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OER and ZTC for Faculty: Copyright and Licensing

Faculty Guide on Open Educational Resources (OER) and Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) classes.
Are you new to the concepts of copyright, fair use, and creative commons? Do you need a quick refresher? Check out A Quick Guide to Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons. For specific and in depth resources use the tabs below. 

Figuring out licensing can be one of the more challenging aspects of adopting OER for you classes. Here you will find more information and resources on licensing including copyright, Creative Commons licenses, public domain, and fair use. This information is not meant to be legal advice but simply a place to find helpful information. As always please contact us if you have questions or need more help. 

computer with Creative Commons logo

Most OER you will encounter have a creative Commons license. Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization created as a response to restrictive copyright laws. Creative Commons licenses work with existing copyright laws but allow for more flexibility when sharing resources. Below you will find links to more information about Creative Commons and their licenses. 

Copyright law is complicated. Here are some additional resources to help answer some of your questions. This information is not to be taken as legal advice. 

Works in the public domain are not subject to copyright and can be used freely. There are lots of places to find resources in the public domain. Below are a few to try. 

There are some exceptions to copyright including fair use. However, there are no strict rules for fair use only guidelines. There are four factors used to determine fair use in court.

  1. The purpose and character of the use;
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Below are some resources to help you better figure out if your use of a resource falls within the scope of fair use. 

Creative Commons License Types

There are six Creative Commons licenses that allow differing levels of openness. 

CC BYThe attribution license or CC BY license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, so long as attribution is given to the creator. The license allows for commercial use.

CC BY SAThe attribution-ShareAlike or CC BY SA 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.

CC BY NDThe Attribution-NoDerivatives or CC BY ND license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you. This license is not an OER.



The Attribution-NonCommercial or CC BY NC 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.


CC BY NC SAThe Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike or CC BY NC SA 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.


CC BY NC NDThe Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives or CC BY NC ND 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. This license is not an OER.

You can learn much more about CC licenses on the Creative Commons website. The Creative Commons FAQ page is particularly helpful for detailed information about using  the licenses. 


 About the Licenses, Creative CommonsCreative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license

License Compatibility Chart

If you are creating a work using different Creative Commons licenses you will need to make sure they are compatible. Use this chart to easily check license compatibility. Learn more about license compatibility on the Creative Commons FAQ's page

CC license compatibility chart

Creative Commons License  Unless otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License