do Copyright, OER, and Creative Commons Work Together?

Open educational resources, like all intellectual property, are subject to the laws of copyright. But some creators would rather share their work than reserve all of their rights for themselves. Creative Commons has created tools that allow creators of copyrightable work the ability to do this within the framework of copyright laws as they exist now. Creative Commons licenses are real, legal licenses that help creators retain copyright while allowing others to copy, distribute, and make some uses of their work.

Types of Licenses

Fair Use

To “use” a copyrighted work, you must either have the copyright holder’s permission, or you must qualify for a legal exception such as “fair use.” Fair Use is the legal, unauthorized use of copyrighted material, allowable under certain circumstances. Many educational and classroom use falls under fair use, but there are many images use cases that can be fair.

Fair use (Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright code) provides parameters for the legal use of copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright holder.

Four factors for determining fair use eligibility:

  • Purpose and character of use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
  • The nature of the copyrighted work. 
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the work as a whole.
  • The effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. 

Creative Commons

When using an image that has been created or distributed under Creative Commons licensing, utilize the below template as a caption:

Title [hyperlinked to source] (c)Creator, License information [hyperlinked]

Public Domain

Images in the Public Domain are no longer under copyright protection and can be used freely. In general images published before 1923 are in the public domain in the United States

There are four common ways that works arrive in the public domain:

  • the copyright has expired
  • the copyright owner failed to follow copyright renewal rules
  • the copyright owner deliberately places it in the public domain, known as “dedication,” or
  • copyright law does not protect this type of work.

If an image is in the public domain, you still need to cite it.  When using an image in your OER materials, provide the following caption with appropriate information:

 "creator, title, source" (with the source being a URL to the image webpage)