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Guide to Open Educational Resources (OER)

Creative Commons Licenses

What are Creative Commons Licenses?

Creative Commons licenses are free copyright licenses that creators can use to indicate how they would like their work to be used. Creators can choose from a set of licenses with varying permissions, from the most open license (CC0) to the least open license (CC BY-NC-ND). The license most commonly used by educators tends to be the CC BY license (can distribute, remix, and adapt so long as you give credit).

The 5 R's of Open Educational Resources using Creative Comons Licenses**:

**From: the SCALE website.

See list and image below for the range of licenses. Click on each license name for a complete description of the terms & uses of each CC license.

  1. CC0 Public Domain Declaration, CC0
  2. Attribution, CC BY
  3. Attribution-ShareAlike, CC BY-SA
  4. Attribution-NoDerivs, CC BY-ND
  5. Attribution-NonCommercial, CC BY-NC
  6. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike, CC BY-NC-SA
  7. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs, CC BY-NC-ND

Most open to least open: CC0, BY, BYSA, BYND, BYNC, BYNCSA, BYNCND

Terms of use: Content created by Creative Commons, originally published at

Copyright & Fair Use

Copyright & Fair Use

Legal use of copyrighted materials is a very important consideration for educators. Whether you want to share an article with your students, provide a "course pack" of assorted materials as a textbook replacement, use an Open "OER" Textbook, or need quality images for a PowerPoint presentation, the question of what's acceptable use can be confusing. See the table below to help you determine how to integrate various materials into your course. 

Is the work in the Public Domain?

  • Works in the public domain may be copied and distributed without permission of the creator/owner.

  • Most works older than 1923 are in the public domain, and some later works as well. See Public Domain Sherpa or Digital Copyright Slider for help determining if a work is in the public domain.

  • Most works produced by the U.S. government are in the public domain. Assume a government document to be in the public domain unless it contains a copyright notice.

  • The Public Domain Review: Guide to finding interesting Public Domain works online. 

Is the work open licensed? 

  • Works with a Creative Commons or other open license will be labeled with the specifics of what type of use is allowed. The most common, "CC-BY", means that the work can be copied, edited, and distributed without permission of the creator/owner, requiring only that you attribute the original author.

  • Guide to Creative Commons licensing

  • To search: Creative Commons search

Is the work online?

  • If a work is online, you may link to it instead of copying it without permission of the copyright holder (unless it is a rare case where the work specifically states this isn't allowed). This applies to works on free websites (for example, a YouTube video or a blog post), as well as works already licensed to the college through Library subscription databases, such as journal articles or ebooks.

Does your intended use of the work fall under "fair use"?

  • Fair use is a doctrine of U.S. copyright law which gives exceptions to certain uses of copyrighted materials, which would otherwise be copyright infringement. To determine if fair use applies to your use, the four fair use factors must be applied.

    • 1. Purpose & Character of the Use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for non-profit educational purposes;  

    • 2. Nature of the Work;

    • 3. Amount and Substantiality of Portion Used in relation to the copyright work as a whole,

    • 4. Effect on the Market for Original (The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work)

  • See Kirkwood Library's guide to fair use for more information on how to apply fair use to your situation.

Asking for permission

  • If it's not possible to link to a licensed or free copy of the work, and if fair use doesn't apply, you can contact the copyright holder for permission. The University System of Georgia has an excellent guide on requesting permissions and identifying the copyright owner of a work, with sample permission letters.

Paying copyright holder for use

  • If it's not possible to link to a license or free copy of the work, and if fair use doesn't apply, you can also purchase the right to copy, distribute, display, or perform a work. This is usually done through a licensing agent. The University System of Georgia has an excellent guide to identifying a licensing agent according to the format of the work you want to use (print, music, video, etc.). 

Adapted from: "Open Textbooks, OER & Other Open or Free Resources for Faculty: Copyright & Fair Use." Kirkwood Community College

If you are experiencing problems with our guides and databases, please contact ProfessorJanet S. Ward,, Assistant Director of the Library and Web Services Librarian.