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Open Educational Resources (OER): Copyright


Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution states: "The Congress shall have power...To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries..."

Fair Use

In general, Copyright Law prohibits reproducing and distributing copyrighted works. However, the "Fair Use Doctrine" (Section 107) allows a limited amount of copying for purposes such as teaching and scholarship. In determining whether the use made of a work in a particular case is a Fair Use, the factors to be considered include:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for non-profit educational purposes;
  • The nature of the copyrighted work;
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Fair Use raises almost as many questions as it answers, and can be a persistent source of concern for teachers.  The most important point to remember is that Fair Use is both a right and a privilege, and does provide a substantial degree of freedom and protection for teachers. However, that freedom is often challenged, and in reality most educational institutions do not have the resources, skill, or will to engage in long and expensive legal battles over this issue. 

The Fair Use Checklist can be helpful in determining whether or not usage falls under fair use.

See our Copyright guide for more information.


Creative Commons

Many OER are licensed under Creative Commons  (CC) licensing system that allows the author to grant certain rights to others, while retaining the copyright to the work. CC has several licenses, which are used for different purposes.CC licenses do not replace copyright, but a modification of copyright. Copyright means that all rights are reserved. CC licenses allow you to decide which rights are reserved, enabling you to share your work more broadly without giving up full control of how your work is used.

For more information, please visit the Creative Commons Licenses page and the Creative Commons frequently asked questions. All license descriptions come from the Creative Commons Licenses Page by (CC-BY).


CC BY License

Attribution (CC BY).  This license lets others distribute, remix, adjust, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most flexible of  the Creative Commons Licenses offered.


CC BY SA License​Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA). This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, provided they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.


CC BY ND LicenseAttribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC). This license lets others remix, adjust, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new creation must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.


CC BY SA LicenseAttribution-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.


CC BY ND LicenseAttribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND). This license allows for redistribution, and reuse for any purposes, including commercial and non-commercial. But it cannot be shared in adapted form, so it must be  passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to the author.


CC BY NC ND LicenseAttribution-NonCommerical-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND). This license is the most restrictive of the 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 information is directly from Creative Commons.